Living with a Handicapped Dog

By John Martin - August 26, 2020

We’re honored to have Judy Nguyen guest post for us today. Judy, of Antioch, CA, runs the Northern California based dog rescue, Walkin the Bark. As the proud owner of Popeye, the bipedal pup, she shares her insights on what it’s like to decide to amputate and life with a handicapable dog.

Our dog, Popeye, is like most other dogs in many ways. He enjoys his walks, he loves to wrestle with other dogs, he knows basic commands like “down” and “go to bed,” and he can run like the devil. But it’s how he’s different that makes him the center of attention wherever he goes.

Popeye only has 2 legs.

Popeye was originally found as a stray puppy in 2008. He was already paralyzed in the rear and due to lack of use, the joints in his hind legs fused together so those legs stuck out like rods. Whether he was born paralyzed or suffered from an accident, we don’t know. What was clear from the start was that Popeye had no idea that he was any different than any other dog.

Despite being partially paralyzed, Popeye was completely mobile, able to move around with just his front two legs. After consultations with several vets, we eventually had his paralyzed legs amputated because it was agreed they hindered him more than helped him. It was a tough decision, one that I vacillated back and forth repeatedly over. After all, amputation is forever; there’s no going back. But once it was done, I only wondered, “What took me so long?” After seeing how much more easily Popeye was able to move without his paralyzed legs, I realized the entire time he had them, it was like I was holding my breath. Once they were removed, it was like a sigh of relief.

Around the house, Popeye can get around with very little assistance. The only time he needs a hand is to climb onto our bed for a snuggle or into the car. Other than that, he has access to the entire house and backyard. Since he can scrape himself against rough flooring or concrete ground, we simply added some rugs to the few areas in the house that weren’t carpeted and to the backyard patio that leads to the lawn.

His paralysis left him incontinent, and it’s Popeye’s incontinence that has made him harder to adopt rather than the fact that he only has two legs. He does not have control over his bowels or bladder so we manually express him 4-5 time per day. He wears belly bands 24 hours/day, which I made for him using the same material concept in baby cloth diapers. This helps to catch any leakage from his bladder. He no longer wears full diapers, since pooping accidents are rare, and when they do happen, the poop is generally solid and dry so it’s easy to just pick up with a napkin and throw it away. People are grossed out by the idea or they think it’s difficult to take care of, but after you get used to it, it’s not that hard.

On walks and visits to the park, Popeye has a customized wheelchair ordered from Doggon Wheels. The wheelchair allows him access to virtually anywhere. He’s been to the regional park, on trails, to the beach, even to a Giants ball game. And whether in or out of the wheelchair, he can run like a maniac.

Since getting Popeye, we have been introduced, via the internet and in person, to several other dogs (and cats and even other species) across the world who are partially paralyzed and only have the use of a limited number of limbs. The idea that a dog doesn’t need all four legs to live a full and happy life is nothing new to us. We see proof of that every single day with Popeye. Yet many pet guardians, even some vets, don’t realize that fact, and as a result, beloved pets are needlessly euthanized.

One time when we took Popeye to a beach, a woman came up and told me her dog had had cancer in one of his legs. Thinking that he could not live happily without all four legs, rather than amputate the cancerous leg, she chose to euthanize him because she believed it was the kinder thing to do. She said that if she had seen Popeye before that, she would have known differently.

I’ve seen dogs missing both back legs like Popeye, I’ve seen dogs missing both front legs, and I’ve seen dogs missing both right legs. All were mobile, if not on their own, then certainly with the help of a wheelchair. I’ve even seen quad-wheelchairs designed for dogs requiring assistance with all four limbs. At the same time that some dogs are being euthanized because their guardians do not realize that a mentally and emotionally “whole” dog does not require a “whole” body, there are handicapped dogs around the world playing in lakes, herding sheep, going for five mile hikes, and inspiring others.

There are a number of companies that make customized wheelchair for pets. The cart that has worked best for Popeye was built by Doggon Wheels. They can also build carts for pets requiring front body assistance or even 4-limb assistance. Prices generally range from $300-$500 depending on the size of your pet and their specific needs, but you can also inquire about refurbished carts that may be available. Some companies may also offer a loaner program. Many of these carts are built quite differently, so it’s important to thoroughly research and ask questions to best determine whether a particular cart will be the ideal one for your pet.

Popeye is truly a special dog. But every dog can be equally special—they just need the chance to show you what they are capable of. Caring for a handicapped pet may require a change in thought process and some extra work, but it will also prove just how much we humans are capable of too.

Popeye is under the care of Walkin’ the Bark Rescue. To read more about him, visit