Isabelle's Wagon

Isabelle’s Wagon . . .

Sometimes we all have Three Legs


             This past July our family grew bigger by one. Isabelle had been living with the sister of a friend of mine, but when she and her husband could no longer keep her, my friend intervened and Isabelle came to live with Sasha, Olive and me.

            When Isabelle was two years old she was hit by a car, her left front leg amputated. Since she is a beagle/basset mix (I believe the term is a bagel) she’s long and low, a design that doesn’t work well when missing a front. Isabelle languished, her place in life only slightly more elevated than the armchair. So that by the time she came to me, she was overweight and unused to walking more than a few paces a day to relieve herself. She was in shock over leaving the home she knew, and depressed. Sasha and Olive welcomed her but didn’t know what to make of this dog who moved with such disjointedness and seemed so—their word—“shattered.”

          On Isabelle’s first morning, I took her out with the other two on our daily walk. Isabelle hopped along, but not for far. Because on this day, she could not even make it down our driveway. She collapsed, falling on her left side where a leg should have supplied her the normal balance and support. And as she fell, she smashed her nose in the way I would see her do over and over. Each time this happened, something inside of me would swell in compassion for this clunky dog. To make matters worse, she developed severe separation anxiety, bellowing if I left, so I knew that leaving her behind while we walked was not a good option. Yet these walks were our life; Sasha and Olive counted on them. I realized I had to get Isabelle in shape. My goal became to get her to walk to and from a little stream where we always went, by autumn. As simple as this appears in writing, at the time I conceived it, a more favourable outcome seemed, a most improbable, if not impossible, goal. She had collapsed, not budging, a fraction of the way there.

            Every day I’d go out with Sasha and Olive and hoist Isabelle’s leash up over my shoulders so that, attached to her harness, it (or rather I) could lift her up as she hopped along. Again, not a great option. It stressed my back and changed our once beloved walks into drudgery and hard work.

            I couldn’t leave her, but neither could she manage the whole walk. I decided what she needed was a wagon. A nice sturdy gardener’s wagon, purchased from Lowe’s, did the trick, and as Sasha and Olive hunted, Isabelle lay in the front yard happily sniffing the air and patiently watching as I sweated and strained to assemble her wagon.

           The walks became more elaborate. Isabelle’s wagon then needed to be outfitted with soft cushioning for her ride. Out we’d all go, with me at first towing an empty wagon, until Isabelle grew tired, at which point I’d heave her up and in. She was reluctant at first, but often completely enervated by the time I was heaving her in, she’d sit back in her wagon, like the queen watching her minion trudging along ahead, her own personal rickshaw.

Isabelle in her wagon as a hot and tired Sasha looks on

            And yet, this solution still wasn’t what Isabelle really wanted. What she wanted was to be a dog, a hound, to hunt and snuffle for moles. If she couldn’t grow her leg back, she wanted the same as I: to get in shape enough to be able to enjoy life again.

           I’d continue to pull her in the wagon, but some days Isabelle had other ideas—ideas that included sniffing the grasses at the side of the road where male dogs had marked their scent. With my face not always turned toward her, I easily missed seeing her hurl herself from the wagon and really bashing her nose.

           July turned to August and August to September. Little by little, Isabelle lost weight and grew stronger. As she did, her spirit awakened. Now she looked forward to these walks—perhaps equally hard work for her, but certainly not drudgery. I watched as she grew to trust me—to trust that I would not let her fall and hit her nose.

            I awoke to find that the yellow leaves on the honey locust covered the ground. The dogwoods and sassafras had begun turning their deep purpley red. And then, even before the calendar told us fall had officially come, Isabelle walked to the little creek. As she lay down, lapping up water and smiling at me in triumph, tears filled my eyes.

Isabelle makes it to the little creek

            I could have titled this story Patience or Presence or Perseverance or Trust, because each of those I’ve learned from this stubborn, but stoic, tough, brave, dear dog. Each of those she has helped further my education in. And, of course, love.

           Not one of us cruises through life effortlessly. Sometimes we all have three legs. It’s during these times that we may just need a little light to guide us, or perhaps a helping hand to lift us up. We muddle and struggle through life, bashing our noses, hoping only that someone will show us compassion until we too can find our way again. And sometimes it’s enough if just one person believes in us.

           It is now December, and Isabelle has changed so much. So too has our family grown again, but that’s another story. Isabelle’s wagon, symbolic of our mutual resolve not to give up, has as new life carting plants around, for it’s been traded in for a pair of Eddie’s Wheels. We’re not there yet with the wheels; we take each day as it comes. And maybe I should really say that Isabelle’s wagon was traded in for a strong and healthy dog with three legs, who has grown to love her new life and new dog family. So, go on, believe in someone, even if that someone is yourself. We all lose a leg sometimes, but we go on. It only takes a little nudge of love.

Isabelle tries out her new Eddie's Wheels

Olive, Sasha and Isabelle at the little stream