One of my dearest friends is in a wheelchair due to a severe, yet somewhat obscure, disability that attacks the muscles. It’s a degenerative disease, and for some years now, her mom has had to push her around. She can no longer manage it herself.
Yesterday they came over for a Christmas luncheon party. This is the third time Daisy has been exposed to the wheelchair, and each time she becomes a little more accustomed to it.
The first time, she was afraid of it. I guess it was the idea of a big contraption that moved oddly with a person on it that confused and scared her. She sniffed at it from afar, then slowly and very carefully approached it until she was finally able to stretch her body forward and sniff the wheels. When my friend spoke to her, she jumped back a bit, as if this piece of machinery had come to life.
This didn’t completely surprise me; several years ago, I wrote an article about multi-generational music lessons and how they helped young children lose their fear of medical equipment by putting them in the same room with elderly folks who were playing the same instruments they were. Things like oxygen tanks, wheelchairs, mobile IV units and such can scare young children – sometimes to the point that they can’t visit elderly relatives who use this equipment. So once again, puppies and children can share a common fear.
Now Daisy still approaches the wheelchair with a bit of caution, but once my friend is situated at the table, Daisy jumps on the wheels just like she jumps up on people’s legs when she first greets them. This makes my friend feel very happy. She loves dogs and, even better, Daisy reminds her of her own late beloved dog, who she played with in her youth, before this illness manifested itself.
Much like the children in the multi-generational music lesson article, I think the best way to introduce dogs to something outside their little worlds is to let them get used to it on their own, gradually. As much as my friend wanted us to put Daisy on her lap the first time we brought her over, it would have been a mistake to force her into an uncomfortable position so fast. Letting her get used to the wheelchair, sniff it, sniff my friend’s legs, and stare at it for a while gave her the opportunity to adjust to it in her own way. So, when we finally did put her in my friend’s lap, she was at ease and happy to meet a new friend.