Back in February, I announced here the publication of our friend Barbara Techel’s newest book, Through Frankie’s Eyes: One woman’s journey to her authentic self and the dog on wheels who led the way. Today, I’m sharing an interview I recently did with Barb about how that book came to be. As people interested in disabled pets, I know you’ll find so much about her journey interesting and maybe even revelatory. Most of all, I hope it makes you want to read the book. And if you stay with it till the end of this post, we reveal a terrific bit of news that will affect our effort to make disabled pets more visible and acceptable forever! Without further ado, let’s go to the interview:
Author and animal activist Barbara Techel
Barb, Idgie and I have watched you evolve as an author/entrepreneur for years now, cheering you on, and we’re so thrilled to be helping you get the word out about your new book, Through Frankie’s Eyes: One woman’s journey to her authentic self, and the dog on wheels who led the way.
So now, we’d like to interview you about the connection between your new book and the cause of advocating for disabled pets, an issue so near and dear to our hearts and those of our followers. Can you give us a brief overview of your new book’s theme, and how it relates to special needs pets, especially for any of our readers who aren’t familiar with Frankie and her story?
First and foremost, thank you Mary and Idgie, for all your amazing support over the last few years. It continues to mean so much to me. My new book’s theme is about trying to live our lives with more meaning and joy, and doing that in our own authentic way. My red dachshund, Frankie, really drove this lesson home for me when she was diagnosed with Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) and became paralyzed. Ultimately, she was custom-fitted for a dog wheelchair.
Frankie, the Walk ‘n Roll Dog
For a good part of my life, I often worried what others thought of me and the choices I made for myself. Because this was such a constant thought for me, I often was not living my best life. I made choices that I thought others would approve of, but often times, this would leave me feeling mad or sad.
Living in a small town of 900 people, going for a walk with a dog in a wheelchair was not a common sight. I was scared to take her out in public, for fear I would be judged as mean or cruel for putting her in a wheelchair. But one day it occurred to me, watching her play and get around in her wheels, that she didn’t care that she was in a wheelchair. She was happy!
That was a pivotal moment for me. It literally felt like in that moment, my whole outlook on life changed. I realized I had a choice. I could worry about what others thought, or I could trust my belief and what I knew to be true, which is that she was very happy. That was the beginning for me in building more confidence in who I am, and living the life I want to live, not worrying how others may think I should live my life. It still amazes me to this day that I learned all this from a little 10-inch-high, sausage-shaped dog in a wheelchair!
This book really puts your personal story out there. I imagine that really made you feel kind of vulnerable. How did you work past that fear in speaking your truth? You hit that right on the head!
It did feel very vulnerable, and still does now and then. But the more my story makes its way out into the world, the more I’ve been receiving positive feedback. People are relating to the same feelings and issues I had, and thanking me for sharing my story. That has certainly made it easier. But honestly, I really just came to a point where I know, deep in my heart, that I am a good person. I can go to sleep at night knowing I do my best each and every day. It’s a choice and I like the choices I make for myself. It is enough, and I don’t feel the need to explain or prove anything anymore.
I also have to say that for me, my dogs are my grounding. Just watching and observing them brings me to a place in my heart where fear of feeling vulnerable melts away. I have also come to truly believe that vulnerability is a gift. It is not a bad thing. It makes me uniquely me.
In one way, “coming out” about your past struggles with needing everyone’s acceptance and approval is akin to how some folks think about facing the world with a disability. How did Frankie’s influence give you the courage to tell that story?
We all have challenges, and we all have a choice (about how we’ll respond) when faced with a challenge. One thing I realized, as Frankie moved through her days after becoming paralyzed, is that she didn’t let it get in her way. Nor did she use it as an excuse not to get on with her life.
Now, I realize dogs can’t talk and may not feel things in the same way we do, but it was a powerful lesson for me. We can use our challenges or disabilities as an excuse to not be our best selves, or we can find a way to live our lives that work for us and are right for us, despite challenges or disabilities.
Truly, that’s one powerful lesson we’d all do well to remember. How else did your experience and relationship with Frankie and her fans help you make the big step of writing and publishing this book?
Writing my first children’s book, Frankie the Walk ‘N Roll Dog, was a big leap for me. I remember being scared to write the book because I had never written a children’s book. I had no idea how to go about doing so. But there was something bigger at work for me. I am passionate about educating others about this disc disease. Too often, people still are not aware of their options so their pet is put to sleep, when — with the right information and tools — they likely could have lived a long, quality life.
It was important for me to start with the younger generation, and a book that parents and grandparents would read to their kids, thus educating many generations at once.
See? Even your lack of experience itself helped make that the most effective project it could have been! That you had the presence of mind to make that an intentional decision surely made your first book more effective.
I also realized the positive impact Frankie was having on children as I took her out in my little town. Remembering the insecure little girl I was, I wanted to help children see their challenges in a positive way, through Frankie’s example. Put that combination together — which was my driving force, along with my faith — and I realized I could do this. From there, as word got out about my books and my work, my confidence in myself continued to grow. And that’s what led me to release my inspirational memoir, Through Frankie’s Eyes.
- Barbara’s Newest Book
The most gratifying part of my work and mission the past six years has been the following of fans Frankie helped build. Her fans and their love and support truly mean so much to me. They have helped me in more ways than they may ever know. Not a day goes by that I am not truly grateful.
How do you think your new book might be helpful to other pet parents struggling with a disability in their own animals?
I’ve heard from so many people who say they know now, should this happen to their pet, that they can deal with it — that all will be okay. I’ve also heard from others, who already have dogs with the same disease, that it has helped them not feel sad or bad about what happened to their dog; again, that it is okay. Life can go on, and there are many blessings if we are open to receiving them.
After Frankie became paralyzed and I started to understand IVDD more, I made it a lifelong mission that I will do what I can to educate others—and to support them—and most of all give them hope, should they find themselves in this situation. I know my children’s books, as well as my memoir, are doing just that, because I hear from at least one person every day who shares this with me.
Over the years I’ve talked to many, many people via phone or email, who were facing their pet’s diagnosis of IVDD or having to get them a wheelchair, so my book is just an extension of giving more people hope that their pet with a disability can live a wonderful life. The bonus is that this experience may also help them see their own life in a more positive way, which will only benefit the pets in their lives, as well as family and friends.
What one piece of advice would you give to anyone considering adopting a walk ‘n roll dog?
Do it! Well, seriously: Please do consider taking in these wonderful dogs. I’m not going to say you won’t need to adjust your life, because it does take some adjusting depending on the individual dog’s situation. But the blessings and love you will receive from this pet truly can’t be adequately put into words. If this is something you are considering, but hesitant as what to expect, reach out to others who have a “walk ‘n roll dog.” This will help you to understand things you may need to give thought to, so you are prepared to make it work not only for you and your family, but for the dog, as well.
And I understand you have some exciting news to share about a special day for ALL walk ‘n roll dogs?
I do! I’m so thrilled and honored that a special observance I created last year has now officially been designated. Starting this year, each September 22 will be called National Walk ‘N Roll Dog Day (NWNRDD).
The official logo of National Walk ‘n Roll Dog Day – September 22 of every year, starting this year!
NWNRDD is a celebration in memory of Frankie, and a day to honor and recognize all dogs in wheelchairs, around the world. I created this observance to continue to encourage others to see these dogs as able to live quality lives, because they certainly can with the help of their humans. Their resilience is simply amazing! I love sharing photos of them, as well as their stories, which I do on the Facebook page I created.
Having the day officially designated means that others will discover this wonderful observance, but most importantly, more people will see dogs in wheelchairs in a positive way — ultimately saving more lives with more dogs being adopted, no matter their challenge.
And that idea is exactly what we’re all about here at Almost Perfect Pets Blog. Thanks, Barb, for all you do to help special needs pets and their parents!
You can find Barbara Techel’s books on her website, JoyfulPaws.com, or at Amazon.com:
Through Frankie’s Eyes
Frankie the Walk ‘N Roll Dog
Frankie the Walk ‘N Roll Therapy Dog Visits Libby’s House
Frankie the Walk ‘N Roll Dog Coloring and Paper Doll Activity Book
Find Barbara online:
Joyful Paws website and blog
National Walk ‘N Roll Dog Day
Facebook – National Walk ‘N Roll Dog Day
Twitter – National Walk ‘N Roll Dog Day