Why One Man Chooses to Do Good in the World

Talk to Jason Parker, the founder of Gunnar’s Wheels Foundation, and you will instantaneously know you are dealing with a person with a huge heart for animals. A huge heart, and a tremendous sense of loyalty. It is loyalty to the memory of his beloved black Lab, Gunnar, that propels Jason’s ongoing work for the foundation.

Man’s Best Friend

dog-and-best-friend
Gunnar and Jason Parker

When asked about Gunnar, Jason chokes up.

“Gunnar was my best friend, my partner. I would talk to him all the time, and he went everywhere with me. He was always in the passenger seat of my truck.”

One day Jason went to work, as usual. Gunnar followed his tracks into the road and was hit by a vehicle. As a result, Gunnar suffered from two broken vertebrae, although these weren’t detected by the initial set of X-rays. It took an MRI the following day to accurately diagnose the injury, followed by surgery.

Unbeknownst to Jason, his sister contacted the local newspaper. They did a story about Gunnar and asked for donations to help defray the $6,000 costs for services incurred in those first 48 hours.

“We paid for those bills and Gunnar’s first Walkin’ Wheels that way,” says Jason. “I figured right there that we’d pay it forward ’cause I could never pay it back.”

That was in February 2014. Pay it forward he did. But let’s not get ahead of the story.

Gunnar & Family Get Used to New Life

Jason and his wife Stephanie had a lot to get used to after Gunnar’s accident. There was the Walkin’ Wheels dog wheelchair for Gunnar, expressing his bladder, and helping him to recover from the surgery.

disabled dog care

“I became a vacuum for everything I could learn about caring for a disabled animal,” says Jason.

They took Gunnar for underwater treadmill therapy and acupuncture. Daily care became more time consuming.

“It was very rewarding,” says Jason. “Pets are family members. They’re not disposable.”

It was a proud day for Jason when Gunnar was voted as one of the 13 winners in the Walkin’ Pets 2016 Calendar Contest. Gunnar became the May 2016 calendar dog with the photo that is featured atop this blog post.

Gunnar died peacefully in his sleep in October 2017. Anyone who has loved a dog knows the pain of loss. Enough said.

disabled dog support

Gunnar’s Wheels Foundation

True to his word, Jason had launched Gunnar’s Wheels Foundation to “pay it forward” in August 2016. His original goal was 50 cart donations. Little did he know that his efforts (with donations provided through GoFundMe, corporate sponsorships, and t-shirt sales), would snowball into what the foundation is today. To date, Gunnar’s has provided 827 wheelchairs to dogs — and other animals — all over the world!

gunnars-wheels-foundation-logoThe foundation’s mission is to:

Assist owners in providing mobility options to their pets. Gunnar’s Wheels Foundation is a loaner program and carts may be used for the duration they are needed, and then returned to Gunnar’s Wheels Foundation to be refurbished and matched with the next pet in need.

The foundation gets 10-15 requests a day for wheelchair donations. Jason prioritizes rescue and shelter dogs, as well as military dogs. He personally talks with just about every owner who gets a donation.

“I don’t want to see any dog put down because of the cost of a wheelchair,” Jason says.

There are six main volunteers (including Jason, his wife, and his sister) who do the bulk of the foundation’s work. Jason also works full-time in a Chevrolet dealership and part-time as a bartender. Let’s take a look at a typical day for Jason:

  • Get up at 4AM: start placing wheelchair orders
  • Go to work for Chevrolet
  • Noon/lunch hour: Talk to owners of wheelchair recipients
  • Go back to work for Chevrolet
  • Evenings when not bartending: Help with wheelchair fittings and questions over the phone or video.

It is indeed a labor of love. The foundation has also opened the world to Jason, who lives in a very small rural town in Wisconsin. Now he talks with people all over the globe, sharing their joys and sorrows. And feeling the love!

Honor, Love, Loyalty

black-lab-puppyJason and Stephanie now have a new puppy, a rescued black Lab named Drake.

“He’s a bundle, a good pup!” says Jason. “He’ll never completely fill the void, but he’s helped a ton.”

Meanwhile, Gunnar’s Wheels Foundation is a daily reminder of Gunnar and the good will of people who helped him in his time of need. These motivate Jason to continue to do this labor of love.

Others might simply have accepted the donations to Gunnar and moved on. Others might have lamented Gunnar’s disability. Not Jason. He chose to turn both into a force for good.

“I’m honored to do this every day,” says Jason. “No one gets paid. It’s all volunteers. I keep his memory alive through his foundation.”

The dog in this video is keeping his memory alive in a very special way!

A True Hero

GoFundMe recognized Jason as a GoFundMe Hero. He says the day that happened and the first day that Gunnar went into his Walkin’ Wheels were among the top 10 days of his life.

Jason’s motivation is to see animals rehabilitated and recover. “That’s always the hope,” he says. But if that’s not possible, they get to have an active life on wheels. They get to be saved from being euthanized.

Jason is thrilled to see the success stories with each cart donation. Recently, a herding dog named Ned got a wheelchair through the foundation. Now Ned is back to work, and that makes Jason’s day.

“A little piece of me goes out with every cart,” he says.

Here is a video of Ned at work from the foundation’s Facebook page.

 

Jason asks the owners of animals who get carts to share photos and videos on the foundation’s Facebook page. He thinks it helps to inspire others and give hope.

“Sharing these animals on Facebook is glimmer of light in today’s world,” says Jason.

Jason and the foundation are much more than a glimmer: they’re a world of sunshine.

Did we answer all your questions on "Man's Best Friend"?

27 Comments

  1. […] post Why One Man Chooses to Do Good in the World appeared first on […]

  2. Hi my name is Gina Turner and my little peki needs mobility. I am trying everything to help her. She was a rescue both her hips were broken and her jaw. They told me she was deaf and blind but after 18 mo of everyday love andncare i believe she can see shadows and hear a little. She learned to walk and was so happy..then she fell off the bed..i went to the vet they took all my money..then wouldn’t do anything else until i get more money im a senior and so is she i have no one so all my resources is just what i make and i have another week til payday. She is getting depressed laying all the time but her.hips no longer work. I want to fix her so bad. Any.help or advice u can give wpuld be so greatly appreciated

    • Hi Gina, we would be happy to help you get the right wheelchair for you puppy. Please contact our Customer Service department at 888-253-0777 and we would be happy to help answer all of your questions

  3. “Why one man chooses to do good in the world?” If not to help or assist others who are less fortunate or aid in any way possible. Hearing this story just put a spark in my heart and to actually see video of the wheels working was so heart warming. I have a amazing lab/pit/mixture, that until a few months ago was able to run and walk freely with no problems. Fecently she has had a fast decline and took her to the vet. I have had her since she was 8 weeks old and she has always been in great health, but apparently her spine is starting to compress on nerves that are causing her to lose function in her hind legs. She is not in pain put is miserable just lying there when her heart and mind are still fully functional. I spent the last of my money getting the MRI, to see if it was something that I could fix and their only option was an 8-10 thousand dollar operation, that might work. If you could at all be of any assisantance, I would be greatly apprciated and if their is anything that I could do for you in return, please let me know. I love what you all are doing.
    Thank you,
    Sarah Corder

  4. Hi my name is Jan and I have a chow chow shepherd mix medium sized about 46 lbs., and she’s paralyzed..
    I took her to the vet this happened about seven months ago, and up to then she was like a puppy…
    she had fell down a few steps and the vet said that maybe she done some damage to her spine when she ran up about six steps, and fell the wrong way, or could be neurological they said… they needed to do X-rays, and MRIs of which I cannot afford.. I’m a 63 year old disabled senior, and I’ve had my baby for 16 yrs. now, and like I said she up to 7 months ago was acting like a puppy.. I’ve been working with her even though I am disabled and will continue to as long as i can, but i I am seriously afraid that I’m going to fall with her because I totally exhaust myself and she exhausts herself trying to move, but she has became stronger with my assistance, and I knew if she had a cart or wheelchair she would be able to walk..
    I only have a limited amount of money as to me being disabled…
    I’ve called 1-800 number that is on here and they had stated that I would have to contact someone there.. however I did submit what I believe to be an application for assistance, but don’t know whether or not it has been received or not as I have no computer I have only a relatives smartphone to check email address for messages.. so i greatly hope that you have received the message of which I have left, because it’s getting so hard, because of my disability, and very exhausting for the both of us, and I so greatly appreciate as does she any help with assistance was some type of full support wheelchair so she can walk again…. I will below this comment laid my name email and website once again in case something went wrong and it didn’t get received I thank you all for all that you do for everyone and I greatly appreciate your time and I really hope to be hearing from someone soon as it is becoming so unbearably hard but I cannot stop try to do anything and everything to help my baby.. thank you Jan

    • Hi Jan,

      There are many groups that offer financial assistance for dogs in need. Please call our Customer Care Team at 1-888-253-0777, we’d be happy to answer any questions you may have and guide you in the right direction.

  5. Hi, my name is Becky. I have a full size dachshund. She is about 16 years old. She hurt her back several years ago and hasn’t been the same since. She is almost blind and almost deaf, bit she still loves being outside. She tries to walk, but most of the time her back feet get caught up under her. I would love for her to be happy in her last days, at least being able to walk around again. I think your program is wonderful. I admire anyone with that big of a heart for animals. For they do become a part of your family. Thanks, Becky

  6. Hi my name is Tabitha. I guess I will start off telling you about morgan she is a 9 year old chocolate lab. She was my dads dog actually before he passed away last September of m.s. well Morgan got sick just a couple months ago started peeing blood and dragging her back legs ….. well my mom took her to the vet and they said it was very common for labs to have bad back legs and the disease she has has crippled her she has no feeling in her back legs at all … now we have two choices and one is not a choice for us so that’s why I’m writing you. Your program would be perfect for her ! I don’t know if we could scrap the money together to get her a chair … so I googled it and found you guys.. I know it’s a long shot but it’s worth a try I’m going today to see if I can find a harness atleast til we can find a chair .. my dad was also in a wheelchair since he was in his 50 s . And now his dog needs one . But without it she will have no quality of life she just cries cause she doesn’t understand why she can’t walk … I don’t know what else to do I’ve never had a handicapped animal…. but if you could help it would be great thank you for your time I just keep going on so thank you very much

  7. Hi, my name is Paulina. I have a 10 1/2 year old Bichon and Pekignese, Marley. I came home from work one day and he was completely dragging his hind legs. With no sign of something being wrong prior to this. I rushed him to emergency vet and he was diagnosed with Intervertebral Disc Diseas Type 1. Vet gave 2 options, try out steroids or surgery. I am a newly single mom of 2 with no financial support from their dad. However, I could not give up on Marley. I went with the steroids first, eventhough vet said there was a 95% chance of it not working because of how severe it was. Only 3 days had gone by and Marley had already shown signs of improvement! He has the will to live and get better! Follow up appointment wasnt so well. Vet said he will never have full functionality of his hind legs. Will always walk wobbly or not at all because of the pain from him attempting to do so. Marley has been my companion since before i became a mother myself. We hike almost every weekend and it saddens me to know i wont have my hiking buddy anymore. I cannot afford surgery for him and know that a wheelchair will give him some normality in his life again as well as the possibility in helping him recover. If there was any way you could help, my kids and i would greatly appreciate it. I will be forever thankful! Thank you for your time.

    -Paulina I.

  8. Hi,my name is Krisztina and I’m writing to you about Junior my 6y old boxer.Junior was a rescue from SC in 2014 with hearth-worm + and had been through a lot with treatment.He was diagnosed in November with DM.He was very active up until a month ago but unfortunately he is getting worse.It breaks my heart seeing him struggle but he is trying so hard to be able to walk.I know that at this time my only option is finding him a wheelchair to give him some comfortable days until it’s time to say goodbye.I saw your organization online about supporting people with same or similar issues and I was wondering if you can help.Thank you for taking your time to read my letter.

    Krisztina&Junior

  9. Hi My name is Roe, I am the mom of my fur pup Spartakus who is a 9 1/2 year old Boxer who was diagnosed with Degenerative Myelopathy in August 2020. His condition is progressing at a faster rate than I would like it to and he will be in need of assistance. My family tries to get him a little bit of exercise in daily but to watch him struggle on some days is quite hurtful. His veterinarian stated that the only option as his disease progresses is to be put down however that will not be a option for my boy. He has way too much fight and I will not give up on my son. It would be more than helpful and I would love for my boy to be able too enjoy life so much more than what he does. If you and Gunner consider my son Spartakus a candidate we will be forever grateful.

    Best regards,
    Roe & Spartakus

  10. Hi, I love the work you are doing for our furbabies! I have a rescue Carolina Dog, Cressi – she rescued me when she was 5 months old and we have such a wonderful life in FL! She just turned 14 yrs old on May 31, and she has very bad arthritis and/or Degenerative Myelopathy. She has been declining for weeks and now cannot stand on her own. I thankfully had ordered a back end harness and I can help her up. I have a torn shoulder and am waiting on a knee replacement, so it is really hard on me to lift her but I love her! She cannot walk without me holding up her back end all the time. I would love to get her some wheels to let her have her freedom back.. she is such a sweet loving dog! If you can help, I would be forever grateful! Thank you! – Susan and Cressi

    • Hi Susan, please call us at 888-253-0777 and we can help answer any questions you may have regarding a wheelchair for Cressi.

  11. I’m in dyer need of a large wheelchair for the love of my life “Prince” a 110lb great perinese mix -back legs finally stopped working & I just want to give him the gift of walking again before his time is up. I had a paralyzed staffordshire pit & I have a medium size wheelchair if anyone needs it! My mother fell in January- just going back to work- I have no money & want to give this one gift to Prince! Please help

  12. I have a mountain cur dog she not walking good at all. My dog swimming lady told you can help me out. I can afford much. Me too is have problems with back and knee. She is 27 pounds.

    • Hi Emilee, we would be happy to help answer all of your questions! It sounds like your Mountain Cur would benefits from an adjustable wheelchair. The Walkin’ Wheels dog wheelchair will give her the support she needs to stand up, walk, run, and play on her own! Please call us at 888-253-0777

  13. My dog, Trixi is a 12 year old Border Collie/Rat Terrier mix and has lost the use of both her back legs because she tore the ACL in both legs. The first tear was in Feb. 2019. The second tear was November the same year. I chose not to do any surgery, thinking that I could help her heal and I didn’t have the money. She was doing well for a while with massage and then one day she wasn’t. I purchased a wheelchair for her, but she won’t use it. She freezes up and just stands there. It may not be the best and she may not feel safe. I really feel she could benefit from a better wheelchair, but again, I can’t afford it. She has now started to do her business inside the house, after I’ve taken her out. She’s constantly crying and all she wants is for me to sit and hold her. I thought about water therapy, but she hates the pool. I took her to the vet yesterday, and it was suggested that I put her down. I’m struggling with that. She has a lot of spunk left. But she’s in pain and tired of that. I just found your site and I am wondering if you could me, help her.

    • Hi Mary, I’m so sorry to hear about Trixi. It does sound like a wheelchair would be incredibly beneficial to her and help give her the support she needs to regain her independence. If she doesn’t like her current cart, it could be because it isn’t fitted correctly or the right size for her to be comfortable. A Walkin’ Wheels wheelchair is a fully adjustable dog wheelchair that can be adjusted in length, width, and height for the perfect fit. Please call us at 888-253-0777, we would be happy to answer any questions you may have!

  14. Dear Gunnars Wheels,
    My almost 14 yr old Siberian Husky is a lucky recipient of your very generous, wonderful wheelchair loaner program. With help through our local animal rescue organization (HCARE) we received the chair 2 days ago. What an incredibly wonderful thing! My boy took right to the cart not even hesitating for a minute once we got him properly fitted. Now we are able to take walks again without worries. We are hopeful he may gain some strength back in his hind quarters but even if he doesn’t it’s so nice that he can be mobile again. The work you are doing is truly inspirational. THANK-YOU a million times for giving my dog a new lease on life! Not to mention the relief I am feeling as a dog-parent in being able to provide this for him. BLESS YOU!!!

  15. Josey is a sweet four year old female french bulldog who has lost the use of her rear legs. She has gone through extensive therapy due to spine injury and vet says they dont know if she will ever get her legs back. I can’t afford a wheelchair but she needs one. I can certainly denote to your wonderful caring organization. Can you help poor Josey? I am partially handicapped myself so not able to help her very much myself. What are chances you can help her. ??

    • Hi MaryJo, I’m so sorry to hear about Josey. You can reach out to Jason at Gunnar’s Wheel through their Facebook page. For additional resources that help handicapped pets in need to receive wheelchairs, please visit our website here.

  16. I just found about this org from my friend Katie Cookerly-Dietrich, who has borrowed one cart for her pup. I’ve shared it and sent it to a bunch of people because it’s a great resource for what-if and for friends or strangers who may use this service. God bless you Jason, Gunnar and family.

  17. I would like to make a donation in memory of a handicap dog that used the Gunners Wheels. Can someone email me on how to do this as soon as possible. My neighbor just lost her dog and when Raha got the Gunner Wheels his life changed. I can’t think of a better gift that would please my neighbor.

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