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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
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 wheelchairfor Gunnar, expressing his bladder, and helping him to recover from the surgery.
“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.
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!
The 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
Jason 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.