A disabled Westie is behind the launch of Pumpkin and Friends, a charity dedicated to supporting special needs dogs and their owners. Joanne Bednall reports.
Tammie Fox still can’t believe how dramatically her life has changed since she offered to care for a rescue puppy for a couple of days 18 months ago.
The 42-year-old nail technician wasn’t looking for another dog when she spotted an online post that melted her heart. A local rescue had been inundated with unwanted animals following the pandemic and was keen to hear from anyone willing to foster.
“The rescue was bursting with dogs, particularly puppies, following lockdown,” explained Tammie, from Lincoln, Lincolnshire. “So, I offered to look after an eight-week-old West Highland White Terrier puppy, en route from a shelter in Kent, for 24 to 48 hours until a more permanent foster home could be found.”
Thinking she was doing the dog and the rescue a good turn, Tammie wasn’t aware that the puppy was disabled, or had double incontinence. In fact, she was totally unprepared for the impact little Pumpkin would have on her entire family.
“When she arrived, I could immediately see that her back legs were twisted and there was something not right with her spine,” said Tammie, who also owns five-year-old Jack Russell Terrier, Smiggle, and four rescue cats.
“She couldn’t move and appeared in pain. My partner, Richard, our children Maddison and Ziggy, Mum, and I just sobbed.
“We soon realised poor Pumpkin was deformed — her back legs were upside down and facing the wrong way and she had a massive lump at the top of her spine.”
Tammie took Pumpkin to her local vet, who advised her to put the pup to sleep as she was suffering.
“I was heartbroken, but I was determined to fight for this dog,” continued Tammie, who started sourcing dog nappies online to combat Pumpkin’s incontinence. By now, the family had fallen in love with the pup’s cheeky and loving personality and decided to formally adopt her.
Tammie sought a second opinion from another local vet at Lincvet, who referred her to one of the UK’s leading veterinary specialists. Pumpkin’s story was covered by local newspapers and radio stations, while Tammie’s videos were viewed online as far afield as America and Australia.
“I was prepared to sell my car and re-mortgage my house to pay for Pumpkin’s treatment,” continued Tammie, who’d hoped to raise a few hundred pounds but was aghast when donations topped a staggering £10,000.
Pumpkin underwent an MRI scan at 13 weeks, when it was revealed she had been born with deformed back legs.
“But it was apparent that the damage to her spine had been done deliberately,” added Tammie, who was so upset by this news that she had to leave the room.
“The vet explained that Pumpkin’s spinal injury was the worst he’d ever seen, and he wasn’t sure how she’d survived. The only way to explain the trauma was that she had been stamped on. Her spine subsequently fused into a knotted mess, meaning corrective surgery wasn’t possible.
“The only positive thing was that her spinal cord had been severed, meaning she couldn’t feel any pain and wasn’t suffering.” Tammie praised the “amazing” vet.
“We were so grateful for his help — I don’t think Pumpkin would be here now if it wasn’t for him,” explained Tammie, who needed a week to process all the information they’d received.
“Richard and I had so many conversations — he was thinking with his head, while I was thinking with my heart — but we knew we were taking on a massive financial commitment.”
The couple adapted their home by removing all the carpets and replacing steps with ramps. Pumpkin gets through 15 dog nappies a day — just eight cost £10 — while physiotherapy and hydrotherapy sessions were needed to strengthen her core and front limbs before she could use a wheelchair.
Costing around £270, Pumpkin’s pink wheelchair is made by Walkin’ Pets, a US company that provides equipment for disabled dogs, distributed in the UK by Wheels for Dogs.
Image above: Pumpkin and Squiggle.
Tammie’s video of the first time the pup used her wheelchair went viral and received millions of views.
“Initially, Pumpkin was a little reluctant but she eventually got the hang of it and was soon doing 360-degree turns and chasing Smiggle,” recalled Tammie, who was greatly encouraged by Pumpkin’s progress that day.
“All of a sudden, she wasn’t a disabled dog any more. The wheelchair has revolutionised her life, and she can now do what other dogs do — run, play, and paddle in water.”
Tammie likens caring for Pumpkin to having a newborn baby. Now aged one, the Westie, who weighs just 3.5lb, has to have her bladder manually expressed every three hours to avoid urinary tract infections.
“Even though looking after Pumpkin has been hard, stressful, and messy, we never thought about giving up — we love her and are passionate about doing all we can to help her,” she said.
Inspired by Jack the Westie, whose wheelchair gave him another eight years of life after he was paralysed by a tumour on his spine, Tammie started a Facebook page where she posted daily videos of Pumpkin.
“It just grew, and soon people in a similar situation were approaching me for advice and help with their disabled dogs,” continued Tammie, who launched an event last April to raise funds and awareness of dogs with special needs.
The Disability Dog Walk, in Boultham Park, Lincoln, attracted 130 dogs, of whom 60 were disabled, and raised an amazing £15,500, which helped to fund wheelchairs and operations for other disabled dogs. After ‘BBC Breakfast’ filmed the event, Tammie’s life went galactic. Pumpkin’s Facebook page now has more than 90,000 followers, and £12,000 was pledged even before the start of this year’s walk, with 250 dogs entered. In June 2022, Tammie launched the Pumpkin And Friends Charity, which provides owners of disabled dogs with financial help for wheelchairs and veterinary treatment, as well as advice via a 24/7 WhatsApp support group.
So far, 152 disabled dogs across the country have been helped. A trained therapy dog, Pumpkin also visits nursing homes and schools. “The children adore her,” said Tammie, who refers to the Westie’s disability as ‘Pumpkin power’.
Image above: Pumpkin staring in 'The Wizard of Oz'.
“I always leave with a smile on my face hoping that one day, they might decide to adopt a disabled animal.” Pumpkin has even won rave reviews for her first acting role as Toto in the New Theatre Royal Lincoln’s recent production of ‘The Wizard of Oz’.
“I thought a disabled dog wouldn’t pass the audition but Pumpkin has been amazing and unfazed by costumes, lights, and loud noises.
“Pumpkin knows she’s a superstar on and off stage — she inspires people struggling with their mental or physical health, as well as owners of disabled dogs. I am so proud of everything we have achieved together.