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City Weekend

Hong Kong wheelchair dog wins spot in international pet calendar

Owners wanted Tessa, a 13-year-old mixed-breed dog, to remain mobile after she was diagnosed with canine degenerative myelopathy, an incurable neuron condition

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 September, 2016, 10:01am
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 September, 2016, 10:21am

A 13-year-old mixed-breed dog who moves with the aid of a wheelchair has been named one of the winners in a worldwide pet calendar contest.

This marks the first time a dog from Hong Kong has been victorious in the Walkin’ Wheels Calendar Contest, which is organised by handicappedpets.com.

The win will see much-loved family pet, Tessa, featured in the 2017 calendar as one of the most beautiful pets with disability around the globe.

Watch: Disabled dog enjoys outdoor adventure with wheelchair

Her owners, Sai Kung couple Sandra and Nigel Snell, said Tessa was diagnosed with canine degenerative myelopathy, an incurable neuron condition that paralyses the animal’s back legs, about nine months ago.

The Snells decided to experiment with putting their oldest dog on a wheelchair and have been very pleased with the results.

The wheelchair sustains the weight of Tessa’s waist and back legs, which allows her to pace around by using her front legs and the wheels on the back.

Sandra Snell, an occupational therapist, said the wheelchair has “given a new life” to Tessa.

Mrs Snell said Tessa accompanied them in a lot of outdoor activities when she was healthy.

“She still has this passion to be outdoors, so we decided it was up to us to make her mobile again,” she said.

“She is now able to continue to be mobile and enjoy all the things she likes.”

With the help of the wheelchair, Tessa can now walk, run and even swim with the aid of some buoyancy tools. But she now has to give up on some of the rugged and steep hiking trails which she used to love, since she has strength only in her front legs. Toileting is also a challenge.

Nigel Snell, a captain for Cathay Pacific, said Tessa’s entry into the photo contest came by chance.

“We were sending pictures to the wheelchair company to ask some questions, but when they saw Tessa, we were encouraged to send pictures of her to enter the competition,” he said.

The Australian family found Tessa as an abandoned puppy in Tai Tam 13 years ago, two years after they moved to Hong Kong.

“When we saw her little tiny nose and her brown eyes, we felt like we had to take her,” Mr Snell said.

Mrs Snell said she hoped that Tessa being internationally recognised could create awareness for pets with disability.

“As opposed to putting their sick dogs to sleep, I hope people realise that dogs can be given a second chance at having a good life,” she said.

Mr Snell said that Tessa’s victory in the contest also meant a lot for Hong Kong. He said mixed-breed dogs were often not appreciated by many people in the city.

The Snell family has adopted five abandoned dogs in Hong Kong in their time here, all of which have been mixed breed.

“Sometimes people ship pet dogs in from overseas,” Mr Snell said. “But there are so many beautiful dogs here in Hong Kong who need a home.”