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Robert Luken, 17, (left) and his father, Brian, of Spotsylvania made their dog, Charlee, a walker from recycled and donated parts. Charlee has hip and back issues and her vet had suggested they consider putting her to sleep.
Former rescue dog Charlee is getting around with a homemade walker. Her owners of 13 years, Brian, Vicky and Robert Lukens of Spotsylvania, had to give up their home and other items, but refused to give up on Charlee.
By CATHY DYSON
The Lukens family of Partlow has had to say goodbye to many of the things that defined their lives.
But as they've adjusted to the fallout from financial problems, they've vowed they won't give up--no, make that can't give up--on their aged pet.
Charlee, a hound mix, has been a part of the family for 13 years. Her "parents," Brian and Vicky Lukens, adopted her from an Orange County rescue group that brought animals to PetSmart, and she's the only dog their 17-year-old son, Robert, has ever known.
Charlee had trouble putting weight on her back legs this summer--about the time that Brian lost his job and the family had to give up its spacious home on seven acres.
After several visits to the veterinarian, which were paid for, in part, by a former neighbor, the Lukens were told it might be time to let Charlee go.
The vet reminded them the dog is getting older--she's almost 14--and she has problems with disks and nerves in her back.
The Lukens couldn't listen. They'd lost so much in the past three years because of the downturn in the economy, they couldn't bear the thought of life without Charlee.
"She's still our baby," Brian said. "I couldn't see being here without her. As long as she's not in pain, and she can get up and do her business, I don't see any point in putting her down.
"I've never done that," he added.
When things got worse and Charlee couldn't go outside on her own, Brian came up with another solution.
'IT'S GOT TO WORK'
The Lukenses had been feeling the impact of the recession for almost three years when Charlee, who used to run like the wind, first showed signs of problems.
Brian's hours had been cut at work, then his job with a printing company disappeared altogether in July. The company he had worked for printed brochures and fliers for nonprofits, and when their donations dried up, so did their printing needs.
Vicky worked two part-time jobs, as a school bus aide and a cashier at Target, to try to make ends meet.
But by summer, the family was so behind in mortgage payments they took the bank up on an offer to do a short sale. They left the Saddlebrooke subdivision in southeastern Spotsylvania County where they'd lived for 22 years.
"We enjoyed it there," Brian said. "We tried to stay, we did everything we could."
They got rid of their 27-foot camper, their newer-model truck and some of their furniture. They rented a two-bedroom, one-bath home in Partlow half the size of their previous house.
"I kept telling Vicky, 'It's too small,' " Brian said.
"It's got to work," she said. "It's got to."
The couple also filed for bankruptcy.
"That was hard," Vicky said. "You work all these years and you're used to paying your bills, and then you can't do it anymore. It's a blow to your ego."
In the same breath the Lukenses described their situation, they pointed out they're luckier than many.
"There's people that have it worse than we do," Vicky said.
Charlee went on several different medications in the summer and fall when she had difficulty standing.
She seemed OK through mid-November, then she couldn't get up at all.
Brian and Robert were at the vet office the day the doctor said it might be time to consider, as Brian put it, "doggy heaven."
Both cried like babies.
Brian told himself there had to be another way.
He looked into laser treatments, but couldn't afford $250 for the basic dosage, plus more for follow-up treatments.
A friend suggested a doggy walker, and Brian looked online. The devices cost up to $600, way out of his price range.
Then, Brian saw one made from PVC pipe. He bought some at a hardware store.
His neighbor Tracy Gist offered an axle and wheels from an old grill. Vicky cut up an old sheet and sewed a sling for Charlee to rest her belly on.
Brian found a strap from a cooler and used that to hook the dog to the get-up.
"Pretty much everything is recycled off something else," Brian said.
They bought a harness and put the doggy walker to the test.
They watched as Charlee wobbled, on trembling legs, from the steps of the back deck to the grassy yard behind the house.
"As you can see, it's nothing fancy, but it works," Brian said. "It seems like it's strengthening her back legs."
Vicky added: "She's walking. She's getting some exercise."
'INGENUITY AND LOVE'
Toby Folks is the Lukenses' neighbor from Saddlebrooke, and she's paid a lot of Charlee's vet bills. Vicky calls her "Charlee's angel."
Folks has a dog with similar problems. She couldn't believe the difference the walker made for Charlee.
"When I went to see her, I just fell apart," Folks said. "It was wonderful to see this dog walk."
The new neighbor, Gist, says the same. He was glad to donate the wheels to the project, saying, "That's what we do in Partlow; we help each other out."
He's amazed by how much each member of the Lukens family loves the dog.
The walker proves his point.
"It's ingenuity and love for the animal," he said.
Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425