Jason Parker is the founder of Gunnar’s Wheels, an organization that gives wheelchairs to disabled animals around the world. Jason currently has two dogs of his own, both rescued black labs, but has helped thousands of animals through his work. If you want to learn more about Gunnar’s Wheels, keep an eye out for the new TV-docuseries To The Rescue— Jason is featured in an upcoming episode!
Image via Go Fund Me
How did Gunnar’s Wheels start?
My black lab Gunnar was hit by a vehicle in 2014 and was left a parapalegic. When I took him to a professional at the University of Minnesota for an MRI, the vet gave me the option to either put Gunnar down or to do a surgery that would require him to use a wheelchair for the rest of his life. I chose the surgery, which cost me thousands of dollars in vet bills, but allowed me to keep Gunnar. I chronicled the story on social media and a local news outlet ended up covering it. We got enough money in donations to pay for Gunnar’s wheelchair, and that’s when it really started. I wanted to pay it forward, and decided to partner with wheelchair manufacturers so that I could provide wheelchairs to disabled animals who lived with families that couldn’t afford their care. I like to think of Gunnar’s Wheels as a hand-up, not a hand-out.
What kinds of animals do you work with?
The first animal I gave a wheelchair to was a Pitbull named Hope back in 2016 who had been hit by a car. Since then, I have provided over 1,700 wheelchairs to a variety of animals— dogs, cats, sheep, fawn, possum, goats, and even a tortoise. I recondition old wheelchairs or use new ones to fit the animal’s needs and send it wherever they are in the world. I try to give preference to shelter and rescue animals, retired canine officers, military dogs, and service animals, but we always try to help as many animals as we can depending on our funding at the time.
For an organization like yours that is all donation-based, how have things changed since COVID?
Gunnar’s Wheels is all volunteer work, we never take a paycheck for what we do. Every penny that we get in donations is put right back into the organization. Our funding has almost entirely stopped since the pandemic started, and that was partly my choice. I made the decision to stop asking for donations when COVID hit because I didn’t want to pressure people into donating to Gunnar’s Wheels when they were worried about things like putting food on the table and keeping a roof over their head. I know how hard it is to say no to helping disabled animals, and I wanted to relieve the pressure people felt to donate when they saw my requests. We do have a long wait-list of animals who need our help, so I hope we get the funds to help them all soon.
What is the best part of your job?
The shining light of this work is keeping Gunnar’s memory alive. He was an amazing animal, and losing him in 2017 was the worst day of my life. Every time I am able to help another animal, I look up at the sky and think, “I hope I’m making you proud, and I can’t wait to see you again.”