amazing world famous chihuahua wheely willy dies

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rest in peace wheely willy the amazing chihuahua

famous chihuahua® was deeply saddened to hear about the recent passing of superstar chihuahua, wheely willy. if you have never heard of wheely willy, here are the details of his passing and the amazing story that lives in the legacy of this amazing chihuahua. rip wheely willy.

… wheely willy is dead. or is he?

yes, it’s true, his “mother” deborah turner found him curled up next to her in bed on the morning of dec. 22, his tiny heart stopped. she wrapped a blanket around the dog, cradled him in her arms, held onto his little paws and wept.

but wheely willy the symbol lives on. just ask any kid who attended elementary school between 1999 and now.

chances are they met wheely willy. and if they met wheely willy, chances are they haven’t forgotten him.

“life is what you make of it,” was willy’s message.

and that’s a pretty powerful message, coming from a 4-pound chihuahua that overcame hate, paralysis and homelessness to become a tv star and eventually tour the world, bringing even the royal prince and princess of japan to their knees.

no one really knows where wheely willy’s life begins or what horrors befell him.

but he got a second chance in the early ’90s when a woman came upon a cardboard box, sealed with tape, on some street in los angeles. inside she found a hairless, emaciated, shivering little dog.

he didn’t bark, or even whine, because, she later learned, someone had cut his vocal chords. nor did he try to jump out, because, she later learned, his back was broken, leaving his hind legs paralyzed.

the woman took the little dog to a vet she knew who did rescue work, and there he lived, in a cage, for the next year. until deborah turner heard about him.

at the time, deborah owned the doggie in the window pet store in long beach, and she too did rescue work. she arrived at the vet’s office one day expecting to find a sad sack. instead, she found one of the most playful dogs she had ever met, dragging his legs behind him like he didn’t have a care in the world.

“we were all standing around looking at him with tears in our eyes,” she recalls. “well, he didn’t know what the sad story was.”

the vet had named him chilly willy, because before his hair grew back and he put on some fat, he shivered all the time.

deborah’s plan was to return to Long Beach to spread the word of chilly willy’s plight and try and find him a home. but when the vet put willy back in his cage, his ears went all hangdog droopy.

“ok, give him back to me,” she announced.

and soon willy was in a ford explorer on his way to long beach.

deborah’s first order of business was to give willy his legs back. she tried putting his hind legs on a small skateboard, but his front legs couldn’t keep up. next she tied a bunch of helium balloons to the back of the baby pajamas she had bought him, but instead of just lifting his back legs, it lifted his whole body off the ground.

then she saw an ad in a pet magazine for the k-9 cart. the day it arrived, she hooked willy up to his new wheels. he took off running, head thrown back, ears flying.

“this might sound dramatic,” deborah says. “but it took his world from black and white into full blown color. because that’s where life began for him.”

deborah took willy everywhere she went. he rode in the cart at wild oats. and he waited in line at the bank. he even went to the restroom with her since she had to express his bladder for him because of the paralysis.

out on the streets, it seemed like everyone wanted to know: what’s the story there with that little guy?

soon the newspapers came calling. then tv.

she also got a call from the people who owned the trademark to chilly willy, the cartoon penguin: we really think willy’s a great dog and all, but drop the name or we’ll sue, was the gist of their message. and that’s how chilly willy became wheely willy.

suddenly, wheely willy was everywhere.

he did animal planet (where he remains one of their highest rated shows), national geographic and the talk show circuit, sitting down with mike and maty, leeza and tammy faye baker.

the publicity led to personal appearances. and soon every hospital and elementary school around wanted to book him. deborah even did some high school graduation keynote speeches, giving some version of the “i can” speech with willy by her side.

he made kids on chemotherapy laugh for the first time in weeks. and a woman in an alzheimer’s home in los alamitos saw willy and broke into “silent night,” singing the entire song, word for word, and prompting nurses to phone the family so they could quickly drive over and see their mother speak again.

together, willy and deborah traveled the globe, making appearances in germany and canada. “he’s particularly popular in japan,” she says.

wheely willy gets a glimpse of himself on the jumbo tron on the streets of tokyo

she and willy met prince hitachi and princess hanako a few years ago. when they saw the dog, the royals got down on the floor, causing a minor sensation. out on the streets of tokyo, pictures of willy flashed on the giant jumbo trons.

willy’s story made it into the “chicken soup for the cat and dog lover’s soul” book. in “working dogs: tales from animal planet’s k-9 to 5 world,” his work in the spinal unit at the long beach veterans hospital (where his picture still hangs) is documented. his story is even on the standardized reading proficiency test given to school children in texas.

sometimes someone would ask if willy did any tricks. “his trick is that he can wake up every day happy,” deborah would tell them.

a rainy day last january marked the beginning of the end.

deborah was on her way to an elementary school presentation when she slipped off her rain-slicked porch and willy flew out of her arms. she wound up in a wheelchair with a broken leg. willy wound up in a hospital with a broken hip, leg and jaw.

three surgeries followed, but willy never really recovered.

on new year’s day she met me at a coffee shop, carrying a little royal blue velvet bag. inside was a round tin of willy’s ashes.

“there’s some part of me that knew he wasn’t going to live forever,” she told me. “but then there was some fanciful part of me that thought maybe he will live forever.”

that’s the part she should listen to.

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Comments 11

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  2. Terry Boretzky

    Dear Deborah,

    You met me years ago at Kathy Delongs home on Wilton Ave. in Long Beach. She wanted so badly to complete Willie’s urn.
    I was so upset when she passed this June 2010. She talked to me a lot over the past year. It is hard not to hear her Rhode Island accent on the phone. We became closer over the past year. God Bless her heart. I recently rescued a doxie at the Santa Maria Humane Society, in the town I live. I know Kathy would be glad! I love my dog Simon with all my heart and I am so sorry for your loss. Please e-mail me back. I would love to hear from you and from Bob Carlton. You two meant so much to her. Love and hugs, Terry in Santa Maria, CA

  3. Grahm

    I’m glad you told me of Wheelie Willy. I’ll mourn his loss for years to come. Love you Willy! We all do!

  4. Briana

    Oh my God, I am so sorry! I was crying the whole story because I never knew about him and I am so happy he had a wonderful life.

  5. Andrea

    Hi, I didn’t know about this story and I was crying to the end. You didn’t lost anything you have right now an angel that he is watching you and I like persons like you no the other one because that kind of persons they do not have any idea what is to have a baby like yours, I have 4 chi mix and they are my life I think without them I can not live. Deborah he is in peace right now but don’t give up. God bless him and you

  6. Michelle Minx

    I have seen Deborah and Wheely Willy on several T.V shows, and thought they were such an inspiration to all. Watching him in his little doggie wheelchair was so cute, how he raced around. Reading he had passed brought a tear to my eye, my thoughts go out to Deborah. I am so glad he got a second chance and lived his life to the fullest. Rest in peace little angel. xoxo

  7. Stephanie Faith

    I was at first shocked at the story because of the cruelty of the person who abused an innocent creature…and then warmed at what a lovely life he and his human mother had together. I have a 12 year old chi and I know how amazing these little dogs can be – their big hearts, big courage and playfulness.

  8. L. Carr

    Well, I cried through the whole story but must say it was a beautiful story of hope from a little dog and the wonderful woman that loved and took care of him. It saddens me so at the thought that someone was so cruel to him in the beginning but thank God for his human angels.

  9. Dusty

    How lucky that the two of you found each other. I cannot image anyone hurting animals such as what he had to endure. Thank you for making the rest of his life wonderful.

  10. Joelle

    I’m a so sorry for your lose….I have a chihuahua named Dio or I should say he has my heart. I will pray for peace to flood your life and know you are a true angel for giving him back his life and he’s telling God all about you…God Bless You

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