Few stories exemplify the saying “You’re never too old to make a difference” better than that of Lincoln Parkes. Parkes is a 92 years old Navy Air Corps veteran and retired veterinarian who spends his retirement making wheelchairs for crippled animals in his small white workshop in a tiny Chesapeake Bay town in Oxford. He spends his days designing and crafting wheelchairs for dogs, cats, rabbits, chickens and any other animal that requires one, but not horses though, as he is “not a horse person.”[1].

A passion for helping animals

In the early 1960s, Parkes invented and patented a “wheelchair” cart apparatus that would allow disabled animals to walk again and started a life-long career focused on perfecting the craft. Around the same time, he started his wheelchair workshop, called K-9 Cart, as a side business and kept it running all through his career as a veterinary surgeon. Parkes retired from active practice in 1991 after performing over 3,000 spine surgeries on animals and decided to focus all his attention on making custom-made carts for paralyzed animals [2].

According to him, “I like to give animals a better life. If you put them in a cart when they can’t get around, it gives them mobility so they can use their front legs and their spirit just goes — they’re like kids once they got their independence.”

Parkes spends his weekdays hand-crafting custom made-to-order movement aids for animals from around 10 am to 8 pm, creating several hundred carts every year. His custom-built wheelchairs start from about $300 to $800+ depending on what is needed and help sick immobile pets regain something very precious to them.

From skiing to taking care of animals

After the close of WWII, Parkes tried to earn a living as a professional skier. He and a friend skied their way around the country for a few years, paying their way by taking up odd jobs which often included tending animals on ranches. He discovered that he enjoyed working with animals and eventually decided to become serious about his future. He went back to school and got his degree at the veterinary college at Colorado State University.

While researching and working at the Animal Medical Center in the early 1960s, Parkes noticed that there was a demand for mobility aids for animals. According to him, “Some of the dogs that I’d done surgery for didn’t all walk afterward and the owners would say, ‘Look, I’m not going to put my dog down, will you give something for him so he can get around?’ And so, I said, ‘Sure.’” Soon after, his wheelchair workshop, K9 Carts, was born.

K9 Carts has had a successful run over the years as Parkes had almost no competitors throughout the ’60s and ’70s. During this time, he sold thousands of these wheelchairs every year and made a lot of money. He also filed and received three patents for his designs over the course of four decades. Asides from the monetary benefits, his wheelchairs have also earned him public recognition and respect, especially among veterinarian where he’s known as “the James Herriot of the profession.”[3].

According to fellow retired veterinarian, Tory Hampshire, “The reason that Parkes is admired, at least by veterinarians, is he was able to understand that people aren’t ready to put their pets to sleep, and his invention shows tremendous empathy. His wheelchairs make a big difference for people.”

Reference:

  1. WWII veteran, retired veterinarian gives ailing animals a spring in their step“, Stars and Stripes. August, 2018.
  2. “This 92-year-old retired veterinarian has been making “wheelchairs” for paralyzed animals for over 60 years”, AOL. May, 2019
  3. This 90-year-old retired vet gives ailing dogs — and rabbits and chickens — a spring in their step“, The Washington Post. August, 2018.
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