It was a day of remembrance and celebration for a tiny dog that left a big impact on not only the Long Beach animal community, but also those less fortunate. Wheely Willy, an abandoned dog who became the face of unsheltered animals, was commemorated last Sunday, July 10, with a brief ceremony and mosaic plaque presented by Long Beach Animal Care Services and Friends of Long Beach Animals (FOLBA).
“Being a celebrity did not change Willy. He did not let it go to his head,” said Lynda Montgomery, Animal Match Rescue Team volunteer, at the event. “He was always humble. Deborah, on the other hand, turned into a terrible diva.”
The humorous introduction given by Montgomery set the stage for the remainder of the ceremony, which turned into a light-hearted affair as opposed to a solemn memorial. Deborah Turner, Willy’s owner for 19 years, took photos with the plaque and took the time to personally thank the many individuals who attended the ceremony.
“One thing about Willy is that he made me understand that there are good people all over the place,” Turner said. “Every one of you sitting here today is an example of that.”
Attendees were treated to light refreshments and snacks courtesy of FOLBA. A memorial book was available for guests to sign in addition to photos of Willy and his owner personally signed by Turner.
The ceremony, conducted at the memorial garden in the Long Beach Animal Care Center’s PD Pitchford Village, served as a secondary service to the memorial held a year and half ago, which was rained out. Willy had died in his sleep at the age of 22.
Willy entered into Turner’s life after she discovered him at an animal hospital. He was abandoned in a cardboard box, paralyzed, with his vocal cords severed. Turner used a K-9 cart to bring back his mobility and joyful nature, which was chronicled in the book, How Willy Got His Wheels. Turner and Willy also visited hospitals, schools and convalescent homes for many years to share his story of determination and hope.
“Willy was not a mascot, but he was an ambassador for shelter animals for many, many years,” said Shirley Vaughan, FOLBA vice president. “He believed, he conquered, and he might not have known he was doing all those things, but he was an inspiration.”
Many people know Turner through her dog-grooming business, Doggie in the Window, which operated for 17 years. She currently serves as a FOLBA humane educator.
“He had that ‘I can’ spirit. None of us are really all that confident, even if we seem to be,” Turner said. “He was kind of a symbol of, ‘It’s a short life and basically you can do just about anything you set your mind to.’”