Q+A: The Corbins and Noodle

It just took one look. One look at a Facebook video from the Everett Humane Society, and Noodle, a 4-month-old puppy with a spinal cord injury, had captured the hearts of Bree and Kyle Corbin. It’s unclear what caused Noodle’s injury, but it left her without the ability to use her back legs, requiring a wheelchair to get around, and immediately the couple wanted to welcome her into their home. 

During the application process, the Corbins told shelter staff about their careers as physical therapists, and that they wanted to offer her an adapted life that was still filled with adventure, and hopefully inspire other people with different abilities to get outside and enjoy nature. Of all the applications the shelter received for Noodle, staff members were impressed by the couple’s goals, and shortly after, Noodle joined their family. 

Two years have since passed and Noodle has been on countless exploits, from long hikes to romps in the snow — with the help of skis that attach to her wheelchair. She’s inspired countless people, and her story recently motivated the Petco Foundation to award the Everett Animal Shelter a $5,000 grant as part of its Holiday Wishes campaign.   

Noodle and the Corbins’ were thrilled to attend the Petco celebration, and we chatted with Bree to learn more about their journey thus far.

Tell us a little about Noodle’s spinal cord injury.

There are different levels in your spine, depending on where the injury is, and that dictates the severity of the disability. Hers was somewhere in her lower thoracic spine. She has no voluntary motor function or movement of her back legs and no sensation of her lower back into her legs. She doesn’t feel any pain or anything like that. Her back legs kick constantly, and people think she’s voluntarily doing that, but it’s just a reflex or spasticity, as it’s called. 

What kind of adjustments did you need to make at your house so it was accessible for her?

Luckily, we have a one-story house, so she gets around the house really well. The only thing that happens is her scooter, or her little wheelchair, bangs the corners of our walls up. Her spinal cord injuries also (caused her to be) incontinent, which was one of the bigger obstacles. When she’s not in the scooter, she scoots around on her two front legs, but she needs something to grip on, like a carpet, but having carpet wasn’t the greatest idea because of her incontinence. We found these machine washable carpets called Ruggables, and that works really well. 

We have two scooters for her: a lighter-weight, narrow one for in the house, and then we have one with wheels that are cambered (they’re tilted out wide, and it keeps her from tipping over), and that’s the one we play Frisbee in and go hiking with. The wheels also come off and you can attach skis, and she’s gone skiing. She can do just about anything if you modify it for her.

With your backgrounds as physical therapists, how did you work with Noodle to improve her abilities? Was it much different than working with people?

She never feels sorry for herself, and I think as humans we feel sorry for ourselves, and that’s a very natural thing for us, but dogs don’t. They really don’t feel bad at all. When we first got her, there was a vet in Bellingham called Northshore Veterinary Hospital, and they do a lot of physical therapy for dogs. We met with them and their therapists and staff and learned a lot from them in terms of the differences between dogs and humans and the stretches that we should do. 

We tried the underwater treadmill, and we did that for about a year with her, but as she got older and bigger, her back legs just weren’t taking any weight, even in the water, so we don’t do that anymore. With her injury being a complete spinal cord injury, and you don’t want to say it, but there’s little to no hope of her ever recovering, so it’s all about maintaining the flexibility that she has and preventing injuries.

What are her favorite activities, and what kind of equipment does she use?

Frisbee. She eats, lives, and breathes Frisbee. She’ll play Frisbee on land in the summertime. She can swim with just her front paws, so we play water Frisbee. 

We’ve been camping and hiking. I think the longest she hiked was in the summer; we did an 8-mile hike. She’s gone paddle boarding. We did cross-country skiing last winter. We have a little trailer for the bike; we can pull her along in the bike for a bike trip. But by far, she likes Frisbee best.

Your family is so active, and it’s really interesting that your experience has given you the opportunity to write for the Washington Trails Association and Washington State Parks about accessibility. Can you tell us more about that and what you noticed on your adventures with Noodle?

The big picture for that, both being therapists but also owning Noodle, is learning that adaptability is the key to success. Washington State Parks, on their website, you have the ability to click on their accessibility link and see trails that are wheelchair-accessible around the state. We’ve met people who are hiking what seems like a relatively easy trail, but who knows what’s going on with them medically, and they’re out there with their trekking poles, and I just love it. Everyone deserves to go out and enjoy nature and find a way that’s accessible for them, so I think it’s great that WTA and WSP are encouraging that and making it easier for people to find those trails. 

There are definitely times we set out to do a trail and found that the trail gets too narrow for her wheels to fit or that it’s too rocky for her. So, there are lots of times we’ve turned around, but changing the view of, “Hey, if we don’t make it through the whole trail or to that scenic outlook, it doesn’t matter.” It’s still a good time to get out there and be active. She could care less if we made it to the waterfall. She just loves it, whether that hike only becomes a mile because it’s inaccessible to her, she’s still happy, and then we’re happy. 

Noodle inspired you to volunteer at a camp for kids with disabilities, and I’m curious if caring for Noodle has impacted the way you interact with people who have special needs?

I think so. That’s probably one of the biggest surprising things. We’re both physical therapists, and we tend to work with people who have neurological injuries — stroke, Parkinson’s, spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis. Having Noodle, even though we’ve been therapists for 10 to 15 years, it’s given us more of a drive to do our jobs. We share pictures of Noodle with (our patients), and they get all excited, and a lot of them will follow her on Facebook. We’ve gotten to meet some really great people.

So many are wary of adopting a pet with special needs. How has Noodle changed your outlook on that, and what would you say to people who are hesitant to take it on?

There are so many people who have dogs with special needs, and there’s a lot in the Seattle area that we’ve become friends with and meet up with. I would say, if you have even the slightest thought that you want to do it, there’s such a great community online through things like Instagram and Facebook, and that community is so welcoming and will answer questions. The information is out there. If you adopt a dog with special needs, you won’t be reinventing the wheel, and there are so many resources to help along the way. A dog with special needs, there’s something unique about the love that they give you. Noodle does rely on us more than another dog would because of the extra care we have to give her, but it creates this bond that I’ve never had with another dog, which is really unique.

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is an assistant editor at 425 magazine. Email her.
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