In August 2020, Rebecca Burlage’s seven-month-old French Bulldog puppy, Ruby, ran into the woods near their town of Mineral home. When Burlage went after her, she found a stack of wood left over from construction. That’s when she had the inspiration to build a unique doghouse for Ruby and Burlage’s other bulldog, Penny.
Burlage is wheelchair-bound, having lost her legs due to a fire. But this didn’t stop her from wanting to build the doghouse and play area on her own. Shortly after finding the stack of wood, she bought tools at a home improvement store and online and went to work.
“Without any plans for asking anybody, I just started building this thing and I just kept adding and adding,” Burlage said. “I just did it, and I figured, if I mess up, it’s [only] a doghouse.”
The doghouse consists of two floors. The ground-level floor has a cot, a solar-operated fan, a small bubble window for the dogs to look out of, and a tunnel they can use as an exit. There’s a big ramp that leads them to the upper level. The inside of the top floor has toys hanging by elastic or that spin, and a porch that wraps around the interior. The porch has chew toys the bulldogs can enjoy. To exit the second floor, the dogs can either take the ramp or use a slide.
There is also an agility circuit the dogs can use to exercise and play. There’s a bar they can jump over, a hoop they can jump through, a teeter board, and a sandbox they can use for digging.
Burlage worked on this project 10 hours a day for two months, carrying wood, digging holes, doing the roofing, and pouring cement, which she did without a mixer by putting the cement in a bucket with a lid and rolling it down a hill.
Previously a gymnast, Burlage relied on her upper-body strength and flexibility to maneuver her way around the doghouse.
“My seat elevates, and I am very flexible,” Burlage said. “I can flip up into that house. It’s like a three- or four-foot jump [to the second floor], but I can just flip up to it.”
When winter came, she covered it with a tarp and decided to finish it in the spring. Unfortunately, this past March, Burlage needed to get shoulder surgery, leaving her with one functioning arm, which has presented additional challenges.
“I never thought about giving up because I’m hell-bent determined, but with one arm, I’m just so frustrated,” Burlage said. “Some of what’s left [to do], you have to get on the ground, and I can’t get back up in my wheelchair one-handed.”
One recent challenge she encountered was trying to bury the end of the slide. The ground in that area was particularly rocky and hard – she couldn’t get it to budge. One day, she saw a group of firefighters at Mineral Volunteer Fire Department (Company 2) playing basketball and asked them for help.
“Five [firemen] came, and four could not get it [the shovel in the ground],” Burlage said. “Then one of them was a ditch digger for utilities, and he got in there and worked up a sweat and got the hole big enough.”
Burlage has had a little help here and there from the firefighters who helped her bury the slide and her nephew who helped carry mulch, place boards, and hand her tools while she was working on the second floor of the doghouse. Since her shoulder surgery, she’s needed a little more assistance with tasks that required heavy lifting, but still does things as independently as possible and did the majority of the work herself.
“I’ve always been very independent,” Burlage said. “I like things done my way, and in order to guarantee they’re done your way, you’ve got to do it yourself.”
Burlage lost her first leg in 1996 and had her second leg amputated in 2013. She has experienced complications with her spine and has been hospitalized more than 220 times for severe lung disease.
Despite these challenges, Burlage has always found a way to do the things she’s wanted to do.
“I went snorkeling on oxygen, and I went camping with an I.V. pole,” Burlage said. “I have always figured out a way because I was too young to not [live].”
This deluxe dog house was another one of Burlage’s goals that she put her mind to. She said it was nice to have a project to work on during the coronavirus pandemic.