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Toast Restaurant Raises Money to Replace Stolen Dog Wheelchair

By Alisa Hauser | March 2, 2013 12:24pm

BUCKTOWN —  "Heartbroken, completely down and hating people" was how a 57-year-old Bucktown man described his state of mind when an important package disappeared from his front porch within 20 minutes of its delivery.

The box contained a $400 custom-made 'dog wheelchair' for Nirah, an 11-year-old Rottweiler mix who has hip dysplasia and is unable to feel her hind legs due to nerve damage.

R. J. Seidel, who suffers from lower back pain, carries his 70-pound dog down the steps each time he walks her and holds her backside up in a donated sling, so that her hind legs do not drag on the ground.

"She has such limited freedom in her legs. I was thinking this would be such a relief for her and for me," Seidel said of the two-wheeled cart that is designed for animals with rear limb weaknesses and disc problems and manufactured by K9 Carts.

On Jan. 31, Seidel was closely tracking the arrival of the package on the UPS website and arrived home 20 minutes after it was delivered.

But it was too late.

After searching dumpsters and alleys, as well as going on Craigslist and eBay to see if there were any new listings for the device, Seidel posted fliers in the neighborhood offering a reward to anyone with information leading to the wheelchair's whereabouts.

Brendon H., a waiter at Toast Restaurant at 2046 N. Damen Ave. noticed one of Seidel's fliers and shared a photo of it on Instagram, according to Jeanne Roeser, owner of Toast, a Bucktown restaurant just a few blocks away from Seidel's home on the 2000 block of N. Oakley St.

Roeser reached out to Seidel to request a photo of Nirah so that she could put a collection jar at the register of Toast's Bucktown and Lincoln Park locations.

Not wanting to "seem like a charity case," Seidel, who works as a life coach and owned an Asian imports shop which closed in May 2010, said he was initially reluctant to accept Roeser's offer, though ultimately decided it was "an opportunity to get [Nirah] the wheelchair and let her walk and roam freely without assistance."

On Thursday — almost one month after the theft — Seidel picked up $400 cash from Roeser and will be ordering a new wheelchair cart for Nirah using the donated funds.

"It was remarkable. [Roeser's] gesture was kind and generous, as well as unexpected and appreciated. It made me realize that not everybody is an a--hole," Seidel said.

Though she does not own a dog, Roeser said she and her three children tend to a cat, turtle, hedgehog, chinchilla, hamster and frog.

"While it was horrible that the package was stolen, one incident doesn't define a neighborhood. The good here far outweighs the bad," Roeser said.