Kuno’s day job is being a service animal to his owner, Marla Smith, helping her manage her new life in a wheelchair after she became a double amputee two years ago. But it’s his unique side job, as a weather broadcasting Rottweiler who adds a dash of advocacy for accessibility issues in his daily reports, that has earned him a following online.
Ms. Smith, who suffers from a neuro-inflammatory illness, began training the 130-pound dog to be her mobility assistance animal in May, 2018, in Edmonton. However, a year later her mobility issues became even more severe after she developed a catastrophic infection that required both her legs to be amputated, one above the knee and one below. After four months in the hospital, she not only had to learn how to use a wheelchair but had to train Kuno to assist her with it.
“They don’t really teach you how to live in a wheelchair, so we learned a lot together,” she said.
The added responsibility of training and caring for a service dog motivated Ms. Smith to spend more time outdoors and get accustomed to her mobility scooter. In April, 2020, she created a Twitter account for Kuno and began taking photographs of him as a way to keep him engaged and active while she grew more comfortable with her scooter.
Under the handle @servicerotties, Kuno now has almost 13,000 followers on Twitter and more than 25,000 on his new TikTok account. Kuno the Servicerottie, as he’s known online, is quickly becoming a social media star through his meteorological reporting – early morning snapshots of him smiling for the camera, accompanied by a detailed rundown of that day’s temperature, forecast and, most importantly, walking conditions. Kuno’s diligent reporting has even attracted attention from The Weather Network and local news outlets.
“I never expected it to get this big,” Ms. Smith said. “It’s starting to get a little strange when suddenly people recognize him in public, but he’s a hugely noticeable dog and he’s got the personality for it.”
In between charming snapshots of Kuno detailing the day’s weather, the team also posts about Kuno’s day-to-day duties as Ms. Smith’s government-certified wheelchair assistance dog. What began as a fun bonding experience has grown into a platform to educate others about accessibility issues faced by wheelchair and service dog users.
“On mornings I would take him out and stick to our patio area. Picking up items and posing in certain positions requires a lot of focus and attention from him,” Ms. Smith said. She started posting weather reports, delivered in Kuno’s “voice,” as part of a running narrative about his day-to-day duties. His weather reports also worked as an alternative training technique after pandemic restrictions meant the pair couldn’t do typical service dog training exercises such as walking through crowded public spaces.
As Kuno’s weather content gained an audience, Ms. Smith felt energized to keep it up.
When she eventually obtained a power wheelchair and moved into an accessible apartment earlier this year, documenting her outings with Kuno helped her gain more confidence using a wheelchair in the city.
“It was one of those things where, once you start doing it, it’s expected of you, so it keeps you accountable,” she said.
“Everybody that I’ve talked to who has suddenly lost the ability to walk says they didn’t leave their home for the first year or two. I didn’t have that option because I had to take my dogs out,” said Ms. Smith, who also has a retired service dog, Roxy.
She said making Kuno the face of the Twitter account has helped their message of accessibility awareness reach a wider audience. “When I can present a situation using Kuno as a platform, people actually hear the message,” she said.
One of their goals is to work directly with small businesses and municipalities to help them become more accessible.
“Just because you can get in the door, it doesn’t mean that you can really participate in what goes on on the other side,” Ms. Smith said. She noted that apartment buildings may have ramps and elevators, but small doorways and interior spaces can mean places such as bathrooms aren’t actually accessible.
E-scooters parked improperly on the sidewalk are another common barrier. “I can complain about it till I’m blue in the face and nobody cares, but when Kuno says in a post, ‘Hey, I can’t get past this with my person in a wheelchair,’ people think, ‘Poor dog!’ and remember it. We have the ability to educate a lot about accessibility because we can demonstrate it,” Ms. Smith said.
As much as she has enjoyed watching Kuno shine on social media, Ms. Smith says she’s most thankful for his support and companionship.
“Every now and again, I catch myself desperately missing having legs, but I try and get myself out of that very quickly and instead look at the stuff that we are doing and challenge ourselves to do more.”
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