Alumni Spotlight: John Cox ’88 Transforms Animals in Need into ‘Wheelie Warriors’

John Cox runs a race with Mattie May, a hound mix John Cox with Mattie May, a 2-year old hound mix, at the SUPnRUN 5K on April 30, 2022.

A former football player and 1988 Bridgewater College graduate with a degree in health and physical education, John W. Cox II received the 2023 Distinguished Alumni Award on April 15 for his work procuring wheelchairs for animals in need.

Cox, who recently retired from a 27-year career as a deputy in the Sarasota County (Fla.) Sheriff’s Department, including 15 years on the SWAT team, is passionate about helping animals with missing limbs live their best lives. He says he wants every animal to “be who they were created to be,” no matter for how long or short a time. He says he has always been inspired by the kindness of his former football coach, Carlyle Whitelow ’59, who long exemplified being the type of person who cared for everyone.

“His heart was so infectious,” Cox says.

Cox originally planned on being a high school physical education teacher and coach, which he did for four years after his graduation from Bridgewater. Once he moved to Florida, he met several police officers while playing flag football, and they encouraged him to consider joining law enforcement and being a school resource officer. Throughout his police career, Cox still prioritized working with children, whether as a school resource officer, running various after-school programs or directing a Saturday program for at-risk youth. He loved meeting those he’d worked with years later, as they became adults pursuing careers and having families of their own. 

Several years ago, Cox met a paralyzed dog at an animal shelter, who remained motionless in a crate while other dogs played around him. Cox was inspired to raise funds to obtain a mobile cart for the dog by getting donation pledges for each mile he ran while wearing a rucksack on his back. During the spring of 2021, he completed 56 miles. The first dog, Sandler, received his cart in May 2021. Since then, Cox founded the nonprofit organization RUCK9 (Rescuing Uniquely Created K-9s) to further his mission of pairing special needs animals with the mobility devices they need to get around. As of March 2023, he had funded wheelchairs for 195 animals, mostly dogs, but also including five cats, goats, a duck, a goose, a sheep and even a mini zebu (a type of miniature cow).

RUCK9’s wheelchairs and devices come from Walkin’ Pets, a company that makes custom mobility equipment for all types of animals, large and small, who are paralyzed or missing limbs. Now retired, Cox stays busy procuring equipment for his “wheelie warriors,” and he loves to share photos and video on Facebook, showing the latest animal with its new wheels.

“All the money that comes into RUCK9 goes right back out to help dogs, cats, goats, whatever I can help, it doesn’t matter. I’m going to try and help as many as I can,” Cox says.

— By Olivia Shifflett