Available products don’t fulfill the requirement.
Toronto, August 10, 2019: When age lows humans need a stick or cane to walk. Likewise animals also feel difficulty in walking when they age. Wheelchairs for dogs have been around for decades, but they’re mainly used to help animals recovering debilitating injuries or diseases. They can be big and heavy and awkward, and they often assume the dog has a lot of strength in its front legs, which isn’t always the case with senior dogs.
This is the problem Ann-Marie Fleming and a team of researchers from British Columbia Institute of Technology recently set out to solve, attempting to design a lightweight, supportive dog wheelchair that would help Fleming’s 13-year-old pug Lily, and other dogs like her, overcome their mobility issues. “She turns 14 tomorrow and she had major back surgery three years ago,” Fleming said. “You can visibly see her mobility struggles as she walks.” Lily’s not well-suited to a traditional dog wheelchair, Fleming said to media. It would be too heavy for her and put extra strain on her muscles.
The drive to build a better mobility device for Lily and other dogs like her came, in part, from the overall mission of Fleming’s company, Dog Quality. “All of our focus is on improving the quality of life for senior dogs,” she said. “The more we understood about current options for seniors, the more we realized that none of the existing designs really cater to the needs of senior dogs.” Fleming approached a local representative from the Industrial Research Assistance Program(IRAP), a federal program that helps support the design of new products.
IRAP put Fleming in touch with BCIT’s MAKE+ team, which specializes in designing prototypes and proof-of-concept devices. Nancy Knaggs is a project leader for the team. She said they reached out to local veterinarians and dog owners to gain insights about dog behaviour and biology, as well as to test some of their designs. The final prototype is an aluminum frame with an adjustable fabric harness that connects to it. This means dogs can wear the harness without being connected to the frame, a potential benefit for dogs that aren’t used to wearing harnesses.
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