Central Pennsylvania students team up with local dog shelter to support paralyzed pup

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Last November, Pitties.Love.Peace, a dog rescue organization in Elizabethtown, was notified that a puppy needed medical assistance.

Eight-month-old Jimmy, an American Bully breed, was paralyzed in the hind legs. A volunteer from the group, Shannon Ryan, and her husband Bryan Hughes nevertheless stepped in to become her adoptive parents.

“We knew right away that something was wrong. We didn’t know if he was permanently disabled or if it was an injury, but we just knew he couldn’t use his full back,” Ryan said.

After running multiple tests on Jimmy, along with numerous visits to the vet, the dog was found to have a spinal deformity.

Ryan said that according to a specialist, Jimmy’s spine is spiral-shaped, causing his hind legs to move only to the right. Additionally, they were told that with little sensation in Jimmy’s legs or toes, he would never be able to walk unaided.

“He has a certain level of mobility. It can kind of pull through if it’s a slip-resistant surface or if we’re outside, but it’s basically still for the most part,” Ryan said.

Another Pitties.Love.Peace volunteer, Audrey Lilley, had heard that Elizabethtown College was doing community outreach projects in the area and submitted a request for help with Jimmy’s problem.

So the college’s Community Based Outreach class heard about Jimmy’s story and immediately got several of his engineering students interested in building a device for the rescue dog.

Clayton Greer, junior, and Bridget Ward, sophomore, were two members of the group of five who took on the challenge of building a proper support device for Jimmy.

Greer said his group decided to help Jimmy because they felt it was the most impactful choice in the class.

The students began work to build the device at the end of January this year, with a budget of $200. According to Greer, the total cost of materials like pipes, fabrics and the like was about $160.

“For our project, we had to build a cart that would support Jimmy’s hind legs so he could use his front legs to walk,” Greer said. “We had to make a cart that not only supported him, but also made sure his legs were in the right position.”

Knowing about Jimmy’s deformity posed some challenges, according to Ward.

“When building the cart, we kept a couple of things in mind: adaptability, because when we first met Jimmy he was still a young pup and still growing,” he said. she declared.

The students had to make a wide range of adjustments for the cart, not being exactly sure about Jimmy’s height. Fitting Jimmy’s legs properly in the device would also bring another challenge.

“Due to Jimmy’s spinal deformity, his legs go to the right, so it’s a bit difficult for us to stand them up and put them behind his body, they always have to be like on his right” , Ward said.

The students spent most of the semester working on the device and continuing to take measurements to make it comfortable for the dog.

The cart has two wheels with long pipes sticking out and is structured to be used to hold Jimmy’s legs to the right side of his body due to his spinal issues. A two-loop harness is then put on Jimmy’s torso with fabric placed over the two hoses that goes under his body to keep him stable.

The design is similar to a wheelchair that keeps his legs elevated, with a band-like fabric attached on the right side for Jimmy’s feet. The general idea is to mimic the way a normal puppy would walk.

Ryan said Jimmy had had the device finished for about three to four weeks and was slowly learning how to use it properly.

“It’s a learning curve for sure, but he’s starting to get the hang of it and he’s really trying his best,” she said. “It’s just resetting the muscle memory and getting it used to standing instead of just dragging.”

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