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Reinventing the wheelchair

A dog lover's quest to help her sick animal brings relief to a community of paralysed pets


            When her beloved dog became a paraplegic a few years ago, Galwalin Surakup was plunged into great despair since she had no idea how to help relieve her pet's suffering.
            SAVIOUR: Galwalin Surakup has devoted her life to rescuing paraplegic animals and designed practical and comfortable wheelchairs for them.

        "I became very stressed trying to help my dog. I visited several animal hospitals hoping to find the right wheelchair for my dog, but to no avail. I felt so hopeless," she recalled.

                   Sing-to, Ms Galwalin's chow dog, experienced paralysis in the rear part of its body. When it used its front legs to move around, its rear legs dragged along the ground, inevitably causing many scraping wounds. And, to Ms Galwalin, chaining her dog up all day was out of the question.

              "I had to use a soft towel to help it support its rear half. While Sing-to was walking, I would hold its rear legs up with the aid of the towel. I tried that day after day but it didn't work well enough," she said.

            She then tried another technique. Instead of sitting still and watching her dog suffering great pain, the dog lover exerted her time and creative energy into designing a wheelchair for it on her own, and her labour of love paid off beautifully.

           " After my quest of finding a wheelchair for my dog proved fruitless, I had the idea to design one myself since I couldn't stand seeing my dog dragging its rear legs along the floor anymore."





                   It took Ms Galwalin one year to create the best wheelchair for her dog. But not only her dog has had a chance to enjoy mobility once again since now countless paraplegic dogs, both in Thailand and overseas, are also relishing their freedom thanks to the wide variety of wheelchairs Ms Galwalin has designed.

                   "It makes me so happy seeing paralyzed dogs moving around as they once did. The dogs can exercise and do physical therapy on their own," she explained.

                   Ms Galwalin's wheelchair has been patented and certified by the Veterinary Practitioner Association of Thailand. It is available in many leading animal hospitals and widely acceptable in many countries. And each wheelchair is unique since they are designed for a particular dog.

                   "Each piece must be custom made to fit each individual dog. Normally, I produce about 30 chairs a month. As for dog owners who live outside Thailand, they need to measure the size of their dog so I can tailor the right wheelchair for them," she said.




            " A LITTLE HELP: With assistance from one of a wide variety of canine wheelchairs, paraplegic dogs can move once again. PHOTOS: SUCHADA HONGSA

            Fully realising that gleaning more knowledge about existing wheelchairs was better than starting from scratch, Ms Galwalin took a one-year anatomy course at the Veterinary Practitioner Association of Thailand to learn about the differences between dog breeds.

            "I couldn't design a wheelchair if I didn't know the anatomy. A wheelchair is designed to be like a pair of pants so I needed to know their body measurements. Besides, learning more about the behavior and temperament of different breeds was also a must so I could match a design to a lifestyle.""

 

            "She then conducted research and experiments with canine wheelchairs with the close aid of many vets who provided her information.

           "I approached many vets, asking them countless questions. I really wanted to know which kind of wheelchair would be most suitable. After initially harvesting some information, I started drawing designs, building them, and then experimenting with them with my dog," she said.

           Finally, her first wheelchair was finished and Sing-to could enjoy walking again, albeit in a different manner. The wheelchair helps support Sing-to's hip and rear part and features an aperture at the middle where Sing-to can easily do its personal business without causing a mess.

           "Normally, paraplegic dogs can't control their excremental activities. For my dog's convenience, I left a hole between the right and left legs where he can pass waste comfortably."

           After her initial success, she showed her wheelchair to many vets for final approval. All the vets agreed that the wheelchair was workable and practical. They also suggested she produce and sell more of them to help other paraplegic dogs. "






 

                   "The early support I received helped me forge ahead to create a wide variety of wheelchairs. I have learned that the number of paraplegic dogs is rather high, the two main causes being car accidents and genetic conditions such as joint deterioration. After seeing my dog stand on its own feet again, I wish to bring this happiness to other dogs that share the same plight."

                   Ms Galwalin's wheelchairs are categorised into two types - two wheel and four wheel - but their sizes and design varies depending on the body measurement of each patient and the severity of its paralysis. What's more, wheelchairs for female and male dogs are also designed differently so they can go to the toilet appropriately.

 




                    " Judging from the materials used and time she spends on producing each wheelchair, which is usually about a week, the price of each unit is rather reasonable. A wheelchair for a small-sized dog costs about 2,100 baht while that for the mid-sized dog is 2,700 baht. A two-wheel chair for a large breed is 3,000 baht while a four-wheel design is about 3,600 to 3,800 baht. Dog owners from other countries pay the same price.

                   "  I have no intention to make it into a profit-motivated business. I simply want poor animals to receive the benefit from my work. I also give chairs away free to those who have no money. As a dog lover, I can't stand seeing any dog suffering physical pain. A wheelchair can improve the quality of a dog's life," she said. "

           

                   A wheely good idea More on the woman giving movement back to paralysed pets The sight of paraplegic animals literally standing on their own feet, especially on their rear legs, brings immense delight to Galwalin Surakup, who has devoted herself to designing wheelchairs for paraplegic animals for more than four years now.

               Ms Galwalin's wheelchairs are categorised into two types - two wheel and four wheel - but their sizes and design varies depending on the body measurement of each patient and the severity of its paralysis. What's more, wheelchairs for female and male dogs are also designed differently so they can go to the toilet appropriately.

      

  Her unwavering determination to bring a better quality of life to paralysed animals seems to be borderless - she has expanded her assistance from paraplegic dogs to cats and rabbits as well.

            "Although handicapped, such animals still want to live their life and enjoy their movement as they once did. A wheelchair can serve as their rear legs. With it, many unfortunate animals can move and exercise," said Ms Galwalin, a director of Thai Wheelchair for Dogs.

            WITH A LITTLE HELP: Galwalin Surakups determination to help paraplegic animals is borderless. She now makes wheelchairs not only for dogs, but also cats, rabbits and even otters.

            Ms Galwalin said all wheelchairs share the same design fundamentals, but their functioning is completely different, depending on the severity of paralysis of each animal user. Different wheelchairs are designed for different conditions of paralysis.



            For example, an animal with injured hind legs must wear a certain kind of wheelchair that allows their rear legs to touch the ground so they can still use their legs, though not fully. This kind of wheelchair can help an animal do their physical therapy regularly so their injured legs can rehabilitate.

            "Most people believe that a wheelchair will prevent injured animals from using their rear legs but my wheelchairs are different. Large breeds such as golden retrievers and Labradors typically develop deteriorated joint problems when they get older and need to wear a wheelchair to help their rear legs support their body weight," she explained.

            Any paraplegic dog whose rear legs are immobile needs to wear a special wheelchair that has a string used to lift up a user's rear legs in order to prevent them from being dragged along the floor. It can also be used by any dog whose rear legs are temporarily inoperable. While the animal is being kept in a house with a wooden or tile floor, the string can be removed to allow the animal to use their legs and practice walking.

            Any dogs with debilitated front and rear legs or dogs with nerve problems need to wear a wheelchair with four wheels, which can help them recuperate. This kind of wheelchair still allows the problematic animals to use both their front and hind legs. Its main duty is to help the four legs support an animal's body weight.

            "Small dogs must use a wheelchair with four wheels to prevent the chair from pressing too much weight on the animal's back, which can result in the dislocation of the cervical bone and finally lead to paralysis.

"During my one year of research, I found that a wheelchair with four wheels is a fantastic device because, with only a little force, it can enable much movement," she said.

            Wheelchairs with two wheels are most suited for Thai breeds weighing about 12 to 15 kilogrammes. Normally, Thai mongrels have a big cervical bone which can bear more pressure on their back caused by wearing a wheelchair. While wearing this kind of wheelchair, an animal can crouch.



            "If the wrong chair is matched with a patient, the result could be hazardous," she stressed.

            All her wheelchair designs feature a soft pad that supports the user's chest. Without this pad, the front legs have to work too hard.

            So before tailoring a wheelchair, Ms Galwalin needs to talk with an owner of a dog or cat to collect basic information of the four-legged patient such as its breed, gender, physical condition and body size. She has to gain leg, hip and thigh measurements.

            "I pay attention to every detail, even the diameter of the wheels required. The size of the wheels must match the breed of the dog. The wheelchair must help support an animal without hurting it," she said.

            Although a wheelchair is necessary for paraplegic animals, it can't be worn all day long because it can cause muscular tension. Normally, the wearing time should be between one hour to three hours, depending on the animals' energy levels. More mature dogs can wear a wheelchair only two times a day, for about 30 minutes each session.

        "If an animal still wants to run around, its possible. But if they show any signs of exhaustion, a wheelchair should only be used for 30-minute sessions," she suggested.

        Ms Galwalin designs about 30 wheelchairs a month. She spends time with paraplegic animals almost every day, visiting them at their house and thoroughly checking their symptoms so she can design the best wheelchair for them.

        "I know a lot about the behavior of paraplegic animals because I see them every day. I have never thought that these animals are boring. They are not just four-legged animals. They are my friends, sisters, brothers and children. I'm happy every time I stay with them," she said.

 

        Ms Galwalin, said many owners of paraplegic dogs pay extra attention to their animals' well-being and are willing to provide a wheelchair for their paralysed pet.

        "Some Thais know how to fit a wheelchair for their animal properly. For the past two years, I have received countless orders from animal owners who take care of paraplegic animals. They have collectively helped foster a better attitude towards pet wheelchairs," she said.

        Asked how the wheelchair is important to paraplegic animals, Ms Galwalin said that it is integral in their lives.

        "A wheelchair is so vital for paraplegic animals. At the very least, it makes the animals feel that they are normal, and not handicapped," she said.

 

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*** For more information : visit http://www.thaiwheelchairsfordogs.com 
or call Galwalin on 08-1812-2173