Caring for the seniors of our communities is an important part of what makes us human and it’s a calling people like Ann-Marie Fleming seeks to extend to man’s best friend, dogs.
Fleming owns and operates the business Dog Quality which focuses on improving the quality of life for senior dogs of advanced age. As she herself owns several senior dogs, the work she does through her business is especially meaningful to her.
“Just like in the human world where we have walkers, wheelchairs and diapers that make our lives a little bit more manageable and have a bit more dignity, we do that for the dogs,” Fleming said.
Much like humans as dogs live to an advanced age they can suffer from arthritis, incontinence, general mobility issues and health concerns that, while not fully debilitating, makes life difficult for both the dog and their owners. While Fleming herself admits that, before she had senior dogs of her own, the idea of dogs in a wheelchair or a diaper would have made her laugh she now knows that such products can substantially increase a dog’s quality and length of life.
She saw this especially with her french bulldog Churchill who while full of spirit too often had his body betray him but when she went looking for ways to assist him, found nothing available. It was this that led her to begin developing her own devices for senior dogs that would make their lives easier.
This was why the 100 Mile Free Press found her on Friday testing a prototype for one of Dog Quality’s newest products, a dog version of a wheelchair. Helping to test it was Fleming’s own chihuahua/poodle/pomeranian-hybrid Bamboo a venerable rescue dog of 17 years of age. With the contraption, the little dog could scamper around like a dog half his age without the risk of falling and being unable to get up.
Typically Fleming said the mental image we have of a dog wheelchair is a two-wheel device at the back that wraps around the chest. What most people don’t think of is that those wheelchairs rely on dogs having a strong upper body strength to use which senior dogs often lack.
“The idea of this is to have something that was specialized to the seniors’ needs where it is almost the equivalent of if you were to wrap your hands around the body of your dog and help them walk,” Fleming explained.
Through consultation with BCIT and veterinarians, they’ve developed a light carbon fibre frame with four wheels, two on the front two on the back, a chest plate with adjustable straps in the middle and on their legs that will either support the dog or loosen it should it be strong enough to take its own weight. While it supports them she said the goal is to keep the dogs moving and exercising allowing them to do more without getting tired or hurting themselves.
“To give them a bit of independence and let them move around freely and safely without falling or straining is pretty incredible and we’re excited to give that gift to their families,” Fleming said.
The work of close to three years, Fleming hopes to have it ready for production sometime in the winter with an extra small, small, medium and large versions of the wheelchair available.
Much like humans, again, dogs are living longer across the board with most dogs considered seniors by age seven, though their youthful spirit often never fades even as their body declines, Fleming said. She hopes that one day dogs will be able to live into their 20s and still enjoy a great quality of life.
“It’s to try to keep seniors active longer because it’s this crazy cycle that they go through they start to have mobility issues, so they do less, less, less and the minute they stop doing it is when they decline rapidly,” Fleming said. “So if we can just keep them moving, keep those muscles happy, cardiovascular health will be better, mental health will be better and they’ll be a lot more limber and flexible which I think is an amazing thing to be able to provide for them.”