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How a Custom Wheelchair Changed a Dog's Life

This past winter, five nearly identical small white dogs were rescued from unsanitary living conditions in Delta, Colorado. Merlin, who is believed to be about six years old, was in the worst shape of them all, unable to stand or walk, incontinent, covered in mats and waste, and confined in a cage no bigger than his size. He was taken to the vet and later Roice-Hurst Humane Society, where his foster mom, CMU sophomore accounting student Jenna Lay, picked him up and later adopted him. 

When Merlin first arrived at Roice-Hurst he was weak and completely paralyzed. His treatment plan included being flipped from one side to the other every few hours to prevent sores. After a vet exam, Merlin was only given a small chance of ever being mobile again, even with the help of a wheelchair. 

Lucky for Merlin, Jenna’s stepfather, CMU Associate Professor of Statistics Richard Ott, PhD, felt compelled to help and enlisted the assistance of three CMU junior engineering students to build him a wheelchair.

“We started with our homemade wheelchair and thought, well, this would be a good project for the [engineering students] to do,” said Ott. 

Kyle Schuknecht, Nick Glorioso and Merrit Crum were tasked with designing and building a wheelchair that was lightweight, adjustable, comfortable, easy to use and could support 15 pounds. 

We started with designs that have a lot less adjustability in them and were also completely out of scale. But this was a good proof of concept because it ended up being the idea that we would use to make it more adjustable, get the angles all correct and it proved that we could make it easily adjustable for when we aren't around to make it work,” said Schuknecht. 

The students went through four different designs using materials such as carbon fiber and PVC, but eventually settled on using 3D-printed material for the wheelchair. 

The student’s last design, “Just worked out perfectly with the cost, the weight, the strength of it and also the adjustability to help level it out,” said Glorioso.

The students' premiered their project at the fourteenth annual Student Showcase, which celebrates the creativity, research, innovation, entrepreneurship and artistic performance of students from all three campuses at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. It is a chance for students to highlight their academic achievements during their time at CMU. 

In the future, they hope to be able to take their design and scale it for larger dogs if needed. 

Since receiving his new wheelchair, Merlin has been getting stronger every day and is now able to stand and stumble unassisted.

CMU partners with local veterinary clinics to help students further their education and gain practical experience in the field. The university currently has partnerships with Amigo Animal Clinic, Monument View Veterinary Hospital, Sky Canyon Veterinary Hospital, Palisade Pet Care, Grand View Animal Hospital, Arrowhead Veterinary Hospital, Shafer Large Animal Veterinary Associates, San Juan Veterinary Clinic in Montrose and Valley Veterinary Hospital in Rifle. 

Learn more about CMU’s Veterinary Technology Program.


Written by Madelynn Fellet