Engineering Students Tackle Dog Mobility


Louie is trying out his new custom mobility cart, the result of a project initiated by freshman engineering students led by Dr. Katie Kalscheur, the lecturer who teaches the course.

Louie, a mix of Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers owned by Pat and Pete Sammataro of Madison, Wisconsin, was born without front legs. The breeder originally planned to euthanize Louie, but after spending time with another family, he eventually found his home forever with the Sammataros. Although the dog can get around with a crawling and shooting motion, Pat and Pete wanted him to be able to keep walking and even walk like other dogs.

They tried using a cart for dogs that have lost their front legs, but it didn’t work well for him. Unlike dogs whose legs have been amputated, Louie’s shoulders are lower than his hips. The cart was better suited for a dog with higher shoulders, so Louie fell over and even did a somersault. He needed something else.

The Sammataros presented the problem to a freshman engineering course at the University of Wisconsin-Madison after learning that the group was looking for real-world problems in the community looking for solutions. (A previous class had designed prosthetic legs for a cat named Mr. Stubbs that it lost in an accident.) According to Kalscheur, the primary purpose of the class is to help students learn the design process. The design involves many steps, starting with a need expressed by a customer and ending with a working prototype to solve the problem.

The car Louie now uses has several modifications from the one that didn’t work for him. After the students removed large parts of the cart, they added small wheels to stabilize it. Her adjustments allow her to lean forward to match Louie’s natural posture. The extra padding and a soft vest for Louis made it more comfortable and greatly improved his experience of using the car.

Some of the students in the class are interested in biomedical engineering and prosthetics, so this project provides great experiences on their way to careers in the field. Although it is a technical project, it appears from the video that students understand that an individual’s quality of life and feelings are serious issues. It’s encouraging to see how sweet, patient, and positive they are with Louie.

It’s doubly good news that Louie is progressing with the cart and will soon be ready for everyday walks around the neighborhood and that freshman engineering students are learning how to design products for the dogs (and cats!) That make their lives better.

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