Giving senior pups a new lease on life, 26-year-old National University of Singapore (NUS) student Chong Zi En puts his design skills to create an assistive walker to help mobility-impaired dogs.
Chong's quest to help mobility-impaired dogs started from his experience caring for a senior handicapped dog during his national service at the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Military Working Dog Unit.
Speaking to Mothership, Chong shared that he remembered how challenging it was to lift the senior Malinois's weak hind legs to take it for a quick walk, which became a tiring two-person job.
Even if the dog had a wheelchair, it would still cause a lot of muscle strains to its front limbs.
That inspired him to pursue this four years later as a student of Industrial Design.
The thought behind the process
Chong's research began by looking for solutions to existing mobility aids for dogs and reaching out to owners of handicapped dogs to understand their needs and experiences.
By joining community groups, speaking to an animal physiotherapist and attending dog walks, he learned that wheelchairs for dogs are usually expensive and mostly custom-made.
The wheelchairs in the market now are also quite heavy, affecting a dog's mobility experience.
This made him decide to design an assistive walker that is low-cost, lightweight and can be adjustable to fit dogs of different sizes. It also needs to be something the dog feels comfortable, safe and secure in.
"When working on this project, I have to bear in mind the design needs [to] be animal-centric, placing their needs first over humans," Chong shared.
"It may sound easy, but the challenge here is that dog[s] can't communicate to us whether the design is good or not."
Chong also opened up about how it was not easy to find owners willing to run test trials with his prototypes as they were unsure if it would work, especially on their senior dogs, who were already in a fragile state.
The birth of Paw Wheels
Paw Wheels is designed using optimised 3D printed joineries and aluminium tubes, making it lightweight yet strong. Chong shared that such materials make the walker a sustainable product that can be passed down to other dogs who need it and are of different sizes.
The walker is also designed to be user-friendly, as one person can easily strap a dog in a set of harnesses.
Chong is currently seeking grants and support to help further the development of the product in hopes of making the walker foldable.
"I hope to promote animal welfare by helping rescued animals through this socially-driven project. The end goal is for all dogs with mobility issues to regain their sense of independence while reducing the mental and financial toll it has on caretakers."
"It was heartening to see the outcome of my design has proved its usefulness and the dogs [are] adapting to it!"
Chong's work will be on display at the NUS Division of Industrial Design graduation show, "Design in Flux". The exhibition is open to the public at 8 Architecture Drive, SDE, Level 5, on Jun. 9 from 4 pm to 9 pm and on Jun. 10 - 11 from 11 am to 8 pm.
All photos courtesy of Chong Zi En