Low-Cost 3D Printers Give Disabled Pets New Leash on Life

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Born with neurological issues and rear leg deformities, special needs dog Jett suffered so much that he could barely move. Dogs like Jett don’t normally find a suitable home and face a great risk of being put down due to their particular needs. However, when he was barely 1.7 pounds, he was adopted by Amy Jo Martin, an elderly attorney in Wilkes County, North Carolina, who has been involved in dog rescues for over 25 years. Changing the lives of special needs dogs is Martin’s mission. During her journey, she realized 3D printing could help create customized wheelchairs, helmets, prosthetics, and other vital equipment that improves the quality of life of pets with disabilities and, in some cases, save their lives.

Before Martin discovered 3D printing, she was spending a lot of money on equipment for special needs dogs, even testing three different brands that made small carts for dogs online but found it hard to fit any of them on such a small pup like Jett. After trying out several quad wheelchairs, she realized Jett would never adapt to such heavyweight products. It was only after her family gave her an Anycubic Mega S Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) printer last Christmas that Martin discovered the potential of the technology.

“Following a little trial and error, I made Jett a quad wheelchair. Granted, it wasn’t fancy or pretty, but it worked for him – and that’s what mattered,” described Martin. “A properly fitted 3D printed wheelchair could help a puppy learn how to walk normally on all four legs and would assist the puppy with its gait as well as bone and soft tissue development. In addition, the 3D printed wheelchair is inexpensive to make and can be replaced with a larger one as the puppy grows. Once the puppy gets to full-grown size, the owner can invest in a professionally-made prosthetic.”

The 3D printed wheelchair that Amy Jo Martin printed for Jett.

The 3D printed wheelchair that Amy Jo Martin printed for Jett using an Anycubic. Image courtesy of Anycubic.

The 3D printed wheelchair helped Jett master walking on his rear knees, which Martin explains also helped with his sense of balance. Consequently, he is pretty fast when moving across the room to play with the other dogs at Martin’s home (including many senior and handicapped pets). But Jett wasn’t home free yet. While the wheelchair only dealt with one of the pooch’s disabilities, he still had cerebellar hypoplasia, meaning the portion of his brain that involves his coordination and sense of balance wasn’t fully developed before birth. As a result, Jett’s walk is quite wonky, and, like many Chihuahuas, Jett has open fontanels (these are “soft spots” on the skull), making it dangerous if they fall and bump their head on the unprotected part of their skulls. So Jett needed a helmet to protect his head when he was learning to walk.

The Anycubic Vyper and images of 3D printed helmets for special needs dog Jett.

The Anycubic Vyper was used to 3D print helmets for special needs dog Jett. Image courtesy of Anycubic.

After finding zero information about the helmet online, Amy planned to make one using 3D printing. Luckily, Anycubic team member Rebecca Clark heard about Martin’s heart-warming story and made sure the company donated two Anycubic Vyper 3D printers to help build the items that her animals required. Featuring fast and reliable automatic bed-leveling, roomy print volume, and providing a beginner-friendly experience, Martin handled her prints very well in a short time and made two different types of helmets for Jett, using free 3D printable files she found online. As a result, Jett is now fully rescued, has a wheelchair to move freely, and Martin kept 3D printing helmets to protect his head as it grew.

Martin added that “just like a leg prosthetic, if a puppy is growing, it will need a helmet that can be inexpensively replaced as its head grows. Once the pup is fully-grown, then the owner can have a helmet made by a professional.’’

Special needs dog Jett wearing his 3D printed helmet.

Amy Jo Martin’s special needs dog Jett wearing his 3D printed helmet. Image courtesy of Anycubic.

Dogs with special needs like Jett, who require additional care, can still live full, happy lives. It only takes patience and a bit of help from disruptive technologies like 3D printing. No matter the disability of the pet, whether it is one missing limb or three, there are so many resources today and a lot of love from people like Martin, who surround themselves with wonderful animals.

After being introduced to the world of dogs like Jett, Martin explains that they have an incredibly adaptable nature and can change people’s lives regardless of their limitations. That is why Martin and many rescue groups want to step in and help other people foster or adopt dogs with disabilities.

According to surveys conducted by Petfinder.com, 95% of rescues surveyed currently have pets they would define as “hard to adopt.” And while the typical pet spends about 12 weeks in shelters before finding a new home, pets with special needs and senior pets spend nearly four times as long on a pet adoption site. Unfortunately, certain preconceived notions about special needs pets can classify pets with challenging mobility and handicap as “hard-to-adopt.”

Special needs dogs.

Special needs dogs. Image courtesy of Anycubic/Amy Jo Martin.

Martin thinks otherwise, and she is hoping that her incredible experience with Anycubic’s 3D printers inspires other people interested in 3D printing to help special animals with mobility equipment. Martin says there is so much more she can do for them, so she hopes to loan out her extra dog wheelchairs to people who need them for short periods of time, helping other pups in the same situation as Jett.

‘’I would love to see others get interested in 3D printing. You don’t have to be a young person, have a lot of computer experience, or be male….you just need a desire to help. I would love to have more people like me get a group together to help special animals with mobility items. I would love to learn from people who have more knowledge than I do. I would love to have people offering to help create STLs that can be used in non-profit ways. I would love 3D printer companies to take an interest in people who are using their printers to help others (filament is always needed),” suggests Martin.

As a strong advocate for these animals, Martin has advised others interested in adopting special needs dogs and recommends that anyone having second doubts about adopting pets like Jett start by fostering them for short periods of time to find out if they are ready to take the next step. Anyone interested can find out more by connecting with amazing shelters committed to improving the lives of handicapped animals across the United States, including Lovey Loaves Special Needs Rescue, Canine Castaways, Inc., Mutt Misfits Animal Rescue, Perfectly Imperfect Pets Rescue, and Amy Jo Martin’s own Facebook page.

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