Feb 16, 2018 | Atlanta, GA
Georgia Tech students in the Master of Science in Prosthetics and Orthotics program are working to help Ryker, a two-year-old beagle-Chihuahua mix, get mobile again after he was paralyzed by a BB gun pellet in July 2017.
Since then, Ryker has been in the care of Carolyn Reaves O’Brien, founder of Two Tailz Rescue in Roswell, Georgia. Because his front legs are still functional, he mostly gets around by dragging his back legs behind him. While efficient, this often leaves Ryker with sores and infections and necessitates monthly trips to the vet.
“When I walk my other dogs, I have to carry him in a backpack,” O’Brien said. “He’s only two and he has tons of energy, and he just wants to go with the others.”
After months of struggling, O’Brien reached out to Georgia Tech’s Master of Science in Prosthetics and Orthotics program for help.
Other options have included carts that flip over due to their lack of customizability, since Ryker’s 18.5 pounds are more than these carts usually support.
Students from the program are now competing in teams to provide the best option for Ryker. Two teams will make protective orthoses, or braces, for his back legs to prevent infections and discomfort. The remaining three groups will build a cart that provides more customization and functionality than carts currently on the market.
“He’s not exactly a small dog, but he’s not medium-sized,” said Gerald Stark, senior lecturer in the School of Biological Sciences and director of the master’s program. “That’s probably why what he has isn’t working.”
The teams first met Ryker on Feb. 5. They got straight to work evaluating, measuring, taking 3-D scans of his body, and even casting him in a plaster mold. Molly Jeffers, a first-year student in the program, wasn’t sure what to expect before meeting Ryker. She’s working on one of the teams creating his leg braces.
“He’s smaller than I thought he’d be, but so far the challenge seems about on par with what I was expecting,” she said.
None of the students in the program have worked on prosthetics or orthoses for animals before, but many are dog owners.
“One of the things that will make this hard is that we usually test things out on each other, but we can’t do that,” said Max Spencer, a first-year graduate student in the program. Spencer said they also usually do critique sessions with those who will be using the prosthetic or orthotic. “He can’t tell us what’s wrong or what hurts like a human would, so we’ll have to closely watch how he moves and responds.”
The teams hope to have a solution within the next couple of months. Meanwhile, Ryker is still looking for a forever home.