Crafting wheelchairs for pets

(Xinhua) 09:51, April 21, 2023

SHENYANG, April 20 (Xinhua) -- It took Youhao some time to adjust to the metal cart that was attached to his hind legs, but soon enough, the dog was running cheerfully to his owner for an affectionate pat.

Witnessing such poignant moments, Gao Xiaodong, the designer and creator of the pet wheelchair, feels that he has found his true calling.

Gao crafts wheelchairs for pets. Over the past 17 years, the ex-soldier has helped tens of thousands of disabled dogs, cats, hamsters, rabbits and even tortoises get back on their feet.

Gao did not start out as a professional wheelchair designer but it all began with an act of kindness. Back in 2006, he was selling pastries in Huludao in northeast China's Liaoning Province when a stray dog limped over to Gao's stand, begging for food. Gao decided to build a pet wheelchair to help the dog move around more easily.

The maiden work was a crude improvisation, made from iron wire, waste wood and wheels from roller skates. "I was amazed when I saw the little dog quickly adapt to it and start running fast," he said.

Soon after posting the story online, Gao received a request to make a wheelchair for a paralyzed cat in Chongqing. As he was not a trained craftsman, Gao learned by trial and error, but to his relief, both the cat and its owner seemed satisfied with his work.

It was then that Gao decided to dive head-first into the pet wheelchair craft, mostly through self-training.

"I've done many jobs (since retiring from the military) such as security guard, pedicab driver and barbecue peddler. But it was in making pet wheelchairs that I found a real vocation," he said. "I feel happy when I see a disabled animal walk again, and its owner shedding happy tears."

Sitting in his apartment filled with colorful paintings of kittens, Gao recalled how his job has softened him and brought him to understand the bond between humans and their four-legged companions.

Gao once received an order from a young man from Shenyang whose dog was paralyzed from severe nephritis. "He was determined to put his dog in a wheelchair so it could once again experience the freedom of running again before it passed away," Gao said.

Sometimes, Gao's wheelchairs are farewell gifts given by dying pet owners. One of Gao's clients was an old lady from Tianjin who had late-stage cancer. The woman had lived alone and was kept company by a dog with limp hind legs for many years.

"It was the old lady's wish to make a wheelchair for her dog so it could be easier for the dog to find a new family," Gao said.

"Being kind to the small animals also comforts their human companions' souls," he said.

Having obtained three patents and a bachelor's degree in veterinarian medicine, Gao now runs a small workshop that employs six people. His creations have also been upgraded from simple wooden devices to foldable ones made from stainless steel or an aluminum alloy.

He has forged cooperation with more than 90 stray animal rescue organizations across China, helping rehabilitate animals that are unable to walk independently due to an accident or sudden illness.

"I still hope that in the future, more ill or injured street animals will be able to get timely help so that they won't need our products," Gao said.

(Web editor: Zhang Kaiwei, Wu Chaolan)


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