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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Disabled Dogs Try Out Their Own Set of Wheels

ReutersVadim Zharikov making adjustments to a cart he constructed for Dusya, a paralyzed collie.
After an unusually long winter, dogs -- and their owners -- are out in droves. And nipping at their heels is a group of dogs who have long been stuck inside.

Left partly paralyzed by accidents or birth defects, these dogs were dependent on being carried around in their owners' arms until a local engineer helped them find their feet.

His name is Vadim Zharikov, and since his dog wheelchairs were featured earlier this year on the TV Center news program "Vremechko," he has been slowly building a reputation as the man to see about dogs who have lost the use of their hind legs.

Zharikov began constructing wheelchairs late last year when a friend of his asked him if he could build something to help his disabled dog move around on its own.

"He knew I was an engineer, and so he asked me if I'd build it," Zharikov said. "So I collected some parts and decided to give it a try."

Zharikov tailors his wheelchairs, or rather carts -- consisting of two wheels, a harness, a flat piece of plastic or wood and metal bindings for the dog's back legs -- to each individual dog.

"You have to measure the dog's height to make sure the wheels are the right size, the dog's width for the base of the cart and its length -- usually from the haunches to the shoulder -- to make sure the distance from the bindings to the harness is correct," Zharikov explained.

After taking the measurements, Zharikov spends two days building the cart before meeting again with the owner and the dog for a test run.

"The dogs usually don't like it at first, but they get used to it after one or two days," Zharikov said. "They usually have trouble navigating around furniture and learning how to turn corners with the cart.

"But some dogs adapt right away. One dog started chasing sticks on the very first day."

The friend -- and the friend's dog -- were so pleased with the results that news of the contraption reached acquaintances who also had handicapped dogs, and they also requested Zharikov's services. Eventually, a small regional cable television station from southeast Moscow caught wind of Zharikov's wheelchairs and filmed a small news segment about him.

"I'm not sure where they heard about it. It's not even my area of the city," said Zharikov, who lives on the southwest edge of town.

Zharikov's dog carts would eventually reach a wider public thanks to "Vremechko."

"After the [Vremechko] report, people began calling the television station and asking how they could contact me," Zharikov said. "That's where a majority of the inquiries have come from" for his dog carts.

Dog owner Viktoria Polyakova was one of the people who saw the report. She contacted Zharikov in March about building a cart for her 16-year-old fox terrier Laida. Polyakova said Laida's new wheels have given her a new life.

"I used to have to carry [Laida] everywhere," Polyakova said. "But now she can move around completely by herself. She's adapted very well to the cart and can turn and move easily. I can't imagine life without it now."

Olga Ponomareva, who had Zharikov build a cart for her 11-year-old basset hound Alisa, has seen a change in her dog's attitude.

"She's running around now and playing with shoes," Ponomareva said. "She's a lot happier now, especially since summer is coming, and she will be walking around a lot outside."

Since late last year, Zharikov has built a total of seven carts and had roughly 20 inquiries from interested dog owners, although Zharikov's services do not suit everyone.

"I look for the least expensive parts, but each cart comes to a total of about $100. That's too expensive for some of the people that have called," Zharikov said. "Others have decided that the dog is too old to invest in the cart. Still others say that the dog is not so disabled that it needs a cart to move around."

Zharikov is considering the future business prospects of his dog carts, but says the project is still in its infancy.

"I wouldn't call it just a hobby," Zharikov said. "It's more of a way to earn some supplemental income right now."

But word is spreading. Last week he was contacted by a veterinarian asking about the possibility of producing two to three carts a week. And a woman who runs an animal shelter about 60 kilometers south of Moscow has also called about commissioning his services.

"We'll see how things go," Zharikov said. "I might have to make a decision soon whether this should be a full-time activity."

Zharikov was skeptical about whether his carts could be of use to cats, however. "I think it would be possible," he said. "But I don't think they'd like it too much."