Back Society » Tech » From the Lab of Forever Wheelchair, Hope for Vietnam's Handicapped Animals

From the Lab of Forever Wheelchair, Hope for Vietnam's Handicapped Animals

The ability to roam and frolic around is essential for our canine and feline companions' well-being, but too often, it can become a privilege for cats and dogs living with disability and immobility from neglect and abuse.

But with a helping hand from Forever Wheelchair, a social enterprise based in District 9 that makes custom wheelchairs for handicapped animals, many of them are being given a new "leash" on life to go on more adventures.

Oscar Fernando Ruiz Bonilla, from Colombia, is one of the co-founders of Forever Wheelchair.

Forever Wheelchair is run by Oscar Fernando Ruiz Bonilla and his wife Trần Anh Thư, who are currently the parents of a household of rescued cats, dogs, and a monkey with disabilities. 

An animal lover from a young age, Oscar rescued countless dogs and cats in his home country Colombia and provided them with shelters that he built himself. However, the idea of helping physically challenged pets did not cross his mind until he started his career in Vietnam and adopted Motor, an adorable pug suffering from a leg impairment. Unhappy with the quality of the wheelchairs on the market at the time, Oscar began tinkering to come up with his very own wheelchair, which went on to be the pioneering design that would help Motor, and many other fur babies, to again freely explore the world.

A feline resident recovering from a limb injury.

Lì, a puppy who was paralyzed in an accident that crushed its hind leg and punctured its flesh. On Lì's right side is Motor. These are some of the dogs and cats that are being treated and residing at Forever Wheelchair's shelter.

Taking the measurements of the animal is the first and most crucial step in the wheelchair-making process, according to Bonilla. If an owner is unable to send their pets to FW's workshop in Bình Chánh District, he will have to thoroughly guide them on how to take the measurements of the pet precisely from a distance, due to the fact that “the making process of a right wheelchair can only begin with a correct set of readings,” he said.

Moving onto the second stage, Bonilla and his crew will proceed to select the appropriate frame size based on the measurements received from the owner. The frames crafted at Forever Wheelchair vary in size, the smallest being an XS that would fit a teacup poodle, and the largest being an XXXL that could house an Alaskan Malamute. Once the correct frame has been selected, the crew will collect matching springs, screws, and plastic hinges to begin the assembly process.

Setting up Lì's wheelchair.

It is common for owners to improvise wheelchairs for their handicapped pets, but these makeshift devices often utilize wires and ropes to secure the animals. This inadvertently puts pressure on the lower abdomen, which causes further discomfort for them during physical activities.

FW offers a solution by installing springs between the joints of the wheelchair, a simple but effective change to the design that allows four-legged users to move with ease and balance regardless of the type of terrain.

It is this intricate metal frame that attracts customers from outside of Vietnam to seek out FV's products, even though shipping costs can outweigh the manufacturing costs, says Bovilla.

The wheelchair’s design is also optimized for the animal's age and activeness. For the little ones that are younger and more energetic, the wheel axle is propped backward to provide more pillar support and allow them to lie down and stand up easily. In contrast, for the older ones, the wheel axle will be propped inward and situated at the hip level to reduce the weight load exerted on their shoulders.

The surface of the wheelchair's pads contains tiny holes that help with ventilation and prevent skin agitation.

The edges of the screw heads are rounded off to reduce friction and prevent scratches in case of a collision.

FW's journey hasn't been without derailments, as Oscar and Thư can't count the number of times they had to "evacuate" the family due to complaints about noise from neighbors.

"Our puppies are very excited to see new people, and when one barks, the others 'harmonize' as if they're in a choir. Moving around so often has been tough for them because they constantly have to adapt to a completely new environment." The couple is thus planning their own "sanctuary" where animals with a disability have a bigger playground to recover from injuries and acclimate to their pair of "legs." Vietnam also lacks facilities that do research on and provide care for pets with disabilities, so the founder is left on his own to study the animals' anatomy and 3D printing technique to enhance the appearance and function of the wheelchairs.

Left: Oscar designs the wheelchair’s components using 3D software. Right: A wheelchair coupling created with a 3D printer.

Despite being more specialized in making wheelchairs for dogs and cats, FW also extends support to other members of the fauna kingdom such as birds and monkeys; they even received requests from a farm in Đà Lạt to make prosthetics for their llamas. "But we are still in the process of figuring out how to make our wheelchairs and prosthetics on a bigger scale [...] and it's probably going to take some time." 

Without a safe haven yet, therapeutic activities such as walking have to take place in the common spaces of the residential area.

One can now come across Forever Wheelchair's posters when taking their fur babies in for checkups, as their wheelchair is a veterinarian-approved device across Vietnam. "Many overseas customers also prefer our products because the animals we live with have different types of disabilities, and we are able to observe and fine-tune our devices for all these distinct needs."

This is monumental for a grassroots initiative such as FW, since almost no one knew about it during its early stages, and Bonilla and Thư even resorted to using their pocket money to support the animals when times were tough. "At that time, we did not expect that one day, all the sacrifice and support that we have been giving for the past three years would be coming back to us from the community," Oscar gleefully shared.

Profits from wheelchair sales are used to help other unfortunate cases. Through FW's charity program, 10% of the revenue from each wheelchair is donated to affiliated shelters such as Hanoi Pet Adoption and Paws For Compassion which are also doing their part to take care of animals in need. And while it might seem like a small amount, the donations have more than filled many fur-covered bellies with hearty meals. Owners who cannot afford a wheelchair will also be assisted by FW through fund-raising on the organization's social media channels.

Thanks to Forever Wheelchair's products, dogs and cats with disabilities can now comfortably and confidently move with their own “legs,” thereby becoming more “cooperative” during the later therapy process. And for Bonilla and Thư, seeing their babies' tails flicking freely while frolicking around with their wheelchairs is undoubtedly the best reward at the end of the day.

"Our hope is very simple, which is to ask everyone to contribute without criticism, contribute with true enthusiasm. Please sympathize with the hardship that organizations who are providing shelters for abandoned and handicapped animals have to cope with, they are the true unsung heroes of the community," the couple shared.

Bonilla and Thư. 

Related Articles

in Saigon

A Saigon Restaurant Poisoned Dozens of Stray Cats. What Happened to Those That Survived?

Almost 10 months ago, my life was turned upside down as our household welcomed a new feline member.

Paul Christiansen

in Natural Selection

Mèo: A Complicated Love Affair

Of all the Asian and Southeast Asian countries that use the animal zodiac, only Vietnam has a cat in place of the rabbit. One theory for why is that while Chinese has a word for rabbit, it also has a ...

in Saigon

A New Baby Giraffe Was Born at the Saigon Zoo. You Can Help Name Her.

Will this attempt at another public naming contest go wrong or remain wholesome this time?

in Saigon Hẻm Gems

Hẻm Gems: The Secret Realm of Good Vibes Behind the Doors of Passengers Cafe

Like any person born after the year 1990, I am chronically affected by the condition of dawdling at a coffee shop for a supposed boost in productivity and “the vibes” when the clock strikes close to a...

in Saigon

Saigon Restaurant Faces Boycott Over Gruesome Poisoning of Stray Cats

Over the past week, animal lovers in Saigon were shocked to learn of a deliberate poisoning aimed at stray cats living in a local apartment complex. 

in Saigon

Saigon Shelter for Abused Pets Publishes Special Calendar to Raise Funds

Since its formation in 2005, the Sài Gòn Time (SGT) animal shelter has rescued, nurtured and nursed numerous abused pets to health until they find a new home. To promote animal welfare and seek financ...

Partner Content