Barbara Adam investigates puppy prosthetics … and discovers a heart of gold. Photo by Romain Garrigue.
Milk the pug seems suitably proud of his wheelchair, made with love by his “Dad”, Oscar Fernando Ruiz.
“It’s not my design,” Oscar said modestly. “It’s Google’s.”
But Milk doesn’t care. He’s busy rolling along, accepting pats and hanging with his pug “brother”, Moto, who has graduated from a wheelchair to using his own legs to get around.
Milk and Moto are the resident pups at Oscar’s new Colombian restaurant in Thao Dien, Don Patacon. (Which really is worth checking out.)
Oscar rescued Moto after losing his beloved Labrador, Sophie, in a spate of dog poisonings in Thao Dien last August, which claimed the lives of at least nine dogs belonging to expats.
“That was a very very sad time for me,” Oscar said. Friends suggested he get another dog to help ease the pain of his loss, and then he heard about Moto from a dog rescue group.
“He was sad and thin, had skin problems, was weak and smelly and scared,” Oscar said. He also couldn’t walk. So Oscar made him a wheelchair.
Over the course of a year, Oscar made ten different wheelchairs for Moto, perfecting the design each time to suit the pug’s progress. “I took the design from the internet,” he said.
Now Moto doesn’t need a wheelchair at all. “He can walk, although he walks a bit like Charlie Chaplin,” Oscar said.
Oscar’s experience with the wheelchairs led him to Milk, another rescue dog. No one is quite sure why Milk can’t walk, and whether he will eventually graduate from his wheelchair.
It takes Oscar, who is busy with Don Patacon, about two weeks to make a dog wheelchair. He can only work on a wheelchair on his one day off a week, and needs to measure the dog, make the wheelchair and then make any necessary adjustments. Once the wheelchair is fitted, more modifications will be required as the dog becomes stronger and more confident with its new style.
He says he loves watching a dog use a wheelchair for the first time. At first they’re very wary, he said. They take a first step and they still look worried. But after 30 minutes they’re running. “It’s awesome,” Oscar said. “The feeling is so good.”
Oscar’s first dog wheelchair was made out of PVC tubing, with lots of strapping to keep it in place. He’s refined the design now, and Milk’s vehicle is metal, with a sling supporting his body and a handy footrest for the one back paw that drags on the ground when he rolls along.
Milk developed an allergy to the first material used in the sling, and Oscar discovered, through trial and error, that bandages don’t irritate the dog’s skin. And so the sling is wrapped in bandages.
The wheelchair is now so comfortable, Milk can nap in it.
Oscar has also made dog wheelchairs for several dogs in Ho Chi Minh City.
One of his “customers” is a dog that a Korean couple found on the side of the road, injured in a traffic accident.
Oscar doesn’t accept any money for the wheelchairs, not even to cover the cost of the materials. “I help anyone who needs it,” he said. “If someone contacts me and I have time and the money, I will make their dog a wheelchair.”
The Colombian expat’s love of dogs is not a new thing. At one point he had 36 rescue dogs on his farm in Colombia.
“When I moved to Vietnam, I found families for all of them,” he said.