AMHERST, N.H. — Knowing when to put an animal down is one of the hardest things a pet owner will face. It's a choice Mark Robinson had to make when his dog Mercedes was diagnosed with canine epilepsy.
When the internet started gaining popularity, Robinson - still thinking about Mercedes untimely death - started an online forum; a place where people could talk about their pet's prognosis and find some answers. Robinson realized he had some of those answers and twenty years later, his products are sold all around the world through "Walkin' Pets by HandicappedPets.com"
"Dogs have become part of the family in America and throughout the world," Robinson explains. "In the U.S. over 51% of us sleep with our pets and when you sleep with your pet, when you invite it into your bed, that's a family member and entitled to all of the healthcare and services that you would give to any other family member... They deserve to live happy and healthy lives as they are aging, disabled, or injured."
That's the entire belief system behind the New Hampshire based company; not to drag out the pain of an injured, tired, or sick pet, but to support it. "The fact is, when a dog loses mobility that doesn't have to be an end-of-life decision; that doesn't have to be a crisis any more than when my back goes out and I have to relax for a few days," says Robinson.
Robinson was working in the renewable energy field before "Walkin' Pets." He wasn't a veterinarian or a dog trainer, but he had questions and knew other people did too, so he started his online forum, which ultimately led to being a dealer of wheelchairs already on the market. Through the feedback on his forum, he realized he could design a better product.
"The key to the wheelchair is that it folds flat, it adjusts with the snap buttons in length, width, and height and the wheels can snap out and you can put in smaller wheels, so the wheelchair can handle dogs from 20 to 200 pounds," says Robinson about his wheelchairs. Listening to those consumers online and talking with animal rehab specialists, even his own team of engineers, Robinson now produces more than 250 products to help animals improve their mobility.
"We get great ideas from our customers, we also have a stable of inventors that constantly send us their inventions - many of which we produce and pay them royalties for. All of the ideas come from the pet lovers around the world," says Robinson.
While dogs make up the largest population of animals helped by Walkin' Pets, wheelchairs have been designed for turtles, goats, even a duck living in Maine named Hope.
Walkin' Pets also has a non-profit arm, through which wheelchairs are shipped to owners who can't afford them; and is part of a curriculum in area schools. "The fourth graders come up with some of these inventions" says Robinson, who has a wall of invention drawings from kids. "By caring for disabled animals it’s almost like they’re building their own confidence and building their own value, and we see kids who really aren’t turned on in the educational process really light up at this idea."
To support that non-profit, the company hosts a calendar contest each year; picking 12-13 of the cutest pets from all over the world utilizing their wheelchairs. To learn more about the contest, which has already ended this year; and to purchase one, click here.
To learn more about Walkin' Pets by HandicappedPets.com, click here.