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Old November 23rd, 2004, 03:22 PM
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New devices help solve pets' peeves

N.S. man makes doggy orthotics
By BARRY DOREY / Staff Reporter

If you see a chihuahua sporting an itsy-bitsy neck brace or a basset hound wearing a stubby prosthesis, you can bet their owners have visited Jeff Collins.

If a dog is man's best friend, the Dartmouth man may be an injured dog's best friend.

Customizing the prosthetics and orthotics he once made for children, Mr. Collins is aiming to become a saviour of sorts for canines suffering from back or leg injuries, hip dysplasia or other painful poochy ailments.

"The demand for alternative treatment for dogs is growing," said Mr. Collins, who has partnered with the Atlantic Veterinary College in Charlottetown to develop and hone his concepts.

His K-9 Orthotics & Services prototypes have already improved the quality of life and mobility for a Bernese mountain dog with severe hip dysplasia, a Yorkshire terrier with a broken back, a beagle with an amputated foot and a Rottweiler with arthritis so advanced that he required regular painkillers.

And Mr. Collins is not stopping there. He is developing a wheelchair to help vets transport dogs who have undergone leg surgery and for owners who want to continue walking animals with disabilities.

So if Rex blows out his knee jumping for a Frisbee or Sparky wrenches his neck chasing rabbits, expensive surgery or euthanasia are no longer the only remedies.

Local vets welcome the treatment flexibility that the new company offers them.

"There is no one else around doing what he is doing; we are definitely going to use it," said Peter Ainslie, manager of Fairview Animal Hospital in Halifax.

The braces and other support devices can offer relief for conditions that otherwise cannot be treated effectively, Mr. Ainslie said, adding that the timing of the new venture is perfect.

"It's a great opportunity, pets are becoming a bigger part of the family," he said.

"People are getting older, the kids are moving out, some couples are not having children and they are having pets instead."

And with many childless couples or empty nesters boasting more disposable income, "some people will spend more on their pets than they will on anything else," he said.

Mr. Collins said that trend makes him more comfortable with his foray into a market with only one other Canadian player.

But he said his devices will do more than save pets from discomfort. They will save owners money by forestalling or eliminating surgeries that can run into the $3,000 to $5,000 range.

"Canine owners are taking things to a whole new level," Mr. Collins said, referring to pet insurance and the impending arrival of a company specializing in aquatic physiotherapy.

"It's amazing how long people keep their dog around if they can. They want to spend their money on their pets, I have the skills to do it."

Across Canada, there are also pet acupuncturists and doggy day cares. Pets are being cloned as well, a practice some animal rights groups condemn.

Mr. Collins also clones some of the language you would expect to hear from an athletic trainer or an expert in sports medicine.

The company website lists a "patient," a nine-year-old Lab mix with an anterior cruciate ligament injury, a common injury among football and basketball players.

"The options he would have are surgery, followup using physiotherapy or an orthotic device," Mr. Collins said of a football player.

"Right now, for dogs, their only option is surgery."

The website has been live for just a few weeks and Mr. Collins already has orders from the United States for braces.

A vet typically casts the dog's injured body part, then forwards the cast to Mr. Collins, who customizes the brace or harness.

He builds them at a workshop at his house. But he prefers to make house calls when responding to local requests.

"It's in a more comfortable environment to meet them at their home or at the vet. It's best to approach the dog in the most comfortable atmosphere as possible."

Mr. Collins also plans to offer services for horses. But not for cats, despite the many requests he has already received.

Cats are too small and fragile for the braces to work well, he said.

"Unless the cat is a tiger or something, and in that case I'm not casting the cat, someone else can."
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Old November 24th, 2004, 12:30 AM
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Amazing... 3 cheers for Jeff Collins "hip hip hurray"
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