DJ – the Rescue Dog in Bike Shorts

All Tags

Some animals have a hard time getting adopted from traditional shelters, particularly if they are handicapped, injured, or have a serious medical condition. That’s where Animal Lifeline in Des Moines, Iowa steps in.

As a special needs, no-kill shelter – the only one of its kind in Central Iowa – Animal Lifeline rescues animals who need medical or rehabilitative care before they can be adopted out to their forever homes.  Animal Lifeline, and their veterinary partner, Dr. Christie Carlo, DVM, CCRT at VCA Avondale, often reach out to specialty product fabricators like Thera-Paw to supply assistive products for these special-needs pets. 

Such is the story of DJ, a dog who was found by an animal control officer in Illinois then transferred to Animal Lifeline rescue because his back legs were not working properly.  Martha Wittkowski, executive director of Animal Lifeline, got the call about DJ and had the space available to help this beautiful but mobility-impaired pup.  She coordinated with volunteers to bring DJ to the shelter.

When DJ arrived at Animal Lifeline last year, he was less than a year old.  Dr. Carlo concluded that he was likely in an accident as a young puppy, and this caused significant neurological issues that affected his rear legs.  X-rays of his hips and spine didn’t show any obvious reason for DJ’s inability to walk well.  DJ had rear leg ataxia, making him drag his feet and grind his toenails when he walked. He fell often on his hind end and was experiencing incontinence.  The falls had caused sores on his thighs and the base of his tail.

Product Name Description Link
No Knuckling Training Sock Reduces knuckling of the toes. It’s best to use this device for short periods and in dogs that are still able to bring their leg forward on their own.  No-Knuckling Training Sock
Toe-Up Sciatic Sling Similar to the No-Knuckling Training Sock (it reduces knuckling of the toes and leaves the paw open to breathe). Use this device for short periods and in dogs that are still able to bring their leg forward on their own.  Toe-Up Sciatic Sling
Dorsi-Flex Assist

Uses a boot to reduce knuckling of the toes and flex the ankle.  This is a good alternative to the above devices if your dog is knuckling more than 50% of the time when walking. 

Hindlimb Dorsi-Flex Assist

Canine Mobility Anti-Knuckling Device

Used in dogs that have trouble bringing their whole hind leg(s) forward during walking.  Great for dogs that are struggling a bit more and who have weakness throughout their hind legs (including knees and/or hips). 

Canine Mobility Anti-Knuckling Device

For a complete resource article, click here

Despite his issues, DJ is a sweet and happy boy who’s extremely social and playful.  He loves people, gets excited to play with his toys and loves a good game of tug, and when not running (or attempting to) in the yard, he absolutely loves to lounge on big, fluffy beds.  Though DJ’s zest for life is magnetic, Wittkowski knew it would take some time to find him the right home.  But with the proper care from his competent wellness and rehab team, he could make great strides.

Rehabilitation and physical therapy exercises really helped to strengthen DJ’s hind end and develop his muscles, although his legs will always be a little “wonky,” said Dr. Carlo.  But there was still the issue of his incontinence and sores on his hips and tail, which could reduce DJ’s chances of being adopted.

That’s when Dr. Carlo reached out to Ilaria Borghese, President of Thera-Paw, Inc., hoping their team could create something for DJ.  “My thought was that we might be able to fit DJ with some padded shorts (like bike shorts) that also could go around his belly to contain an absorbent pad for his incontinence. It would have to come off to go outside to potty unless the back could be left open and the ventral surface could be removed to go for walks,”  recounted Dr. Carlo.  “Just thought Ilaria could help me brainstorm on this.  I’ve been certified in canine rehab since 2010 and I’ve attended the STAAR Conference (Symposium on Therapeutic Advances in Animal Rehabilitation), which is where I met Ilaria. I’ve worked with Thera-Paw for other patients who needed custom carpal supports, and I knew she would be willing to make something that would help DJ to protect his back end when he falls but also extend the front section of the shorts to go over his belly for pads to help keep him clean.”

Product Name Description Helpful Links
Coodeo Dog Lift Harness

This is a lightweight, full-body harness that provides support for pets with injuries or mobility problems. It’s a great harness if you have a senior dog or one with arthritis, weakness, or a neurological condition.  It has 3 different support systems including short and long handles. 

Coodeo Dog Lift Harness

Sgt. Knots Sheepskin Support This adjustable sling has heavy-duty straps and is ultra-comfortable with sheepskin-like, soft cover.  The nice thing about slings is that they slip on and off easily so that you can apply a quick support for taking your dog up/down stairs, out to the bathroom, or for a short walk.

Sgt. Knots Sheepskin Support

Labra Dog Sling

This is a comfortable and stable sling to support your painful, injured, or unstable dog.  Perfect to help dogs with arthritis, neurological conditions, generalized weakness, and even after surgery.

Labra Dog Sling

Help ‘Em Up Harness

A full-body dog mobility harness recommended by veterinarians and physical therapists and features a patented Hip Lift

Help ‘Em Up Harness
Cotton Leash Rope For medium-to-XL size dogs with weakness, we find that using a thick, cotton rope with large clip works really well when helping a dog walk.  The thick, soft rope is easy to grasp and won’t slide out of your hand.  The large clip allows you to hook your fingers close to the dog for added support.  This rope is often used with horses so it is heavy-duty and designed for a lifetime. Our recommended rope

For more harness choices, click here; for more sling choices, click here.

Borghese is a whiz at creating custom products for pets with special needs.  She’s made thousands of leg braces for dogs, cats, birds, donkeys, rabbits, sheep, and goats, and even made padded booties for penguins and swans and anti-knuckling devices for a llama, kangaroo, and a pet guinea pig. 

padded penguin boots by Thera-Paw

“Before I start fabricating a special garment, I look at all products that are already available to see if there’s anything that we can use as a foundation – this is more cost-effective and faster than starting from scratch”, Borghese stated.  “In DJ’s case, I suggested that we start with a swim diaper that fit him, then add the needed leg, tail, and belly components and make any other adjustments.”  Borghese started with a swim diaper from Sam’s Dog Hut then went to work adding the padded hip components and tail bumper, and creating openings for the front and back so that DJ could potty outside without having to remove the shorts.  “I love thinking outside the box and creating new products, but it really helps when the veterinarian or therapist knows what’s needed,” said Borghese. “I don’t have the luxury of having the animal in front of me so I rely on photos, video, and precise measurements taken by the veterinary practitioner.  In DJ’s case, Dr. Carlo had a clear picture of what she wanted me to create.  I just needed to figure out how to fabricate the device she was imagining.  That’s the really fun part of my job!” 

It took one round of modifications to get it just right and DJ’s bike shorts were done!  See video. 

 Video of Thera-Paw making bike shorts (music by bensound)

Product Name Description Helpful Links
Expawlorer double-sided anti-slip socks 

These traction socks have traction decals around the entire sock and also have an adjustable strap to hold the sock in place.  They are inexpensive, can be left on all day while the dog is inside, and can be layered for added comfort. 

Expawlorer Socks
Pawz Biodegradable Rubber Boots
These are made of lightweight, natural, and disposable rubber.  They provide circumferential traction so even if they spin on a dog’s paw, the dog will still have traction. See video here on how to apply these boots for all-day comfortable wear.
Pawz Boots

Vetwrap is a cohesive bandage material that also works great for traction.  See the video here on how to apply Vetwrap for all-day comfortable wear. 

ToeGrips nail ring grippers

These rubber nail rings are applied over the pet’s nails – the paw remains uncovered and the paw pads can breathe.  ToeGrips can be left on for days/weeks at a time or until they fall off. 


 For a complete resource article, click here

Today, DJ is doing well and living at Animal Lifeline until he finds his forever home.  “DJ doesn’t know he is different from any other dog,” said Dr. Carlo. “When DJ is adopted, we will send his new family information on rehab and what has helped him. If it weren’t for his neurological issues, he would be a normal dog, and that’s what we want him to be. The shorts just help him with that.”

Anyone interested in adopting this sweet boy, DJ, click here

A Vital Vet Publication 

Other Related Publications