Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Neutral Balance Cart

A little over a month ago, I sent Popeye's cart back to Eddie's Wheels for adjustments. They made 2 major changes.

1) They splayed the vertical bars at the back of the cart outward so that the wheels sit farther apart, making the cart more stable and less likely to topple. I had tried to "artificially" do something like that with the original cart by using longer bolts to connect the wheels to the cart, but when the people at EW saw that, they said it was a big no-no because I was shifting the weight to areas that weren't meant to support it.

2) They converted the cart to a neutral balance. A neutral balance cart takes off all of the weight from the yoke that rests on Popeye's shoulders. Doing this required moving the wheels forward so that they sit closer to the middle of the cart.

The neutral balance cart also comes with an underarm strap, which keeps the front of the cart from just lifting up like a see-saw now that the wheels sit in the middle.

They also added a rump strap for when Popeye gets his legs amputated. The rump strap attaches to the seat and goes over Popeye's hips, holding his butt onto the seat. Without legs, there won't be as much of an anchor for his butt to stay in the seat, and he's so strong in his front that there's a likelihood he will lift his butt off the seat. The rump strap will help keep his butt down.

While the fact that the neutral balance cart takes the weight off Popeye's shoulders is great (as little added weight to his body can only be a good thing), it does have its downsides. It would have been nice if somebody at EW had explained what they might be ahead of time, just so I'd know.

1) Now that the wheels sit in the middle of the cart, it has more of a see-saw tendency. That means the more Popeye raises his front body and the front of the cart, the more the back horizontal bar of the cart will lower. This makes going up stairs or even a single step impossible because the back bar just digs into the ground if Popeye puts his front paws on a higher step. This isn't that big of a deal for us, since the only steps we have that Popeye uses are the single step at the front and back doors.

2) For the same reason as above, it's more difficult now for Popeye to move backwards in his cart. With the original cart, if he had managed to squirm his way through a narrow area, he could just move backwards to squirm back out. He can't do this that much with the neutral balance. If he tries to step backwards, he shifts his weight in such a way that causes the back bar to dig downward into the ground like a door stopper.

3) The biggest problem with the neutral balance cart that we're experiencing so far, and it could also have to do with the splayed bars, is that the wheels don't move as freely. Something about their positioning and angling causes one wheel to hop up a little, then the other, and so on as Popeye walks. The more he sways his body (which all dogs do naturally when walking), the more the wheels hop. Each hop makes the cart at a higher risk for toppling over. We haven't had the adjusted cart long enough to push the limit yet, but right now, I'm a little too nervous to allow Popeye to run too quickly.

A couple of other problems we've had with the cart, both the original and the adjusted, are:

1) With Popeye's hind legs being so long and unbending, they have to be strapped in front of him to the sides of the cart. As he walks and those legs swing back and forth, the right leg in particular hits up against the tire, which results in bleeding. So I have to make sure to put some kind of wrap around that area of his leg to protect it.

2) The good news is that if the tires of the cart go over your toes, it doesn't hurt a single bit, the pressure is so light. The bad news is that Popeye topples over very easily when that happens.

I don't think there is any "perfect" dog wheelchair on the market, and it depends on the individual dog as well. While Popeye's cart may be less than completely ideal, I'm pretty sure I'd buy it again if I had to start over even knowing the "flaws" (as they pertain to Popeye anyway) ahead of time.