Cathy Erwin is the brainy creator of the Walkabout Harness which is my all-time favorite product for paralyzed dogs. This rear-lifting harness was a lifesaver for Sophie and me. I always had two of them on-hand so one could be in the wash while Sophie wore the other. Without our easy to use Walkabout harness, Sophie and I would’ve had a tough time making it through the five years of her illness.
Recently I had the amazing opportunity to interview Cathy. She explained how she turned her ideas into products for dogs with mobility problems and how she worked hard to get the veterinary world to take notice. I also learned about the exciting new devices Cathy loves.
Can you imagine knowing what you want to do with your life when you were a teenager?
Cathy was 15-years-old when she started working in the veterinary field. She knew her career was going to focus on helping animals. In 1982 she received a Bachelor of Science degree in animal physiology. And in 1993 she studied Physical Therapy at the College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific. Her goal was to gain knowledge about rehab techniques for people and apply them to dogs and cats.
When Cathy finished her education, she went on to work as the head of Surgery at the Santa Cruz Veterinary Hospital. It was during that time when she began to think about rehab devices to make the recovery process better for dogs and cats after surgery.
How Cathy developed the Walkabout Harness
Cathy was familiar with several studies that showed how “proper function was restored to patients sooner” when dogs used a walking aid during rehabilitation. She took that information and pieced together the first Walkabout Harness. Cathy made sure the harness was made from durable, but soft materials that cushion a pet’s body. She was concerned that a harness might cause damage to a pet’s skin during recovery.
Then Cathy made sure the Walkabout went through hands on clinical trials at major veterinary and rehab facilities. Ultimately the first harness and all of the other Walkabout products were endorsed by the American College of Veterinary Surgeons, the Canine Rehabilitation Certification program at the University of Tennessee and other teaching universities.
Here is my interview with Cathy Erwin about her ingenious products.
Did you envision pet owners or veterinarians would use the first Walkabout Harness?
The first products were introduced to veterinary surgeons for post-op care. I would go to veterinary shows and talk about the harness. Pet owners only knew about it if their surgeon gave them one. This was 1993 so veterinarians heard about the harness through conferences, ads in trade magazines or through word-of-mouth. Still, the Walkabout became popular.
Has the harness changed how pets with spinal injuries are treated?
I remember a time when euthanasia was the first recommendation made by veterinarians when a dog came in with back pain. Today it is the last recommendation on the list. The harness gave everyone a safe way to lift an animal in pain.
Have you used the harness for one of your personal pets?
Yes, my cat Albert was hit by a car. His pelvis had to be rebuilt and his tail was amputated. He learned to walk again, but he was wobbly so I used the harness to for extra support. Albert or (The Butt) lived for 6 more years.
What other products have you designed?
There are braces for the knee, elbow and hock support. We have compression sleeves for the legs that protect against pressure sores and lick granulomas. They also give support to dogs with limbs that are easily fatigued. Dogs with Degenerative Myelopathy or those on extended steroid use benefit from this product. In addition, we have Walkabout no slip booties that aid in managing soft tissue wounds and the Walkabelly harness to support dogs with leg weakness. There is also the Hoistabout harness for emergencies. It’s a safer answer to towel walking.
Are all of the products designed by you?
Yes, I designed each of them. Every year I try to design something new. The knee brace is out latest product.
Do you make custom harnesses?
Yes, we design custom products. One custom device I am proud of is our amputee harness. It makes it easier to lift a dog who has lost a limb. We also design custom harnesses for dogs and cats that are hard to fit. For instance, very large dogs or very small cats and we customize harnesses for pets whose muscles have atrophied.
Are there new products in the works?
We are almost ready to release an easy to use handle that snaps onto a chest halter. It will help hoist a dog. I am always looking at new products or how to make an existing product better.
Is there a product in the rehab field you are excited about?
I love Rock Tape or KT kinesiology tape. It is a therapeutic tape that heals. The tape was first used on horses, but now it is being used to help dogs with knee, back and joint problems. The University of Tennessee even added a KT taping course to their rehabilitative therapy program. The tape reinforces stability and stays on the skin for days.
Do you have any recommendations for pet parents?
Owners need to educate themselves about products on the market and use the ones that have been veterinary tested. Make sure products are proven safe before using them on your pet.
You can learn more about Harnesses for Paralyzed Pets in this article: My 5 Favorite Harnesses for Handicapped Dogs
Click here to check out all of the Walkabout Harness Products for Pets.