It was early 2009 when I first realized that my rabbit Pumpkin, was favouring his right hind leg. A visit to the vet’s office for tests showed nothing wrong. But as the months passed, that hind leg became weaker and Pumpkin had trouble hopping properly. By late August, with an emergency visit to the vet’s office, the mystery would begin to unravel. Pumpkin had been affected by E.cuniculi. Among other possible effects, this illness would continue to decrease his mobility and there was no telling how quickly. I wished I could get him some kind of aid, like crutches or wheelchairs are aids for people. Nothing existed for rabbits. Who could custom-make something for me? I searched and found companies that designed carts for dogs but nothing for small animals. Besides, these companies were not even in this country. In the spring of 2011, my prayers were answered. I was introduced to Mr. Réjean Grou.
Réjean Grou is an orthotist-prosthetist and president of the company Ortho Design. Following his studies at the Université du Québec à Montréal he worked a decade as a team leader and specialist in clinical activities in a rehabilitation center before he decided to change his clientele base – from treating humans, to treating animals. “I was an orthotist-prosthetist for humans since 1996 and I always had in my mind that one day I would start to make devices to help animals because of course I love them and let me tell you, you can learn a lot from them”.
From Humans to Animals
Like with humans, every personality is different, every case is different and each presents its own set of challenges. “I make devices for cats, dogs, horses, rabbits, ferrets, etc. Most of my clients are dogs and the apparatus(es) I make the most are for knee (stifle) orthosis for ligament injuries. The challenge is to find the right design for each case. You have also to consider the level of activity, the age, the breed, the owner’s needs, the environment of the pet: where the animal lives, the weight, the other injuries, etc., and you have to learn and understand the non-verbal language of the animal.” To date, two of his most challenging cases were the making of a wheeled cart for my rabbit because, “it was small and Pumpkin did not have much movement of his hind limb,” and, “when I did a knee brace for a dog who weighed 246 pounds!” When asked about the difference between making rehabilitative devices and prosthetics, Réjean confirms that replacing a limb is more difficult because “the alignment, and the length of the amputation could require many adjustments.”
Réjean is very dedicated to the work that he does and it is evident in the way he handles his furry patients. Over and over he carefully measured both the mini cart and my rabbit’s body and his ability to fit into the cart properly. He observed where uncomfortable spots needed more padding, how a slight shift in body weight might cause the device to perform less than ideal and he adjusted and tweaked every little thing. For imperfect bodies, his devices need to be as perfect as can be.
Educating the Public about Orthotics and Prosthetics
At the Salon National des Animaux de Compagnie in the fall of 2011, he was an exhibitor with a booth set up to educate the public about this kind of animal care. Although Réjean stated that many of his patients are dogs often with knee issues, his service for animals is still quite unknown and few seek out the help. “Orthoses and prostheses are pretty new for veterinarians but more and more clinics are opening their own physio department and are more open to holistic ways (physio, acupuncture, chiro, massages, orthotic prosthetic devices, etc.) People look and want information about all the options to help their animal in the best way as possible, when they have physical deficiencies. Sometimes it could be the price or their vet that doesn’t know about orthotic-prosthetic aids and are not comfortable with the product(s) because they don’t have information or they’ve never seen the devices.”
Healthy Pets and the Human-Animal Bond
Réjean knows animals so he has an understanding of the human-animal bond and it certainly inspired his career direction. Having worked with other pet owners, he has observed their human-animal connection. “I always had animals in my life: hamster, lizards, fish, turtle, birds, dogs, cats, mice, etc. They’re part of the family. They talk to you, perceive our feelings. They are a kind of guide, a lighthouse for your life, and help you to be a better person, bring happiness to your life and support you when you have a difficult moment. We need them like they need us. We have to observe them to understand how we live and how we live between ourselves. Most people have respect for their animal; some consider them like their own children, a friend, a source of happiness, a life guide. Everybody is different, but I think what is important is to understand that their pet can only bring good things to improve their lives.
Réjean has an office at the veterinary animal hospital in Montreal but he also works with a number of other veterinary clinics in Montreal, Quebec and in Europe. He often works alongside other animal care professionals: veterinarians (generalists or specialists), physiotherapists, acupuncturists, and of course the pet owners are key people in the equation of pet healthcare.
“Respect life, animals and nature and it will bring more than you think. Sometimes it is difficult but step by step I will show the importance of the world of orthotics and prosthetics, as a part of the rehabilitation domain, in helping to improve the quality of the lives of your pets.”
Réjean’s concluding thought tells us it’s not just a career choice for him, but a way of life, and a belief that animals help us as we should help them, and he is certainly doing his part.