- Associated Press - Sunday, March 30, 2014

JONESBORO, Ark. (AP) - Patches of missing fur mark Lila’s hind legs, a result of her struggle anytime she tries to stand.

But once up, the small Chihuahua mix is quick to make her presence known.

Lila, who experienced a brief period of paralysis in her hind legs, is one of the canine models for 15 students at Jonesboro Health, Wellness and Environmental Studies Magnet School who are building wheelchairs to help paralyzed dogs move around.

“I think it is a good way to help out animals that are disabled because it is unfair that they can’t help themselves,” sixth-grader Kaleb Anderson, 12, told The Jonesboro Sun, (https://bit.ly/NGBce1 ).

“But, we can,” he said.

Art teacher Georgia Summitt said Lila was the project’s inspiration. The dog belongs to Summitt’s 9-year-old daughter.

Work began after Summitt and her family returned home from a Labor Day weekend trip to learn Lila was having trouble with her back legs because of two slipped discs in her spinal cord. After losing their 15-year-old dog, Summitt said the thought of losing another beloved dog was difficult.

A surgery to repair damage ended with the dog having an 80 percent chance of permanent paralysis, Summitt added.

She began researching wheelchairs, which can cost $300 to $1,000. But, she added that “after you’ve had a sick pet and you have to pay the expenses, who can afford that?”

The surgery alone was $4,500.

Instead, Summitt thought it would make for an interesting project for students; giving them a hands-on activity to utilize their math skills.

“I had told the kids at school so they were already interested in learning about the disability and all of the engineering that goes into making a wheelchair,” Summitt said. “I wrote a grant for supplies with the intent to build and give away or for the small cost to build for others.”

She received a $500 Science Initiative for Middle School grant and two individual donations from pet owners through www.donorschoose.org.

“One was out of California from a lady whose dog had a similar issue in honor of her dog. The other was a private donor from New York,” Summitt said. “It’s really neat to have connections with other people who felt the same way.”

The school’s sixth grade gifted and talented students began by researching the project before splitting up to work in groups of two or three.

Maggie Ferguson, 12, said the wheelchairs are made out of PC pipes and straps with dogs measured to ensure the pipes are cut the right length. They are measuring various dogs - mostly pets of other teachers - to build wheelchairs in different sizes.

Myia McCullough, 11, enjoys working with dogs but said she has trouble keeping the dogs still for measurements. It has to be perfect for the wheelchair to fit and not hurt the dogs they are intended to help.

“It’s kind of hard because Lila doesn’t like the wheelchair that much,” she added. “She’s like ‘I can walk now - I don’t need it.’”

The students have enjoyed the experience because it allows them to learn to construct an item instead of purchasing it. It has also helped with their math skills.

Anderson said he also has learned how to piece together items. For example, if the wheels are too big for the wheelchair, the dog won’t be able to move.

With Lila regaining use of her back legs, Summitt said the Memphis veterinarian who performed Lila’s surgery was interested in helping students find other paralyzed dogs who are in need of the wheelchairs.

The prototypes are expected to be complete by May and Summitt said this year’s fifth grade gifted and talented students would pick up the project next year.

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