Chaos is a 10-year-old German Shepard with bad knees.
“The main issue with him, it’s called IVDD and it’s an (intervertebral) disease,” Sokolis said. “And he also has arthritis in his back knees.”
That combination affects his walking.
“His legs kind of twist when he walked and suddenly the decline became very rapid,” Sokolis said.
“He already struggled a little bit, but with the way he walked improperly, his legs twisting and the muscle mass starting to go away, he wouldn’t be able to carry himself,” Sokolis said. “He started dragging his bum around the floor, just to get around.”
Her two options were to either put him down or surgery. Neither of these was an option for Sokolis.
“You wouldn’t put a person down just because they couldn’t walk,” Sokolis said. “And my dog Chaos, he’s in pretty good condition, besides his legs, and you can see the look in eyes how willing he is to keep trying to push on.”
And after being furloughed from her job at House of Blues in Orlando due to the pandemic, money was tight.
Sokolis got her degree in emerging media at the University of Central Florida before moving on to work at House of Blues in Orlando for more than five years. She decided to take a new career path and drove down to Bradenton, where her parents live, to take a class at Manatee Technical College.
There, she learned engineering skills and met Tom Moser, who would become a key part in helping her design and make a wheelchair to help her dog walk again.
“I love dogs,” Moser said. “She told me about it and I just had to figure out a way to help him out.”
“We both excel in CAD drawings and so we discussed making a leg brace for Chaos at first, which Tom actually modeled for us in solid works and we tested out,” Sokolis said.
But she was advised by one of her veterinarian friends that the leg braces wouldn’t help much. Instead, she suggested Sokolis get her dog a wheelchair.
Moser and Sokolis brainstormed ways to make their own wheelchair for Chaos. Something that was effective but wouldn’t break the bank.
“We tried to be sustainable with the way we created it,” Sokolis said. “I’m all about saving the environment and was like why don’t we just find materials we can reuse because we don’t have a whole factory here. We just have the parts that are around us and you know whatever money we have in our pockets, which at the time wasn’t very much.”
She says Moser bought a pair of crutches at Goodwill for $7, and a pair of wheels at Harbor Freight for $12.
Moser and Sokolis said it was a collaborative effort, as they worked with other departments through MTC.
“When we hooked him [Chaos] up to the wheelchair for the first time, he took off running! It was pretty crazy to see,” Sokolis said.
She says her dog Chaos is getting around just fine with two legs and a couple of wheels. Sokolis says she hopes this wheelchair will allow Chaos to regain some of his strength back.
This student duo doesn’t want to stop here. Moser says they hope to go to shelters in the area and see if other dogs could benefit from a doggy wheelchair. They want to turn this idea into a non-profit organization.
“We want to find other people who need this because I’ve read stories and watched videos online about people that say the same thing, that they can’t afford these expensive wheelchairs for their dogs, and you can’t just put them down, it’s part of the family,” Moser said.
They’ve even gone a step further already, helping dog owners in other states.
“I shared my video of Chaos walking in the wheelchair on my Facebook and a few of my friends shared it, and it made its way to Missouri and some girl actually reached out who also has a German Shepard and she asked me what’s the process how to make it,” Sokolis said.