Leg braces help canines with mobility problems

Barbara Hootman

TrooperPax is a handsome six-year-old white Labrador Retriever that had trouble walking with ease. He had surgery to correct a hip missing the ball that fits into the socket. Surgery eased his pain, but still didn’t give him the mobility he needed to walk properly.

“Trooper fell one day walking to the bank,” Kate Shawgo, his human companion, said. “I got an X-ray of the leg, and there wasn’t a ball on top of the right rear hip to keep his leg in the socket. After surgery, his hip still displaced easily. His leg dislocated too easily, also causing him to splay out like a butterfly.

“One day I met Elizabeth Eve at Bone-A-Fide Pet Boutique in Black Mountain, and she told me that she and her business partner made braces for dogs. I filed the information away in my brain.

“I came home (during the holidays) and found Trooper in the floor, and he couldn’t get up without help. A friend said, ‘surely they make braces for a dog’s leg.’ I remembered the name Ortho Dog and researched it on the Internet and found it as close as Swannanoa. Now Trooper wears the Hip Hound Brace, and it has given him the stability and mobility that he needed.”

Elizabeth Eve, a massage therapist, and Karen Hartman, a chiropractor, combined their talents to create Ortho Dog 15 years ago. Over the years, the Swannanoa company has spent a lot of time and money on research and design. But its creators said they did it all for the love of dogs.

When Hartman’s dog Spirit sprained her leg, Hartman started the process of finding a brace for her.

“I wrapped her wrist, and then Elizabeth made her a brace,” Hartman said. “Spirit wore the wrist brace for the rest of her life. That is when we realized that we should make braces for dogs everywhere.

“Our second brace was the Hip Hound. We researched it and researched it some more, got a patent for it, made it soft and pliable, and it worked. Dr. Eddie Heath of All Pets Animal Hospital and Rehabilitation in Asheville asked us to design and make a brace for a (canine) patient of his. He was a big help to us in perfecting the design. Over the years we designed three more braces for different parts of the leg.”

Hartman said that all dogs can benefit from using Ortho Dog mobility aids, which restore pain-free movement. The braces ensure stability and support, which in turn helps decrease pain and inflammation when a dog becomes active. The braces are made with high quality spacer mesh material and webbing that is suitable to be worn in any environment, including water.

The Cruciate Care Knee Brace made by Ortho Dog is a nonrigid brace designed especially for dogs suffering from a torn anterior or cranial cruciate ligaments. It helps with strains or sprains of the canine knee, back leg limping or fatigue, arthritis, and post-operative support and stabilization when knee immobilization is needed. Ortho Dog ( makes five designs for various parts of a canine leg.

“The Internet has been our major marketing tool,” Hartman said. “We sell braces all over the world and are able to help dogs worldwide, which is our goal. People find us researching on the Internet, and they do so because they love their dogs and want to get them help. Currently we have 10 wholesale distributors in the U.S. and three international wholesale vendors.”

Eve said that they are proud of their “sew shop” which employs three people to do all of Ortho Dog’s sewing. Eve and Hartman have declined opportunities to have their devices made overseas because they want their products to be American-made.

“Our braces have become an alternative to surgery in many cases,” Hartman said. “Hip, knee or wrist surgery can cost several thousands of dollars for a dog. We are an alternative source of help for dogs that cannot have surgery.

“It is a joy for us to improve dogs’ lives,” she said. Since he started wearing the Hip Hound Brace, TrooperPax walks twice a day and is strengthening his leg muscles, Shawgo said.