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Disabled Dogs Get Helping Hand from HandicappedPets.com
Published Tuesday, April 20, 2010 7:00 am

Faith is a 12-week-old bundle of black and brown furry energy that could turn even the most hardened heart to mush. So why hasn't the puppy been adopted from the Queens, NY shelter where she lives? Her back legs don't work. So the shelter called Animal Planet's Underdog to Wonderdog program, which helps dogs that are difficult to adopt, and now Faith has a family.

Great story, you say, but why are you reading about it in Business NH Magazine? Because Animal Planet turned to Amherst-based HandicappedPets.com to outfit Faith with Walkin' Wheels, a pet wheelchair invented by Mark Robinson, company founder and president and a serial entrepreneur. The story aired in January.

HandicappedPets.com sells about 250 products including dog boots, pet seatbelts, dog diapers and splints. The wheelchair is a one-size-fits- all model, with different size wheels that can be snapped on the frame to accommodate dogs from 20 pounds to 200 pounds. Other models on the market have to be custom-made for the dog, take weeks to deliver, and are often too bulky to transport in a car, Robinson says. "I got an idea for a wheelchair that was completely adjustable, folds flat, and does not look like it came out of someone's garage." Robinson also runs The Energy Grid, a marketing firm for renewable energy companies.

He brought Walkin' Wheels to market in August 2008 and it has quickly become the site's most popular seller. The wheelchairs can be worn long-term or for recovery from surgery. That way dogs can remain active, but safe, during their recovery, Robinson says. The company is about to come out with a wheelchair for pets weighing under 20 pounds.

HandicappedPets.com is now targeting animal rehabilitation clinics for its wheelchairs, providing them with two kits-one for use at the clinic and one to rent to clients. "It's a market that's increasing dramatically," Robinson says. "We're encouraging veterinarians to rent [the wheelchairs] to local clients. If people want one [short-term] from us directly, we will sell them a refurbished one with the promise to buy it back at 50 percent of what they paid," he says. The wheelchairs sell for $399 to $500 depending on the size of the wheel needed.

As the price tag is steep, the Web site has a large classified section to sell used wheelchairs. Robinson also formed the HandicappedPets Foundation, a nonprofit organization through which people can request assistance to buy a wheelchair for their pet.

The nine-year-old company, which started as a forum for owners of disabled pets, now has 10 employees, and sells approximately $2 million in products and services annually. Robinson plans to grow the business to $5 million in annual sales in five years. The company sells products around the world and holds patents in the United States, Europe and Japan. "We have an ‘aaahhh' factor. When people go to our site, it's the sound people make and characterizes what we do here," he says.

For more information, visit www.handicappedpets.com.


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