In 2010, a shelter in Chaco, Argentina needed wheelchairs for four of their dogs who weren’t able to walk anymore. Rosana Colodio, the principal of the technical college Dr. Pedro Lucas Funes in Santa Fe suggested the students build them in their workshops.
In Argentina, these wheelchairs are only made in Buenos Aires and they are very expensive. The students of the school had made a prototype some time before for a dog named Felipe who had been hit by a car and ended up a paraplegic. They couldn’t afford to buy him a proper wheelchair, so they improvised with the tools they had.
Since Felipe was able to walk again, it just made sense for them to try to help the four dogs of the shelter. And they were more than successful. Not only did they help the shelter dogs walk again, but this selfless act became a big project. In October, it will be the five year anniversary and that has brought happiness to so many owners and dogs in the country.
After the success of those four first dogs, people started contacting them through Facebook to ask them to make more wheelchairs for their injured dogs. And they haven’t stopped since. So far, more than 500 dogs have been able to walk again. They get requests from other cities in the country like Córdoba, Santiago, Salta, Tucumán, San Luis and even Buenos Aires.
Most of the people that need them for their dogs can’t afford them in the stores, where the price is 1500 pesos ($160). The students only ask for the cost of the materials, which doesn’t go higher than 185 pesos ($20). They are not selling them commercially and they are not earning money out of the wheelchairs. The project is alive only with donations from the people that support their initiative. They are just happy to see dogs walking again.
This project is called “Lazarus” and it was named after the Biblical passage where Jesus restored Lazarus to life in four days. In a way, they are restoring these dogs’ lives— they are giving them a second chance. Not so long ago, many dogs were euthanized when they lost their mobility and weren’t able to walk anymore.
Three teachers and 15 fifth grade students work actively on the Lazarus project, but the whole school is committed to it. First graders of the machinery class are in charge of cutting the materials and welding the structure. The wheelchairs are custom made— the owners take their dogs to the school so the students can measure them and analyze the specific problem. Once the wheelchair is done the dog must come back to get it installed.
They have a ritual every time a wheelchair is finished. They open the door of the workshop so the dog can walk through it. The 320 students of the school are lined up on the sides clapping at the dog that is walking again after a long time. Usually the owner cries of happiness. Witnessing all this is part of their education. They also learn the humane side of the technical approach.
They have no intentions of stopping this project. As a matter of fact, they are planning some improvements for the future. One of them is an attached support for blind dogs that will include some kind of walking stick. They are constantly asking for donations from people. Not just money but any tool, wheels, metal bars or any other element that will help them manufacture the wheelchairs. They have a true commitment and love for dogs that is admirable.