Practical Magic: The Cat’s Outta the Bag

I am a firm believer in the power of a cat/dog/goat video/picture/story to turn a day around, so of course when I got an email from Portsmouth Middle School teacher Erin Bakkom asking if we could work together to design and 3D print a cat wheelchair for a disabled kitten, I jumped at the chance.  While flailing.  And doing the kind of muted scream that cats just bring out in a person.

Meet Ray, dubbed Sweet Baby Ray by a co-worker:

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Just a few months old and a rescue—though growing like a weed after a rainstorm—Ray’s back legs have been disabled since birth due to a spine deformity up near his shoulder blades.  While able to scooch around at impressive speeds using his front legs, Ray’s adoptive human mom—neighbor of cat-lover Ms. Bakkom—thought wheels might make life a little easier.

Enter the eighth graders in Ms. Bakkom’s morning enrichment class. An exuberant bunch, after a guided tour and introduction to the Library’s 3D printers and their capabilities, they set to the task of designing (and re-designing) a small cart that could suit Ray’s needs.  Inspired by Eddie’s Wheels and another group of students out of British Columbia, and using Tinkercad, two teams created two slightly different designs, each with benefits for the wee kitten.

Austin’s creation, in blue, features a shallower, longer single bed for Ray’s hind legs and body to rest in, and a single axle for a lighter build—not to mention the addition of a personalized axle block.  With the lower-profile, lighter design, Austin’s cart took just around 12 hours to print, total.  Noel’s design, in black, features two halves connected by a small printed rod, which allows the halves to pivot, offering Ray a little more freedom of movement.  The double axle, while heavier, is also more stable while Ray adjusts to being strapped into a cart.  With the larger, multi-part design, Noel’s cart took closer to 25.5 hours total to print.

The class assembled the wheelchairs using scooter wheels with threaded metal rods for the axles, Velcro straps to secure Ray, and a lot of glue to hold everything together.

As the end of the school year drew closer, and as Ray grew larger, it was time for a fitting.  While not totally surprising, it…did not go as planned.

Ray was not a fan of the Velcro (unless he was biting it.  He liked biting it.) or being attached to a speedy wheeled vehicle, though he did seem surprised at how fast he was moving before tipping over.  Though the class had met Ray before for measurements, he had grown so much over the course of a few weeks that Austin’s design was a bit too small to comfortably fit Ray’s body. The group started with Austin’s cart, but after cottoning on to our plans to strap him in again, Ray evaded all further attempts to put him in Noel’s design.

Though the fitting did not go totally smoothly, Ray’s mom has plans to tire him out before trying again over the summer; maybe after he’s forgiven everyone for the first attempt.

3D printing can provide mobility and a better quality of life to paralyzed or disabled animals, and there are certainly a number of designs out there for the DIY pet parent, from low profile designs using PVC pipe and printed parts, to almost completely printed supports.  However, make sure to measure your cat or dog or goat carefully before designing, printing and assembling, and if your pet reacts like Ray and would rather chew on the cart than ride around on it, give them plenty of time, love and treats while they adjust.


Check our events calendar and computer class schedule for updates on 3D printing demos!


GutenbergGutenberg enjoys humming, getting crafty, and causing mischief around the library. Ada enjoys reading up on the latest 3D printing technology and researching tips and tricks to make life easier. Gute and Ada’s people enjoy tinkering, making, and discovering ingenious solutions to everyday problems. If you have questions or suggestions for future Practical Magic posts, please feel free to email us at libtech@cityofportsmouth.com.

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