Over the years, Animal Ortho Care has had the pleasure of collaborating with other visionaries who have designed one-of-a-kind solutions to help animals overcome a variety of mobility challenges.
One of these go-to collaborators is Schon Gross, founder of Phoenix Design Solutions, who designs custom bandaging and supportive products for animals. Her products help treat everything from calluses and pressure sores to arthritis and post-surgery coverage.
Animal Ortho Care founder Derrick Campana, CO, met Schon 15 years ago and they’ve since referred clients back and forth. Schon provides any soft good products the Animal Ortho Care team uses for clients; most recently, she helped with the work we did for Jabu the elephant.
We’re proud to have Schon as a partner in the work we do on behalf of our clients and wanted to highlight her business here.
Can you tell us the story behind Phoenix Design Solutions? What inspired you to start your business?
Schon got her start in 1999 when her 10-year-old Rottweiler, Greif, developed a hygroma, a fluid-filled sac, on one of his elbows. He’d previously been diagnosed with severe arthritis in both elbows and had large elbow calluses.
Her vet thought padding his leg by either adapting a human kneepad or using some sort of padded bandage would protect Greif’s elbows when he laid down on hard surfaces. So Schon got to work the same day, creating a bandaging solution for Greif that was so effective at the dog’s five-day re-check, the hygroma was gone.
“The veterinary staff told me, ‘Patent that NOW, no one has ever figured out how to design a solution that dogs will tolerate,’” Schon writes on her website.
Greif’s DogLeggs, the name she gave her bandaging solution, got rid of the swelling in his elbows, provided constant protection, reduced his arthritis discomfort and improved his mobility. He even started chasing his tennis ball and playing with other dogs for the first time in two years.
Since then, her initial bandage design and the various redesigns have treated tens of thousands of dogs and other animals diagnosed with ulcers, arthritis, elbow dysplasia, or that need coverage solutions after surgery.
Schon received a U.S. Patent for her design in the spring of 2001 and Phoenix Design Solutions was born. Schon still credits Greif for the launch of her business– she keeps the solution she created to protect his elbows hanging in her workroom for inspiration.
What's the mission of Phoenix Design? How are you trying to help your clients? What types of products do you offer?
The mission at Phoenix Design Solutions has been the same since Schon created her first product in 1999:
To solve coverage and bandaging design challenges for animals ... not just dogs, but for any animal whose owner/caretaker contacts her with a need and to bring knowledge about her products to university programs, making them a part of the curriculum and textbooks.
Her products have been referenced in “Veterinary Surgery: Small Animals” a textbook by Karen M. Tobias and Spencer Johnson. She’s also served as a guest lecturer at several university veterinary programs.
Schon is also adamant that her bandaging solutions are financially accessible to any patient that needs them.
“I have designed and produced thousands of custom bandaging solutions since 1999, solutions for dogs, cats, rabbits, llama, horses, goats, pigs and hogs, a ferret, a moose (really), several deer, a 30-year-old African Bull Elephant and more,” she says.
Who or what inspires you in your work?
I am driven to make a difference in the world by my being here and with my contributions. I have a deep desire to help animals live a comfortable and when possible, pain-free life with what I create.
How did you become so passionate about helping animals?
I have always been. I have felt a special connection to animals since I was tiny. I don’t remember a time I didn’t love animals.
Our family had dogs and cats. However, my ability to really be able to make a positive impact on their lives really came into being when I got my first horse. When you own a horse you not only ride them, you feed and clean their stalls, care for their wounds, ensure they have appropriate exercise and interactions with other horses and humans. I had to become aware of all the body language and cues they give.
Being that close daily to such magnificent animals, smelling them, breathing with them, standing with them, I found a part of my soul. I became the manager of the cattle ranch where I boarded my horse. I never knew what animals the owner would come home from the auction with, geese, pigs, goats, cows… I had the care of all those animals too and each taught me more about being with animals.
I learned more about our pets at home too, noticing there were similarities in signals and ways they communicated with me and other animals. Whether at the ranch or home, animals seemed to find me and find comfort in being with me.
What’s one of my favorite client success stories?
I have two, Moose Baby Bella and MIA (Miracle In Action).
Moose Baby Bella - Wisconsin Zoo:
Many baby moose are orphaned in Alaska and in the lower states, usually because their mothers are hit by a car or other accidents. Two 3-month-old moose were transported down from Alaska to the Milwaukee Wisconsin Zoo. During the trip, Bella fell in the trailer. The keepers took her to the University of Wisconsin. Bella had fractured her left femur.
I had been working with the University of Wisconsin’s School of Veterinary Medicine, providing unique products for some time. Once they diagnosed Bella, they told the keepers, “Call Schon, she’ll know what to do.”
I got a call from the zoo staff, telling me the story and not having any idea about what I did or what I was supposed to do for Bella. After hearing the diagnosis, I said, “Oh, she needs the Vest and Ehmer Sling I just developed.”
I asked for photos of Bella, did a great deal of research on moose and their temperament, lifestyle, etc. I looked at anatomy charts. Within two days I sent the zoo a drawing with the measurements I would need to create the product solution for Bella. The keepers had never put a garment on a moose before and didn’t know how to proceed. This is where my training in animal behavior and multi-species experience at the ranch came into play, I told them how to introduce the Vest and Ehmer to Bella as well as how to use the Ehmer from beginning to end.
They sent progressive photos and were thrilled at how well she took to the Vest and Ehmer Sling. Bella healed. For several years after helping Bella, I would get Christmas cards from the staff and Bella, at veterinary shows, the head vet of the zoo would come to my booth and ask for Bella’s photos to show other vets in attendance. Bella was not an exhibit animal, she lived her life on one of the zoo’s outer preserves.
MIA “Miracle In Action”:
Mia was a 6-year-old Labrador who was being fostered through Lab Rescue in Fredrick, Md. She was brought into the rescue after being dumped at a shelter with her left front leg partially amputated, pelvis fractured and more.
For all her injuries, Mia was one of the most enthusiastic dogs I have ever met. Her rescue family cared for her and was totally dedicated to Mia as well as all the other challenged dogs they cared for. Mia had many health issues because of the traumatic amputation. Her “Mom,” Courtney, was referred to me in the hopes that I could make a protective vest/garment for her to protect her stump. Her stump kept getting terrible infections, some life-threatening.
They brought Mia to me; I took measurements and photos and made her a vest with stump cover. Mia’s wounds healed. Mia’s Mom would come down to my office about once a year to have the vest mended while they waited and every couple of years I would make an updated vest for her, for the rest of her life. By having the vest, Mia’s lived much longer than the vets ever believed she would because of her health and orthopedic issues.
What are the biggest lessons you've learned from your work? What has surprised you the most?
I have learned so much over the past 18 years. I had to learn how to discuss a case with a veterinarian in their language and with an owner in their language. I have had to learn a great deal about veterinary medicine specific to my work. I have had to increase my knowledge of animal behavior and movement. I found out this works is a passion, it is nice to earn an income, however, it requires an absolute unwavering tireless passion to meet each crisis, call, and challenge, 24/7.
Animal owners will go to the ends of the Earth for the animals, and I have done my best to do the same for them. I had no idea when I designed Greif’s Leggings in Fall of 1999, I would find my passion and the reason I was put on this Earth– I have.
Do you have any reflections on your work with AOC?
Derrick is just like I am, he is passionate about the work. We met when Derrick was just beginning his animal work. He and I both, have the same work ethic and enthusiasm and belief there must be a solution and we are going to work it out.
I think our most recent client is the best example: Jabu the Elephant. We are both energized by a challenge, whether it is a ferret or an elephant, we just have to use bigger rulers and supplies to get the job done.