Animals & Money: Buying time (and special equipment) for an older dog

Almost every time I walk my aging dog Jolly down the street in a special harness he uses for the stairs, I get stopped by other dog owners wondering where they can get one. Dogs, like people, seem to be living longer these days, but the market for the special tools you need to keep them comfortable has not quite kept up.

Some of the big pet retailers are catching on, but not fast enough. Pet catalog giant Drs. Fosters and Smith has an arthritis section, but the best product I've found so far is a seat-belt harness similar to the one they sell in another section. Before the harness Jolly would have scary slips; now he's slow, but fine. People who live in apartments without elevators desperately need something to keep their dogs safely walking up and down the stairs. Like many big pet stores, they're good for orthopedic beds and glucosamine supplements, but not that much specialty equipment.

I asked my vet if he had any recommendations for a special harness. He said he was just about to ask me where I got Jolly's harness to recommend to other patients. I'm in the market for a harness the gives him a little more support, so I did some research. Here's what I found:Seat belt harnesses are pretty good place to start. The drawback is that they mainly support the front end of the dog and most dogs are having trouble on the back end, either with arthritis or hip dysplasia. But it's excellent support.
In my experience, dogs don't cooperate well with back end harnesses. They're hard to get on and awkward for the dog to walk in. Then again, I tried an elaborate neoprene contraption. The Bottoms-Up Leash, with loops for the back legs, seems to dominate this market. I'm not sure whether this would be good to take Jolly on regular walks, so I didn't get this one. They're $35.

Ruffwear sells the Web Master harness that goes a lot further back on the body than the typical one. The Web Master was designed to help lift search and rescue dogs and is now used in pet rehab and for dogs that pull things. They're $40.
Web Master

Handicapped Pets, an online store just for dogs and cats with health problems, has one of the best selections out there. I am definitely intrigued by their Mobility Brace, which hugs the back legs. I am hesitant only because I don't know how well Jolly will cooperate. They're $80.

mobility brace

One German Shepherd owner created her own adjustable front and rear harness (with a handle!) that she now sells at It looks like it would be a sturdy, but again I question Jolly's enthusiasm. They're $92.

The most elaborate harness I found was one made in England on the website Dog Mobility. This harness totally encases the dog like he's wearing a duffel bag with a huge handle. I've seen lap dogs on the New York City subway in little bags. I wonder if I could somehow bring Jolly (who weighs 70 pounds) on the train in one of these. They're 120 pounds or $240 and take 28 days to order.

One word of caution about any of these devices. Once your dog is wearing one, he or she will attract as much attention as a Golden Retriever puppy. You'll get into lots of conversations with other senior dog owners, which is fine. But you'll also get people calling out "What's wrong with him?" If you walk an older dog on the street, you're probably used to wildly inappropriate comments from people, asking personal questions about your dog's age, health and life expectancy. Put on a special harness and you can expect to see double that. I even had one guy say, "Oh, he'll be dead within a year." But the point of these devices is to make your dog more comfortable, not you, so I guess it's worth it.
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