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This story was corrected on Oct. 13, 2010. An explanation follows the story.
Ten years ago, when Reston resident Schon Gross was told by a local veterinarian that no device existed to help relieve the discomfort her dog was experiencing because of arthritis, she decided it was time to invent one.
Her 10-year-old Rottweiler, Greif, had large calluses and severe arthritis in both elbows. He also had developed a hygroma; a fluid-filled callus caused by lying on hard surfaces, on one elbow.
Gross said her veterinarian told her that once a hygroma is diagnosed, it rarely goes away. A dog with hygroma likely would have some sort of swelling the rest of its life, she said.
"Our vet told us that no one had invented anything that would successfully stay on a dog and work for the treatment of hygroma," Gross said. "He suggested we try to adapt some sort of sports kneepad to fit Greif to protect his elbows from the hard surfaces, and wished us luck."
But for Gross, a graphic designer who also designed and made all her own work clothes, leaving the comfort of her beloved pet up to luck wasn't going to cut it.
On her way home from the vet, she stopped at a sporting goods store and bought a knee pad. Once back home, she pulled out some fleece material and began designing a sleeved harness that could keep the kneepad in place around her dog's elbow.
The finished product became her first pair of what she would later call "DogLeggs."
"It was basically just a harness that held the kneepads at the elbows," she said. "But it was designed to be comfortable and tolerable for him."
"The second day of wearing his new "Dogleggs" the swelling in Greif's leg was reduced by half," Gross said. By the end of the fifth day, the swelling seemed to be gone.
Soon, Greif, who had not been able to walk one block to the bus stop in the morning where the Gross' daughter caught her school bus, was walking without limping whatsoever, Gross said.
"I took Greif back to the vet wearing his new Dogleggs and showed him how much better Greif was doing. He told us to patent the Dogleggs right away."
She began designing and producing more and more units, drafting their designs and sewing them up in her home. Eventually, it became a full-time business for Gross and her husband, John-Henry.
Dogleggs Therapeutic Rehabilitative Products expects to have about $500,000 in sales this year, and the company expects that number to triple next year, Gross said. Now expanded to an office in Reston's Lake Anne Plaza, the business designs and sells a line of dozens of pet-therapeutic products. Seventeen thousand units have been sold worldwide. Gross also has expanded into products for cats, horses, goats and even ferrets.
"Dogleggs products are revolutionary in the field of veterinary rehabilitative medicine," said veterinary orthopedic surgeon Peter Lotsikas, of the Veterinary Orthopedic Sports Medicine Group in Annapolis Junction, Md. "In addition, Schon is a fantastic seamstress," he added.
He said he prescribes a Dogleggs shoulder stabilization system for every dog that undergoes rotator cuff surgery at his facility.
"It's basically a shoulder harness encompassing the legs that keeps the post-surgical patient from being able to inadvertently pull at the affected area by limiting the extension of the shoulders," he said. "Nothing like it existed before Schon developed it."
This past July, Alison Diamond of Great Falls discovered her Chihuahua, Pico, had a sarcoma on his elbow that required surgery.
"After we got home from the procedure, Pico managed to tear off his bandage and ruptured eight of his stitches," she said. "I searched all over the Internet to find something he could wear to keep him from doing that."
Diamond discovered Doggleggs was located in Reston and brought Pico over for a custom fitting.
"He was given surgi-sox, which were leggings that fit over him like a shirt, but let air in to the wound. It made all the difference in the world," she said.
Lisa McKee, of Reston had a Boxer whose leg had been removed because of cancer. As he aged, the lack of a fourth leg had put tremendous strain on his back, resulting in arthritis and pain.
"Schon made a harness for him that pulled the weight off his back legs and allowed him to balance himself in such a way that the strain on his back was lessened. He was so comfortable in that harness. It really changed his quality of life," McKee said.
"Schon Gross is a great example of the American Spirit," Diamond said. "The value of her products to animals is immeasurable."
Correction: Dr. Lotsikas is an orthopedic surgeon at VSOM but does not own or run the facility.