A mission for a kitten

Local Dixon science club fashions contraption to help kitten walk again

By Staci Matlock
Posted 10/24/19

Tiny Tim may yet walk on his own, thanks in no small part to a group of Dixon kids.

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A mission for a kitten

Local Dixon science club fashions contraption to help kitten walk again


Tiny Tim may yet walk on his own, thanks in no small part to a group of Dixon kids.

The little calico kitten with melt-your-heart eyes was found by two boys in a box near the Dixon post office with the rest of a litter in late September. His siblings were fine, but Tiny Tim's spine had been severed. "He's not paralyzed, but he can't walk. His hind legs are weak," said Judy Pearson of the non-profit Dixon Animal Protection Society.

"At one point he was running like a frog," she said. "That can't be good for his broken back and his hips."

Pearson took the kitten in. Then she had an idea.

She knew a group of kids met each Saturday at the little town's public library with Steven Cox, a Dixon resident and engineering professor at Northern New Mexico College. They pick projects to work on using computer aided design, a 3D printer and robotics. Pearson wondered if the kids could help the kitten with some kind of contraption that could support his back and hips when he tried to walk or run.

Minna Santos, co-librarian at the Embudo Valley Library, and Steven Cox, an engineering professor at Northern New Mexico College, pitched the idea to the kids. They loved it.

And they definitely loved Tiny Tim, said Pearson.

Cox, who taught at Rice University for 30 years before moving to Northern New Mexico, said it was the kind of project that engaged kids in a big way.

"The science stuff brings out between 5 and 20 kids each Saturday. This project brought out a whole new set of kids to maybe help a little kitten," he said.

Cox started the Science Saturdays at the library in Dixon when he moved there four years ago. More recently, he won a National Science Foundation Grant that helped buy a 3D printer, robotics materials and other tools for the science club. The grant is also helping him pay some of his college and high school students to mentor younger students.

Librarian Santos said the little Science Saturday club has gone beyond Dixon. A dozen kids in the club have been to Robowave twice to compete in robotics against students both at the national and international level in Albuquerque.

"We struggled but we had a great time. A lot of parents and families go," Santos said. "The kids raised money for our hotel this year at a bake sale. They were pretty involved."

Helping Tiny Tim became a mission unto itself for the club. The kitten had hardly been touched by humans and suddenly he was being passed among "15 adoring kids," Cox said. "The kids were very, very gentle. It was a beautiful opening session."

"It was definitely a great motivator to get kids thinking, drawing, designing and building," he added.

They had to measure the kitten. They watched videos of wheelchairs and harnesses made for other animals. They made drawings of potential contraptions from various angles that might help Tiny Tim.

Two teens - brothers Thomas and Nathan Wagner - designed a prototype harness and wheels using a computer-aided design program called Tinkercad. The whole contraption was made with the 3D printer at the library.

On Saturday (Oct. 19), they outfitted Tiny Tim with his new gear. He wasn't thrilled about it, Santos said, but "he scooted along in it."

The kids were thrilled.

See Tim try out his wheelchair:


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