O&P Aids Animals

By Meredy Fullen

Welcome to the Creature Care Department

"One can measure the greatness and moral progress of a nation by looking at how it treats its animals." Mahatma Gandhi

My mother taught me to read when my brother went to kindergarten and left me at home with another year before I could join him in school. Because I began reading at an early age, Mom always encouraged me to read at a more advanced level, and when I was ten, she introduced me to James Herriot's All Creatures Great and Small series.

I grew up in a rural community on a modest horse farm among a myriad of dogs, cats, and horses, as well as an occasional pet raccoon or bird just to keep things interesting. I reflect on my childhood experience with a sense of fondness; after all, it was that and Herriot's stories which fostered my affection for animals.

When I first entered the O&P industry and began hearing stories of practitioners fitting animals with prosthetic devices, I initially couldn't understand why anyone would invest the time, expense, and effort to provide prosthetic care for animals. I mean we're talking about animals, created as part of a complex ecosystem. And in the spirit of survival of the fittest, they were equipped with an inherent ability to adjust to life changes, right? Not necessarily.

One year ago this month marks the first animal O&P article by EDGE Editor Miki Fairley, which we have tapped to be a regularly featured department this year in The EDGE . Since the first appearance of our Creature Care department, we have received stories from a variety of practitioners across the US regarding care that they have provided for animals in their communities. We have the opportunity to share with our readership a set of stories that are similar to Herriot's, but with a unique and modern technological twist. Our hope is that this department will present some entertaining yet helpful clinical perspectives from this unique side of the industry.

In researching this topic, we came across several animal O&P stories that were previously published in local newspapers or in the national media. In this re-introduction of our Creature Care department we would like to share these short stories, coupled with some astonishing facts and figures regarding Americas pets and the length to which many of us would go to care for them, as published on several websites and SKY magazine of Delta Airlines.

Mending a Marsupial


Although kangaroos aren't your typical pet, in 2003 the story of Stumpy received national media attention when she was fitted with a prosthetic leg after losing a foot due to an injury.

Tammie Rogers, director of the International Kangaroo Society, Lancaster, Ohio, owns a one-acre property where she cares for sick and injured kangaroos. Rogers had been caring for Stumpy, a three-year-old at that time, when she observed that the kangaroo could not "posture," meaning that she couldn't take the natural upright stance of a kangaroo by standing on her hind feet with her front paws up in the air. "She walked around on three feet. She didn't hop," Rogers said. To make matters worse, Rogers was forced to prevent Stumpy from mating because she feared the weight of carrying the offspring in the pouch would be too much for the macropod.

Kangaroo facts:

  • Male kangaroos are called boomers. Females are called does (like deer) or flyers.
  • If you lift a kangaroo's tail off the ground, it cannot hop. They use their tails for balance.
  • Kangaroos are called macropods. This means "big foot."

Enter Rick Nitsch, CPO, of American Orthopedic Inc., Columbus, Ohio, who began experimenting in animal O&P several years earlier. Nitsch fitted Stumpy with a Luxon® Max DP prosthetic foot donated by Otto Bock HealthCare. Just like Nitsch does for people, he custom-made a plastic and fiberglass limb using the same molding and fitting process. He first made a cast of the kangaroo's residual limb, filled the cast with plaster, and produced a replica of the leg. The replica then had to be modifiedwith the plaster shaved away or filled into make sure it would hold the animals weight in the best way and enable it to walk with a normal gait. That took several fittings, with the process lasting up to a month. The limb was then secured to the animal with a strap or hinge. "The animal can't tell me it hurts or it's falling off, so it has to be foolproof," Nitsch said of the fitting process. "The first few steps, the animals try to kick it off. It takes some animals longer than others to get used to it." After receiving the artificial limb from Nitsch, Stumpy was reenergized. She was posturing, running, and hopping again, and Rogers was going to allow her to breed. She also enjoyed her 15 minutes of fame with the national media coverage.

Help for a Holstein

Dottie Holstein
Dottie Holstein

In December of 2003, a story surfaced about a Holstein dairy cow named Dottie in Silver Lake, Pennsylvania. Dottie, who was pregnant at the time, caught her left rear hoof under a rock frozen in the ground on her way back to the barn. When she pulled her leg free, she cracked a bone. Normally, farm animals in this situation would be put down, but owners Wannetta and Harold Broderick didnt have the heart to do it. They figured out an effectiveyet potentially expensiveway to allow Dottie and her unborn calf to live.

After a failed attempt to fit the cow with a homemade prosthesis, the Brodericks sought the advice of Marc Klemmt, CPO, FAAOP, founder of Klemmt Orthopedic Services, Johnson City, New York. Klemmt was intrigued by the opportunity to help a struggling family farm, but he had never fabricated a prosthesis for an animal before and he knew it would present challenges. "This is something I have always wanted to do," he said.

Cow facts:

  • The average cow produces 40 glasses of milk each day.
  • It takes 3,000 cows to supply the NFL with enough leather for a year's supply of American footballs.
  • A Holstein cow's spots are like a fingerprint or snowflake. No two cows have exactly the same pattern of spots.

Klemmt fitted Dottie with an eight-pound artificial leg made of epoxy resin impregnated into a fiberglass-and-carbongraphite shell with a core of solid maple for extra strength. It was important that the leg be able to withstand 600 pounds of pressure. At the base of the leg, Klemmt placed a skid-proof rubber cow boot, normally used by farmers to protect a diseased hoof from infection.

Klemmt built Dottie's leg at no charge, simply to see if it could be done. If he had charged the family for his labor, the bill would have been upwards of $1,000. While it would have been cheaper to replace the cow, the Brodericks said there was more at stake than money.

David Anderson, DVM, head and associate professor of Animal Surgery at Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine was first approached in 1993 about performing amputation surgery on a cow so it could be fitted with an artificial limb. Anderson said owners turn to artificial limbs because of their attachment to the animals or because they want to preserve them for financial reasons. Anderson said loss of a limb can shorten an animal's life by increasing the stress on other limbs and overstressing the joints.

"There's an increasing use of prosthetics," Anderson said. Animal owners want to maximize the quality of life for the animals. Owners are no longer willing to accept that there's an artificial limit to an animal's life. In the case of Dottie, the Holstein cow, the Broderick family's tenacity paid off, as she was able to eventually deliver her calf and return to milking again.

*Includes rabbits, hamsters, guinea pigs, ferrets, mice, rats, gerbils, chinchillas, hermit crabs, potbellied pigs, and hedgehogs.
*Includes rabbits, hamsters, guinea pigs, ferrets, mice, rats, gerbils, chinchillas, hermit crabs, potbellied pigs, and hedgehogs.

Saving Sassie

Our next story is about Sassie, a Rottweiler, who was born without the lower portion of her right hind leg. She was the victim of a blended family. She belonged to "Mom," but when "Dad" entered the picture, he brought into the family two dogs, who kept picking fights with Sassie. While she was still living with her family, she delivered a litter of ten rottie/lab puppies.

Eventually "Mom," who was in fear for Sassie's safety with the other dogs, delivered her to The Safe Haven Rottweiler Rescue Program in Rives Junction, Michigan, accompanied by the last female of the ten puppies, Katie.

Dog facts:

  • When two dogs approach each other, the dog which wags his tail very slowly is in charge.
  • Did you know there is a dog museum in St. Louis, Missouri? There are paintings, sculptures, and other works of art featuring dogs. Dogs have appeared in works of art dating back thousands of years.
  • A dog can smell much more than humans can. Their sense of smell is about 1,000 times better than a person's. Dogs can also hear a lot better. Dogs have an enhanced sense of smell and hearing because their eyesight is not as good as a human's.

Although Sassie was missing a back leg, she was relatively agile on three. The rescue workers noted that one of Sassie's ears stood up and the other lay down, and one had a piece bitten out of it, probably a result of the battles with her new siblings. Although she was very affectionate and quiet, she always seemed to be overlooked by anyone seeking to adopt a companion, until the day Dr. Beth Bishop, a retired dentist, came to visit. Bishop, who had previously adopted three full-grown dogs over the years, felt an immediate connection with Sassie, and they went for a walk together. They have been companions ever since.

Bishop and Sassie travel around the country in a 37-foot motor home, helping out at campgrounds where they stay. "When I got her, she would try to use her leg, which would rub it raw. At first I made a kind of moccasin for her out of a leather glove and some duct tape," Bishop said. Shortly after making the journey back to Oklahoma, the place they most often call home, Bishop took Sassie to visit the Crossover Clinic, where she met Dr. Beth Stropes. The veterinarian said it is not all that common for people to get prostheses for pets that lose limbs. "Most amputations are higher up which means it often is better to simply have no leg than one that is shortened," she said. "Actually, it can make a difference whether the dog is small or large. Smaller dogs with amputations often can do better on three legs." Sassie has two-thirds of her right hind leg, which provided plenty to attach to a prosthetic limb.

Bishop and Sassie were eventually led to Horton's Orthotic Labs Inc. in Fort Smith, Arkansas, where they met Greg Johnson, CO, who fitted Sassie with a prosthetic limb. "He's what people in the medical profession call 'soft-handed'," said Bishop, whose dog was Johnson's first canine client. "He has a real talent for making the patient feel comfortable, and he did a great job with Sassie."

"When I first met Sassie, she crawled up in my lap, and when we walked she could hardly keep up," said Bishop. "Since then, I have worked to keep her leg exercised. Now when we walk, she can keep up with me in her new prosthetic leg." Sassie has gone from being on the bottom of the heap in a Rottweiler rescue to being a goodwill ambassador for Rottweilers and for the disabled.

Nearly half of US pet owners consider their pets as family members. Want proof? Look at what people increasingly are willing to spend on their pets at the veterinarian.

Exploratory surgery and endoscopy are becoming routine in the US for animals.
Exploratory surgery and endoscopy are becoming routine in the US for animals.


We live in a time where people seemingly have less and less time for one another, but conversely they seem to make the time for their animals. Nearly every suburb across America has a mega pet store of some kind. There are shows and entire networks on television dedicated to our loyal companions and even pet psychologists to diagnose and treat behavior issues.

The facts and figures found in Creature Care (as published in SKY magazine January 2005) were gathered from the following sources:

After reading these animal stories and reviewing the facts as gathered from a variety of animal organizations, I glance across the living room at my Welsh Corgis happily dozing on the loveseat, lying on their backs, all four legs up in the air, and their heads hanging over the edge of the seat cushions, and I am reminded that I too would settle for nothing less than the best care for them if it were ever required.

In the spirit of the words of Mahatma Gandhi, if it is true that the greatness of a nation can be measured by how she treats her animals, then why not offer them the best medical technology, rehabilitative therapy, and O&P applications if it increases the longevity and quality of the lives of all our creatures, great and small?