Dog's Prosthesis Multi-Tasks

By Meredy Fullen
Photos courtesy of Daniel Holzer, CP, Able Prosthetic Care.
Photos courtesy of Daniel Holzer, CP, Able Prosthetic Care.

In the middle of Jasper County, Georgia, in the small town of Shady Dale in the week of 9/11, the media coverage and the project of making Maulee the dog a prosthetic leg offered Phil and Nancy Stafford, Daniel Holzer, and the staffof Able Prosthetic Care a peaceful distraction, in which they could somehow make a difference.

The name of the town alone conjures up a warm and cozy feeling, images of breezy and sunny summer days, when a cool glass of lemonade feels good after mowing the ditches or baling straw. One can imagine a quiet rural setting where the sound of a car coming down the road can be heard miles before it comes into view.

Shady Dale is a farm community just south of the Atlanta metropolitan area; its population is 224. It is there that Maulee lived with the Staffords after Nancy rescued her from an animal shelter in 1999.

During the wheat harvest in the summer of 2001, Maulee became entangled with the blades of a wheat cutter near her Jasper County home and lost part of her right paw. The dog nearly bled to death and was hospitalized for five days as a result of the injuries. Knowing and caring for the canine as they did, the Staffords were determined to restore Maulee's quality of life.

The Staffords called upon many veterinarians in search of someone to make Maulee a prosthetic leg. "Some people were interested, but didn't really want to help," Phil Stafford said. "Some people just laughed at us."

Caring Prosthetist Accepts Challenge

Apparently Daniel "Danny" Holzer, CP, owner of Able Prosthetic Care of Conyers, Georgia, didn't laugh. Holzer exceeded the Staffords' expectations, by not only agreeing to the challenge of designing a special prosthetic leg for Maulee, but by doing it for free. "He cares so much about people, and apparently dogs too," said Phil about Holzer.

Holzer, who has been a prosthetist for 26 years, certainly had to become inventive with this particular project. He first gave himself a crash course on canine anatomy, where he learned that, in a dog's gait cycle, it walks on its finger tips on the front feet. The extent of Maulee's injury left her with a level of amputation comparable to a wrist disarticulation on a human. "When I designed Maulee's socket, I approached it very much like I would if making an arm for a patient that had the same level of amputation," said Holzer. "I decided to build in a removable door to get over the bulbous distal end of her leg, and then fasten and suspend it with Velcro®."

The second hurdle was casting the long-haired collie mix. Holzer and his staff found that using a condom over Maulee's residual limb during the casting process was the perfect solution. From the cast, Holzer formed an eight-inch laminated socket of nylon stockinette and epoxy. Since Maulee was a smaller dog, around 20 lbs, this socket was heavy enough to support her weight and activities.

Holzer formed the foot from a piece of one-inch-thick wood, fashioned after a Flex-Foot® design, which he then laminated with carbon fiber. His next step was to bond the foot to the socket. After having Maulee try the prosthesis for a couple of weeks, Holzer made a few functional modifications to the design. Apparently the Staffords noticed that when Maulee would romp through the brush on their farm, her prosthetic foot would get caught, causing her to stumble or fall. Holzer addressed this problem by attaching a strap from the toe to the socket, which served as a brush guard. The second problem was that the foot was slippery on hard surfaces. To prevent slipping Holzer placed a latex tube over the foot. The total cost of materials for the Maulee foot project reached around $1,000.

Maulee Finds Another Use

In a follow-up interview, Holzer said that Maulee had gotten very good at using her prosthesis. "When she wanted to wear it, she would nuzzle it to let the Staffords know to put it on," Holzer explained. "When she was tired of it, she would hop on her three legs until they would remove it."

"About a year after we made the first leg for Maulee, her owners came back to us to make another one," said Holzer. Maulee had discovered that the prosthetic leg had other uses. Holzer said, "The Staffords had adopted some other stray dogs from the shelter, and whenever they would bother Maulee, she would bonk them over the head with her prosthetic leg! After growing tired of being bonked on the head, the other dogs took Maulee's leg and chewed it up," laughed Holzer.

Sadly, Holzer also reported that one day last year Maulee simply disappeared. The family posted reward signs and looked all over for her to no avail. They really hated losing her, as they believed she was such a great dog.