Artificial Paws for Pets

Artificial Paws for Pets

JoeMocha has packed a lot into just a few years of living. He was one of the more than 1,000 dogs, nearly all of them Dachshunds, that were rescued from a puppy mill operation in West Virginia. The rescue began when the West Virginia Division of Environmental Protection received reports that the owner of Whispering Oaks Kennel was discharging dog-related pollution without a permit. After obtaining a warrant, all the dogs were seized from the property. They were living in rabbit hutches with poor ventilation and had visible signs of neglect matted fur, dehydration, foot problems and eye and ear infections.

JoeMocha was taken in by the Washington Animal Rescue League and adopted by Alexandria resident Connie Graham to be a companion to her other Dachshund, Heidi. He was in poor health, Graham said. We spent a great deal of time and resources in order to make him well again.
One of JoeMochas primary issues was a missing left right side paw which greatly reduced his mobility. After extensive searching, Graham located Derrick Campana, a board certified orthotist who created a new artificial paw for JoeMocha.

Animal Ortho Care in Vienna is one of only 10 companies in the world that builds prosthetics for animals. The company works with orthotics (the use of braces to correct or accommodate an affected limb) and prosthetics (the replacement of a lost limb).

I have been in this business for eight years and began by working on humans, said Campana. Five years ago a veterinarian friend asked if it would be possible to help her lab Charlie who had a congenital deformity. An orthotic brace helped Charlie become mobile again. Campana still works on humans but most of his clients today are dogs and cats, with an occasional duck here and there. In the past five years Campana has helped more than 1,000 clients, and last December he provided orthotics or prosthetics for about 50 dogs.

An orthotic or prosthetic device can be an alternative to surgery, especially if the animal is older and at a higher risk during surgery. Equating the occasions when the use of a brace for a human would be applicable also works for a pet. A brace can be a healing tool after surgery and is crucial in helping a limb heal successfully while allowing the animal to stay mobile and get some exercise. A prosthetic can replace a paw or a leg as long as there is enough stump to attach it to.

Permanent bracing for congenital problems or flexing problems with a joint provide the same support that they do for humans. There were no models for what I was doing with bracing and prosthetics for animals so I did some pro bono work at first, said Campana. The animals we work with know that we are trying to help and are usually very cooperative although I will say that casting a mold on a cats leg can be challenging.

According to Campana, orthotic and prosthetic devices can dramatically improve the quality of life for a pet companion. Little Joe loves to run on his prosthesis, especially in the parking lot where it is smooth and quiet, said Graham, He has had a deprived life so all things are wonderful to him.

Graham and Campana were recently interviewed for the Alexandria Animal Matters TV show hosted by the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria. The episode will air February 3 at 9 p.m. on Comcast channel 69. The shows are listed on their website at