Pooch Prosthesis - Running on all Fours

After prosthetic procedure, Golden retriever injured at birth can roam with the pack. From The Press Democrat, July 2001.

Pooch Prosthesis - Running on all Fours

Like a lot of let youngsters, the auburn haired three year old breathed a bit anxiously while waiting to see the health professional.

But he proved a good patient. He didn't growl during the fitting of his new prosthetic device. And even licked the foam and plastic afterward.

Bear a young Golden retriever, lost most of his right hind foot during birth. But today he uses a specially fitted prosthesis to run on all fours during jaunts with three other dogs in his Napa household.

His owner,  Ann Farrigan, jokes about oeg legs as Bear's resemblance to pirates. But she expresses gratitude the Drew Hittenberger, owner of a Petaluma prosthetic practice, agreed to build her dog the one of a kind device.

"I hadn't no idea whether he would take a canine as a patient" , Ferrigan said. 

The registered dog, whose full name is Bears Promise Auf Sommer,  was born nearly 3 years ago on a breeding farm near Chico.

When Bear emerged breach from the birth canal, his mother grabbed his right rear foot in an effort to pull him out. In so doing, she mangled the extremity. Today roughly 2 inches of the tip of the foot is missing.

The farms breeders knew Ferrigan and offered her the dog, probably, she said, because they believed she had the temperament to raise a three footed dog.

Ferrigan  and her husband, Dr. Francis Haley, a pulmonary critical care physician, spent about a year bandaging and caring for Bear's injury.  They took him to veterinarians, at least one of whom suggested amputating the leg at the hip.

Bear was able to run without putting pressure on his bad leg. But Ferrigan grew concerned that his left hip eventually would degenerate from all the stress of compensating for the unused right side.

"Were talking to inches," Ferrigan said.

Somehow they hoped to make up the difference. 

Last winter, after Bear became full-grown, Ferrigan resolved to find an answer. She called an orthopedic surgeon and asked him to recommend a prosthetic device. The surgeon was taken aback by the unusual request, but he reluctantly recommended Hittenberger.

Hittenberger comes from a family that has built prosthetics for four generations. His grandfather built special legs in the 1940s from a special plywood used in aircraft design. Using more modern technology, Hittenberger recently built a 3 pound titanium and carbon fiber leg for Matt Valdez, a 19-year-old former basketball player who lost his leg below the knee in an automobile accident.

But along with this human patients, Hittenberger has built braces and other devices for two horses and a cow. He readily agreed to help Bear. 

"I like challenges, " he said.  "I enjoy working with animals." 

For Bear, Hittenberger chose to make a thermoplastic shell and to insert a soft foam cover inside. A strap holds the device in place. 

The challenge and fitting the device is to keep as much pressure as possible off the bone and ligaments and to distribute the weight over the soft tissue on Bear's leg, Hittenberger said.

He estimated he has put about 16 hours into building and fitting the foot. Ferrigan expressed gratitude that Hittenberger charged her only $750 for the device. Prosthesis makers often charge between $150 and $200 an hour. 

Bear received the new foot last month, but developed a small sore after wearing it for a short time. Last week the dog returned to Hittenberger, who cut and reshaped the device to better mold to Bear's leg.

Ferrigan said Bear may need to return once more to Hittenberger for minor adjustment. But the animal clearly is getting used to traveling on all fours. On Thursday, when the dogs went to a regional park near Napa, Bear bounded along at the head of the pack.