By Julia Williams
The ability to make prosthetics for pets has existed for some time now. About ten years ago in California, an Orthotist/Prosthetist I knew made the local papers after he fitted a dog with an artificial leg. Since then, I’ve read many other stories of dogs and cats getting prosthetic legs. You may also remember seeing the touching video of a miniature horse named Midnite that was born without most of his right rear leg. The horse was fitted with an artificial leg in the hope he’d be able to walk, but surprised everyone when he galloped off after only his second fitting.
Today I wanted to share the inspiring story of Naki’o, the world’s first dog to be fitted with a complete set of four prosthetic paws! The Red Heeler cattle dog was just a tiny pup when he and his littermates were abandoned in Nebraska by a family fleeing their foreclosed home. Naki’o suffered severe frostbite on all four of his paws after stepping in a frozen puddle. It’s believed he was too malnourished and weak to move from the spot for some time. At just five weeks old, the pup was rescued and taken to a shelter. A vet removed the dead tissue of his paws and Naki’o was left with just rounded stumps.
Veterinary technician Christie Tomlinson was looking for a playmate for her dog when she came across Naki’o. She decided to adopt him despite his deformity. Tomlinson said she’s always had a soft spot for animals with problems. “I knew I had the skills and knowledge to be able to take care of him properly. I took him to work with me every day and was able to x-ray his legs regularly to see how they were developing,” she said.
For awhile, Naki’o could hold himself up on his stumps without too much difficulty. As he grew and gained weight though, walking became too painful and Naki’o resorted to crawling along on his tummy. “I had to take him for walks in a stroller and carry him around. He couldn’t be a normal dog, he couldn’t lead the life he wanted,” said Tomlinson.
When Tomlinson heard about a Colorado company called Orthopets, she organized a fundraiser for Naki’o so she could have his two back legs fitted with prosthetics. Naki’o accepted the two prosthetic legs so enthusiastically that Orthopets decided to complete the process free of charge. Naki’o is thought to be the first dog ever to be fitted with a complete set of bionic legs. The prosthetics were designed and fitted in a pioneering procedure by Martin Kaufmann, the founder of Orthopets. They’re built to mimic the muscle and bone of canine limbs which allows the dog to use them as naturally as possible.
Walking with four prosthetic legs was challenging for Naki’o at first, but he adapted quickly and is now able to run, jump and play like other dogs can, and he can even swim! Tomlinson is amazed at her pet’s enthusiasm for life. “He was always a happy dog, but now he’s much more confident,” she said. “It’s great to see him interact with other dogs at the park and play without a care. Naki’o can now not only chase after a ball with other dogs, but he can beat them to the catch!”
You can watch a short video of Naki’o on YouTube, which shows him chasing after a toy. His gait is rather ungainly, but he looks happy just to be able to run at all. Isn’t modern technology grand? Though his life story had a tragic beginning, things are really looking up for Naki’o. Thanks to OrthoPets and Christie Tomlinson, Naki’o is now free to run and play, like any dog should be able to do.
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