Every year, 7.6 million animals are relinquished to animal shelters in the United States, and animals with injuries and deformities are at a greater disadvantage when it comes to getting out of the kennel.
Fortunately, a new company has utilized 3D printing to help create the tiny parts that have been helping give these little guys a leg up when it comes to a new chance at life.
Pawsthetics, a charitable offshoot of the 3D Printing Store in Denver, Colorado, creates prosthetic limbs and other body parts for small animals in need. Currently seeking nonprofit (501c3) status, they hope to change the way the world looks at adoptable animals who physically appear to be less than perfect.
“It all started back in 2012, when we were sought out for a project to help Cleopatra, a tortoise who needed a shell covering because she had some damage,” said Justin Finesilver, director of operations for Pawsthetics.
Since then, Pawsthetics has helped about a dozen animals by designing tiny, custom parts for pets in need of a forever home, or the ability to enjoy life in the one they found. The organization is committed to taking on need-based owners, and rescue organizations that aren’t able to buy a prosthetic—which can cost hundreds of dollars—on their own
“3D printing especially helps pint-sized dogs because many companies that provide dog carts aren’t able to make them in a small enough size,” he added.
About half of the animals to receive custom carts or prosthetic limbs have been Chihuahuas and Chihuahua mixes like Martini, who, until she received a cart last November, walked on her hind legs because of a painful deformity.
“Most people hear about a dog like Martini and say ‘I don’t even want to see a picture of that poor dog.’ Sometimes the first instinct is to put an animal down because it can’t have a normal life,” said Gaylan Cooke, Martini’s mom, who rescued her two years ago.
“This is the happiest dog I’ve had, she has so much personality, her tail is always wagging and she is always smiling.”
This special type of printing works well for dogs like Martini because it allows the prosthetics to be customized for each animal, and allows for adjustments as that animal grows and develops.
“With her clubbed leg, her whole body is tilted and she stands on an angle, which puts pressure in her neck,” said Cooke. “She essentially is walking on the side of her bones.”
Martini previously used to go outside in a dog carriage, and Cooke would pick her up and put her on the grass. Since receiving her cart (which has been adjusted several times with new parts), Martini can get around on her own.
“It’s taken a while for her to build up her core muscles to push and carry the cart,” said Cooke, a former exotic animal trainer. Now, Cooke said Martini has less flare ups, and that the cart has helped alleviate the soreness and pain and help her foot stay strong.
3D printing is also great for animals who need a prosthetic based on an “organic shape” that is impossible to make any other way than 3D printing,
Michael Tuma, a Ph.D. candidate in Integrative and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Southern California who studies tortoises, knew that 3D printing was the answer for Toby, his one-pound Texas Tortoise.
When Tuma adopted Toby, the tortoise had been injured by another animal and was missing his gular horn and part of his bottom shell. Tuma said male tortoises use this horn for combat, and Toby is at a potentially fatal disadvantage if he needs to protect himself in his backyard.
“I knew when I got him that I wanted to get a 3D horn printed for him. I suppose you could fashion one out of wood or clay, but it wouldn’t last as long,” he said.
Drawing on his expertise, Tuma fashioned a silicone mold what will be Toby’s new horn and sent it off to Pawsthetics. At the shop, technicians scanned the model and used a 3D printer to cut a prosthetic horn that is the correct size to grow along with him.
Toby has his first fitting planned for this week.
“I might be anthropomorphizing, but Toby might act like ‘check me out, I have a horn again,’” Tuma said. “I’m hoping to get a female tortoise and they do notice. She may be receptive without, but if he has the gular horn she might be a tad more inclined.”
As Pawsthetics takes on more animal rescue cases, they’re hoping to spread the word about the potential of 3D technology as well.
“A lot of people still think 3D printing is for trinkets and keychains and things that like,” Finesilver said. “We’re so excited to work with animals because it shows how much of an impact 3D printing can make. The future is so huge and it can touch a lot of different things.”Share this article: