little josie is on a roll. the tiny chihuahua scoots along on two back legs and the model airplane wheels that have taken the place of her missing front legs, her tail in nonstop motion as she sniffs toes and snarfs treats.
little josie is jill schuldt’s dog, but she’s also the mascot and special project at hanger orthopedic group, a prosthetics and orthotics business at central and hillside. schuldt is office administrator there, and her colleagues fashioned the contraption that has made josie the office and client favorite.
josie was one of four puppies with problems in a litter of five born earlier this year in wichita. two others are missing front legs; one has three legs and the fifth puppy is normal.
schuldt’s family adopted animals of all sorts while she was growing up, so when she saw a tv report about the puppies, she applied to adopt one. her sister owns josie’s three-legged sibling. they were among more than 450 people willing to take the dogs in. at night, josie goes home with schuldt, but during the day she belongs to everyone, from the office staff who give her treats to the clients who scratch her ears.
when josie stands on her back legs to investigate what’s going on above her level, she looks like a tiny kangaroo. from the beginning, she would scoot along on her chest, propelled by her legs. but that rubs the hair off her chest.
mike lukens, a certified prosthetist, and dennis byers, senior technician, designed and built her wheeled prosthesis. “there’s no standard plan with this” as there is for humans, lukens said. “well, actually, we did it similar – took a cast, made a mold, and used a lot of trial and error.”
they turned to hangar hobbies, which sells remote-controlled model airplanes, for josie’s lightweight wheels. where to put them took more experimentation: too close together, josie tipped over. too low, her back bent unnaturally. too far forward, they put pressure on her back. and too far back, she regularly fell on her nose.
they’re making a new bubblegum pink prosthesis-“she’s a girl,” lukens said. the part that cradles her body will extend farther toward her back legs, to take more pressure off her back.
how much does a doggie prosthesis cost when it’s not made for the office mascot?
“thousands of dollars,” lukens said, then laughed. “i don’t know. i don’t have a clue.
“but it takes a fair amount of time.”
as with humans, there are molds, fittings, adjustments and modifications. “it’s also a job where you develop a relationship with the person you’re fitting,” lukens said.
the difference with josie: she can’t say, “this hurts,” or “this works.”
she seems to like the prosthesis, yapping and growling when it’s removed. “she gets pretty temperamental,” lukens said.
lenora schuldt, jill schuldt’s mother and area office manager for hanger, said Josie took to the prosthesis quickly. “once food was put in front of her, it was just like that,” she said, snapping her fingers.
josie’s had the prosthesis about three weeks and already knows that tile floors are slick and that sidewalk and driveway cracks should be approached at an angle, to present less challenge.
josie can’t get into her bed with her wheels on, and as a growing puppy – she’s about 4 months old – she still spends much of her day there.
schuldt doesn’t think she’ll get a lot bigger. the prosthesis is made in layers, so it can be adjusted as she fills out.
prosthesis devices for dogs aren’t unheard of, but josie’s is only hanger’s second – several years ago, lukens said, the business fashioned a carbon fiber leg for a lab who’d lost one to cancer.
“this is pretty much experimental,” he said. “we don’t make something like this all the time.”
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