Injured creatures from dolphins to dogs keep on moving thanks to new prosthetic tails, flippers and paws

By Bob Meadows Vickie Bane Frank Swerdlow
September 21, 2009 12:00 PM


Chewed off his paws to live


Caught in a wolf trap outside Wasilla, Alaska, in winter, the scrappy stray mutt gnawed through both left paws to free himself. On the verge of dying, he was saved by Karen McNaught of Alaska Dog and Puppy Rescue. Andre slowly regained his health—but not his gait. McNaught contacted Denver-based OrthoPets, which agreed to make legs at a greatly reduced cost. (They are usually $600-$800 each.) Andre was flown there, fitted for hypoallergenic foam-lined legs and soon after was playing fetch. Says new owner Pasu Tivorat, 29: “He can do anything a normal dog can.”


Lost her tail in a crab trap


Just 3 months old when her tail was mutilated in a crab trap, Winter wasn’t expected to survive. But not long after she arrived at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium in Florida, Winter learned to swim by swishing her stub from side to side—a movement that can damage her spine. A dolphin’s “tail needs to go up and down,” says Clearwater CEO David Yates. To encourage that motion, Winter practices with a silicon prosthetic over her tail. Now 6-ft. long and 225 lbs., she gets new ones as she grows, and she wears them an hour each day. Says Yates: “She’s doing great.”


Survived a gunshot


When rescuers found the bald eagle in an Alaska landfill, she was starving—unable to catch prey after losing much of her beak to a gunshot. After Beauty arrived at a bird sanctuary in Maries, Idaho, biologist Jane Cantwell put together a team that included a dentist and an aerospace engineer to fashion a plastic beak. Attached by epoxy glue and a screw, this temporary denture will be replaced by a titanium one costing several hundred thousand dollars. Yet even with the sturdier beak Beauty can’t rend prey so can never be released into the wild.


Shark victim


Since losing three flippers to a shark in 2005, Allison the green sea turtle could swim only in circles and couldn’t resurface after diving. “It was like paddling with only one oar,” says Jeff George, curator at Sea Turtle Inc. in South Padre Island, Texas. Efforts to attach a prosthetic flipper to her front left nub failed. An intern, Tom Wilson, using about $25 worth of supplies, cobbled together a neoprene suit with a Velcro-attached polycarbon fiber fin. The fin sits atop Allison like a shark’s and allows her to swim straight and dive. Says George: “She seems pretty happy now.”