6-year-old Lab is believed to be the first dog in the world to undergo four joint replacements

By Karen J. Quan
Updated August 07, 2009 07:26 PM

Just when you thought that $25 bag of pet food was eating a whole in your wallet, one dog puts it all into perspective. Meet Sam: He’s a 6-year-old Australian Labrador who loves to chase golf balls, chew on a deflated basketball and say hi to people, all thanks to four artificial joint replacements that came with a $25,000 price tag.

“I don’t think I’ve ever put anywhere near as much hardware in any other dog,” veterinarian Dr. Chris Preston tells PEOPLE Pets. “He’s had a knee reconstruction, two hip replacements and one elbow replacement.”

Dubbed the “bionic dog” Down Under, Sam has undergone the multiple procedures with his owners, Arthur Smith, 62, and his wife Jacqueline, 63, footing the bill.

The couple welcomed Sam into their home when he was 7 weeks old, and found that the young pup was in pain and couldn’t walk properly. At just 10 weeks, Sam was diagnosed with dysplasia, an inherited condition where certain parts of the joints develop abnormally. In Sam’s case, the ailment caused severe arthritis in his elbow joints.

For such a young puppy with his whole life ahead of him, the Smiths felt they had to do something to help him. “We couldn’t bear the thought of being without him,” Arthur said. “He’s a constant companion and he’s totally adorable.” So their local veterinarian referred them to Dr. Preston, an animal orthopedic surgeon based out of Melbourne.

“He had massive, thick elbows,” Dr. Preston said of his initial examination. “And painful hips that didn’t extend.”

Rather than simply treating the pain with drugs, Dr. Preston recommended total joint replacement surgery. The Smiths agreed, and began what would be extensive and expensive life-changing procedures for the dog. Preston used a cement-less total elbow replacement, a highly engineered implant with a titanium porous surface that permits bone growth over time. It’s an advanced technology he learned from the inventor, Idaho veterinarian Dr. Randy Acker.

Now recovering from surgery on his right elbow at the Smiths’ Longwarry, Victoria, home, Sam’s left leg is still on deck for elbow replacement. “It is a bit tender,” says Arthur Smith. “He is gradually improving and starting to use it a bit more.”

And while he and Jacqueline look forward to seeing their beloved Sam gallop, Smith is thankful for what this new discovery and development has done for his family. “These bionic joints are a blessing to animals,” he said. “They give them a life.”

And if Sam needs more surgeries down the road, the Smiths say cost won’t be an issue. “We’ve got a real big caravan and a four-wheel drive,” Arthur tells us. “I wouldn’t think twice about selling it.”