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When Brutus was just a puppy, his breeder left the young Rottweiler outside in freezing temperatures.
The pup suffered frostbite in all four paws, and the breeder tried to salvage the puppy’s paws with an at-home amputation. But Brutus was maimed and couldn’t walk without pain.
Now 2 years old, Brutus is living with a new and dedicated owner in Loveland, Colo., and has become the second dog ever known to receive four prosthetic limbs. He is learning to walk again with help from OrthoPets, an animal prosthetics developer in Denver, and pet orthopedics experts at Colorado State University’s James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital.
“I believe prosthetics will play a big role in the future of veterinary orthopedics,” said Dr. Felix Duerr, an assistant professor in the Department of Clinical Sciences who practices small animal orthopedics and sports medicine at the university’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital.
“Brutus shows how we can explore new technologies to find solutions, and how our partnerships with companies like OrthoPets really help.”
Laura Aquilina, the dog’s owner, has provided a caring home for Brutus for seven months in an attempt to find “better paws” for the young rottie. She began fostering Brutus, and more recently adopted him, after he had trouble navigating hardwood floors and stairs in his first foster home, and the family couldn’t meet the disabled dog’s needs.
Aquilina and a pet rescuer in Canon City joined forces to raise nearly $12,500 for Brutus’ prosthetics and physical therapy through Go Fund Me, an online fundraising site. The crowdfunding project was aptly named “Better Paws for Brutus.”
In preparation for prosthetics, Brutus underwent corrective paw surgery with Dr. Trent Gall, a CSU veterinary alumnus working in Longmont. The procedure removed bone fragments, dew claws, and two toes left from the botched amputation.
After recovery from surgery, Brutus and Aquilina worked with Denver-based OrthoPets, the world’s largest veterinary orthotic and prosthetic company, to undergo the process of prosthetics fitting. OrthoPets adapts the same technologies used in the field of human orthotics to care for animal patients.
Martin Kaufmann, company founder, partnered with Colorado State’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital for its research and rehabilitation services.
“I don’t want to be part of a world that settles for ‘fine,’ and neither does CSU,” Kaufmann said. “There’s a common mission between CSU and OrthoPets to return animals’ lives to ‘great.’”
Since the collaboration began, CSU and OrthoPets have successfully developed techniques to treat Achilles tendon injuries in dogs and are investigating how specific injuries correlate with successful orthotic techniques and long-term prosthetic use.
Kaufmann compared the Rottweiler’s story to that of Nakio, the other dog known to live with four prosthetics. “We learned a lot from Nakio’s story and were able to apply that knowledge to Brutus’ case,” he said.
OrthoPets veterinarians learned that both of Brutus’ wrist joints had collapsed. “It’s similar to a human rolling his ankle completely to the side, left grossly unstable,” Kaufmann said, noting that the dog also has a troublesome callus that makes movement difficult.
The unique prosthetics have three purposes: to protect and make Brutus’ limbs more comfortable, to support his front collapsed legs, and to realign each leg to an equal length.
As his devices are refined, Brutus has entered a new phase of rehabilitation with physical therapy guided by Sasha Foster, CSU’s certified canine rehabilitation therapist.
“We’re working with Brutus to help him adjust to wearing his new prosthetics,” Foster said. “He’s learning how to move with them on. Once he’s mastered that, we will help him achieve higher-level functioning activities, like hiking and playing with other dogs.”
In upcoming months, Foster will use underwater treadmill therapy, balance activities, exercise balls and other neuro re-education therapies to help Brutus adjust to his new limbs.
Foster said her work is motivated by helping her patient – and the animal’s family. “When you improve the quality of life for a dog, you improve the quality life for the entire family,” Foster said.
It’s likely Brutus will need physical therapy intermittently for the rest of his life. But Aquilina is hopeful.
“You need a good team behind you, and we found that at CSU,” she said.