Tucker is a beautiful five-year-old Australian shepherd who has a lot of energy and loves people – a typical dog, in other words. One thing sets him apart from most of his puppy peers, however – he was born missing several bones in his back right foot. Kendra Earl Warlow, who adopted Tucker when he was eight months old, says that he was the last one left in his litter – no one wanted him because of his foot. No one except Warlow, that is. She loves Tucker just as he is, but unfortunately Tucker’s foot problems cause pain in his back and hindquarter.
He is on several medications and can get around just fine on three legs, racing his younger adoptive sibling, Australian shepherd Indie, around the yard, but Warlow is concerned about worsening problems as Tucker gets older. Currently, she is working on her Master’s thesis at the University of Missouri, and a little over a year ago, she was working in the school’s library when she saw members of the Mizzou 3D Printing Club working with the 3D printers there.
“Hey, I got a dog,” she said to one of the members. “He doesn’t have a foot, want to make one?”
They did. For the last year or so, a team of seven members have been working with Tucker and Warlow to develop a prosthetic foot that will hopefully improve the dog’s quality of life. He’s never worn a prosthetic before, but the club has developed several prototypes – which they call Tucker’s Robo-Cop leg – while working with the Hanger Clinic. The initial prototypes were made from white plastic and metal, but they’ve since switched to PLA, which is easier to work with.
A few days ago, Tucker tried out the latest prototypes.
“You want to get a new foot? Want to get a new foot?” Warlow asked him.
The club had prepared three different models, designed using Autodesk Meshmixer, which Tucker patiently allowed Warlow to try on his leg as he switched between sitting and lying down.
“Today we would like to test fit different cavity sizes and see which best fits him,” said project leader Andrew Dove.
The prototypes were 3D printed from a cast made around Tucker’s leg. After trying out the prototypes they had brought, the team found the best fit and made notes about how they could further improve both the feel and practicality of the design.
“Simpler is better,” Dove said. “There’s still a lot of room for improvement, but this is much better.”
Tucker joins many other dogs whose lives would have been more difficult without 3D printing. There’s Duke the golden retriever, Shila the mixed breed who lost her legs to a lawnmower accident, Derby and several other dogs who, whether due to birth defects, accidents or illnesses, were missing at least part of one or more of their legs. 3D printed prosthetics got them back on their feet and bounding around the way dogs should.
Tucker may not have his final prosthetic yet, but he’s getting very close. Towards the end of the testing session, the group had an idea: they cut off the bottom of the prosthetic foot and replaced it with a rubber ball. According to Warlow, Tucker was now putting more weight on his foot than he had so far, wearing his new “house slipper.”
Dove cheered. “That was what I was waiting for,” he said.
Discuss this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com or share your thoughts below.[Source: The Missourian / Images: Hailey Hofer/The Missourian]