logoWith 3D printing affecting so many different facets of nearly every field these days — or at least garnering an interest — it’s no surprise that we humans are using it now to try and better the quality of life for our beloved pets as well.

There’s something deeply fulfilling about nurturing our pets and watching them experience joy as they catch a Frisbee or jump up on the bed with you to say hello after you’ve had a long day. And while we’ve all seen a number of three-legged dogs get by in the world, it’s an obvious challenge which presents limits.

Andrea Bledsoe has an even stronger connection to her physically challenged canine, as she was part of the UC Davis team who operated on Hobbes when it was established that his leg needed to be amputated. Now, not only is the veterinary student the one who adopted Hobbes after his surgery, she is also the one who is supervising and working diligently to see him progress further, enlisting her friends at UC Davis to help design and 3D print a new leg.

hobbesHobbes, a terrier mix, was originally presented to the UC Davis veterinary team with a front leg that had been severely fractured and never healed correctly. The team amputated, and shortly after, Bledsoe adopted Hobbs, an extremely active dog despite losing a crucial limb.

While we’ve seen a number of dogs in the news (and we’ve reported on some livestock receiving them as well, such as Felix the Sheep) receiving 3D printed prosthetics and Bledsoe and her peers Randy Carney and Holly Abney were aware of the possibilities, they did explore some other ideas at first, due to their experience in materials science — in which Carney holds both a masters and doctorate degree. After looking into using carbon fiber for making a prosthetic device and weighing it against the pros of 3D printing, they decided to look into the affordable, innovative technology instead as 3D printing services were offered at their library in Sacramento County.

Carney and Abney are well aware that if they can come up with a suitable and functioning 3D prosthetic for Hobbes, the good-natured canine will probably become quite famous, as the public is just eating up stories about similar cases that have been successful, with some such videos going viral on YouTube.

The story behind the scenes though is that it is extremely challenging to design a functional 3D printed prosthesis for an active dog. While Hobbes is able to do a wide range of activities even with his disability, he is not 100% able to keep up, and the UC Davis students are persisting in seeing that Hobbes once again has the experience of being mobile on four legs.

“When he goes on long walks, he starts to get fatigued, and it seems that it’s because he has this weird hop he has to do to move forward,” said Carney, a postdoctoral fellow in biochemistry and molecular medicine. “And he’s so young and full of energy that it seemed like a waste if he couldn’t get moving like he wanted to.”

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Carney, with 3D printed harness prototype

The graduate students have spent many hours so far putting their heads together in terms of what materials to use, and going back and forth to the drawing board trying to work around the obstacle of how Hobbes’ amputated area is situated, which is rather high up with no stump for attachment. Currently, they are using NinjaFlex to experiment with a harness prototype harness design for Hobbes’ chest that would work in an engineering effort that extends the prosthetic outward.

Experimenting at the Sacramento Arcade library, Carney has tried heating the 3D printed material for flexibility and customized fitting around Hobbes’ amputated area. He is also working on the 3D printed leg itself regarding ‘spring-back capabilities’ which may be possible with the use of NinjaFlex.

We’ve recently reported on the exciting potential 3D printing in libraries is offering across the country, as currently about 250 public libraries have the facilities to offer the technology free to patrons. This has been quite the impetus for students and makers of all ages to come up with some incredible innovations that might not have been possible without the affordability and accessibility offered by the libraries. As is evidenced by this story, patrons across the country are doing much more than dabbling and 3D printing toys — with one team of Boy Scouts 3D printing functioning automotive wheels and students in another location producing prosthetic hands as well.

Hobbes’ new 3D printed leg will be the first medical device made at the Arcade Library in Sacramento County, which has a free Design Spot. It’s been thriving since its inception, with 15-20 patrons using the services each of the three days a week it is open. While many use the library 3D printing services to make more artsy-craftsy items like figurines and Christmas ornaments, as the technology becomes even more mainstream, it will be interesting to see how innovations progress, beginning with the 3D printed prosthetic for Hobbes.

“They’re fascinating machines,” said Design Spot volunteer Tom Sanderson. “It gives some of our clients a new way to think about the world. Maybe we don’t have to run to the dollar store to get something anymore. We can print it if we have a 3-D printer at home. Or we can come here!”

While Abney reports that it is not easy fitting Hobbes — or any pet — with the prosthesis, even if this one does not work for this particular animal, the work they are doing may benefit other animals.

“It’s extremely exciting to me, and much more exciting than studying at this point,” said Abney. “It’s nice to get hands-on and try to help an animal, instead of sitting home learning about helping an animal all the time.”

As the enthusiasm continues to grow both at the Design Spot in Sacramento County and at UC Davis as they anticipate and hope for a better quality of life for Hobbes, we’ll continue to keep you updated on innovations there, as well as Hobbes’ progress.

Do you have, or know of, a pet that could benefit from a 3D printed prosthesis? Tell us about it, as well as what you think about Hobbes’ story, in the 3D Printed Prosthetic Front Leg for Hobbes forum over at 3DPB.com. Check out the video below detailing Hobbes’ hop forward.

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Bledsoe and Hobbes

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