Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Dudley’s New Leg: Gentle Barn Charity Follows “Worthy” Horse Leg Surgery with Prosthesis for a Bovine Amputee

Not your typical steer: Dudley has been through amputation surgery and now is learning to live with a prosthesis on his left hind leg, thanks to the charity of The Gentle Barn, a California charity. Listen to his surgeon at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, Dr. David Anderson, describe the hows and whys of amputation surgery for cattle. Click the play icon in the center to start the video.

You hear about a lot of rescue organizations and charities operating around the United States. It seems like one will have a “Hail Mary” pass moment and make the headlines. They’ll have their fifteen minutes of well-deserved fame.

But The Gentle Barn in Santa Clarita, California, has thrown it’s second “Hail Mary” in as many years. A year ago, we were talking about their sponsorship of lifesaving surgery on a filly from South Carolina with a severe front leg deformity. To the Gentle Barn, she was “Worthy” of saving, and worthy of hauling to Lexington, Kentucky for surgery and recovery at Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital. (See video below.)

Now they’re back with a heart-warming amputee story. But this is no huggable Molly the Pony. It’s a Hereford named Dudley. When was the last time you heard about a farm animal undergoing amputation surgery and having a prosthesis designed and built for it? And in bright pink, no less.

Dudley caught his foot in baling twine, the classic farmyard injury. But instead of cutting his pastern or severing a tendon, the twine wrapped tighter and tighter until the circulation to his foot was destroyed. Dudley’s owner took extra measures to try to help him, but persistent infections and lack of normal movement were building up to a crisis.
Dudley and his new prosthesis, made by Ronnie Graves, who is an amputee himself.

Enter The Gentle Barn, who sourced a willing prosthetic designer and lined up bovine surgeon David E Anderson, DVM, MS, DACVS at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine in Knoxville. The designer, Ronnie Graves, is an amputee himself.

Now that the surgery is over, Dudley begins a long hospitalization at UTK. He needs to get used to the prosthesis, and it will need adjustments as he recovers.

In a phone interview today, Ellie Weiner, founder of The Gentle Barn, described being with Dudley in the large animal hospital at UTK, where he is isolated from other cattle, and will be until he can walk on his own. Ellie was optimistic about the prosthesis, which looks like a big ski boot brace.

"The process of fine-tuning is lengthy. The first few days were great but we have to see how the leg reacts," she said. "I'm looking for swelling and rubbing."

Dudley's stump needs to heal.
She said that the prosthesis has to be removed and cleaned each day, and that it was all about a system of checks and balances. "Dudley needs to build up his muscles," she said. "But that could irritate the prosthesis." She spoke hopefully of the underwater treadmill for horses in the university's new equine hospital, and what that type of exercise might mean to his recovery.

In the meantime, Dudley is the only cow around receiving acupuncture and electrical muscle stimulation. Ellie worries about his isolation from other animals, but he has plenty of people around him, for now.

Dudley does have someone to look up to. Hero is a cow in Texas who was found with both hind hooves frozen to the ground. Surgeons at Texas A&M University amputated both his frostbite-damaged hind feet and he was fitted with a series of prostheses.

Where does a steer go from here? Dudley's career is being mapped out for him and, oddly enough, it intersects with Worthy, the filly still in Kentucky recuperating from The Gentle Barn-sponsored surgery at Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital. 

The Gentle Barn's business plan is to eventually have farm animal facilities in all 50 states, and the idea is to station Worthy and Dudley in Tennessee, within close reach of both Rood and Riddle and the University of Tennessee, for each animal's access to their specialists.

But these rescued and rehabilitated animals will become specialists themselves--specialists in inspiration and hope. They will be ambassadors to challenged people and children to show what compassion and charity can do in the face of injury and disability. And, obviously, that's a lot.

This video tells the emotional story of Worthy, a rescued filly in South Carolina whose severe angular limb deformity was treated surgically, thanks to The Gentle Barn and Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital surgeon Scott Hopper and staff.

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