When Chi Chi the dog was found on the side of the road in South Korea, animal rescuers weren’t sure if she would survive. She had been badly abused and suffered severe blood flow loss to her legs, rendering them immobile. The normal course of action in that situation would have been euthanization, but Chi Chi made it clear that she wasn’t ready to give up. “I always say that her smile saved her,” Derrick Campana, founder of Animal OrthoCare, tells Mental Floss. “She was just so friendly and lovable that she got noticed.” The decision was made to amputate all four of her legs, and it wasn't long before a viral video telling Chi Chi's story caught the attention of a couple in Arizona. Shortly after moving to her new home in the U.S., Chi Chi was outfitted with prosthetics designed by Campana that allowed her to move around freely for the first time since she was rescued.
Campana and the work he does for disabled animals like Chi Chi were the focus of the first episode of Dodo Heroes, a new Animal Planet series that highlights inspiring stories of animal strength and survival. The prosthetics designer fell into the veterinary field by chance: He was working as a doctor specializing in prosthetics for people when a canine patient was brought in to his practice. The doctor the dog was supposed to see wasn’t in, so Campana decided to build an artificial limb for the pooch himself. “I got so much satisfaction and fulfillment out of it that I knew it was something I wanted to do forever,” he says. He launched Animal OrthoCare, his animal bracing and prosthetics company, one month later.
There aren’t many options out there for pet owners looking to provide comfortable, effective prosthetics to their disabled animals. A dog amputee might be fitted with a canine cart, while larger wild animals with missing or dysfunctional limbs are often put down. And when prosthetics are available, the choices are usually limited, sticking pets with something that can exacerbate their pain and discomfort.
Animal OrthoCare is different: It’s the only company in the U.S. that offers custom animal braces, and it’s one of only a handful of custom animal orthotics companies on earth. Animals in need around the world can take advantage of its services. For most requests, Campana mails out a casting kit to the owner or veterinarian of the animal patient. After a cast is made of the patient’s limb, it’s mailed back to Animal OrthoCare’s shop in Virginia, where Campana and his team use it to build a custom prosthetic from medical-grade foam. It takes about a week on average before the final product is ready to ship to the customer's home, where they can attach it to their pet themselves using a hook-and-strap system that can be adjusted for maximum comfort.
In addition to being convenient, the treatment is also relatively affordable, with dog prosthetics starting at $750. Since founding Animal OrthoCare, Campana has helped roughly 20,000 animals walk again—and walk more comfortably.
Chi Chi the Golden Retriever and Jabu the elephant, the two patients featured in Campana's episode of Dodo Heroes, represent two of his biggest challenges to date. Chi Chi is a survivor of the South Korean dog meat trade, and she had been hung upside-down by her legs for so long that it cost her all four of her limbs. According to Campana, quadriplegic dogs are very rare, and dogs with four prosthetics are even rarer. By visiting Chi Chi in her home and adjusting the fit of her artificial limbs, he makes sure she can walk freely without doing any further damage to her body.
Jabu, a 31-year-old elephant living in Botswana, is another extreme example of the animals Campana gets to work with. After Jabu fell into a ditch and injured his leg, the caretakers at the wildlife preserve where he lives reached out to Animal OrthoCare for help. Campana says the leg brace he constructed for the 6-ton creature is likely the world’s first elephant brace. Without it, Jabu may not have survived even another minor injury. “A dog can have this type of injury and live a fine life, but for an animal like Jabu in the wild, it's life-threatening,” he says. “If you're lame out in the African bush, you're not going to live.”
Chi Chi and Jabu are two extraordinary cases, but the impact Derrick Campana had on their lives is typical of the work he does for animals on a regular basis. You can watch the full episode here.
Tune in to Dodo Heroes on Animal Planet on Saturdays at 9 p.m. ET.