Beloved family pet gets a new 3D-printed foot

Thanks to 3D printing, tucker is getting a new foot.
Thanks to 3D printing, tucker is getting a new foot.

Sometimes highlighting the impact of 3D printing can be as rewarding as delving into the technology itself. From The Missourian, with images courtesy of Hailey Hofer, comes this heartwarming story. Tucker, a cute five-year-old Australian Shepherd was born missing several bones in his back right foot. Kendra Warlow, who adopted Tucker when he was eight months old, said that he was the last one left in his litter – no one wanted him because of his foot. And though she loves Tucker just as he is, his foot problems were causing pain in his back and hindquarter. He’s 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 was concerned about worsening problems as Tucker gets older. Currently, she’s 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?” Well, they did! For the past 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 the group says is easier to work with.

Kendra Warlow and her family with Tucker.
Kendra Warlow and her family with Tucker.

The club 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. The prototypes were 3D printed from a cast made around Tucker’s leg. After trying out the prototypes, the team found the best fit and made notes about how they could further improve both the feel and practicality of the design.

Tucker joins many other dogs in the USA 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 running around – the way dogs should.

Tucker may not have his final prosthetic yet, but he’s getting very, 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 is now putting more weight on his foot than he had so far, wearing what she calls his new “house slipper!”

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Tony Curcio is the editor of Graphic Arts Magazine.