VALPARAISO — It’s no secret that people love their pets and people will do almost anything to make their pets healthy and happy.
Dagny Laur, owner of American Limb and Orthopedic Co. of Valparaiso, is learning just how far pet owners are willing to go.
A graduate of the Northwestern University Medical School’s Orthotic and Prosthetic certification program, Laur has operated the company since 2006, making custom prosthetics for people who have lost limbs or need special braces to maintain mobility.
But Laur, who has four dogs and four cats, has always thought about using her skills to help animals with similar mobility challenges.
Her dream began to take shape after a recent conference of the American Academy of Orthotists and Prosthetists, where she learned more about pet orthotics.
"It was the final push I needed," said Laur, of Union Mills.
Another push came from Laur’s own veterinarian, who told her there are so many animals that need help.
"She referred one to me immediately, but when I called the owner, he had already put the dog down," Laur said. "It was too late. That was my last and final straw. I decided to make myself public so people know I exist."
Prosthetics, wheeled carts and braces
Laur partnered with Megan Hornsby, a local veterinary technician and animal lover who has three dogs, a horse, two ferrets and a pot-bellied pig.
The two women combined their expertise to launch Paws In Motion, a division of ALOCV that provides custom-made limbs, braces and wheeled carts for animals with amputations, limb deformities and those who simply need a little help getting around.
In April, Laur and Hornsby created marketing materials and a Facebook page, and the phones have not stopped ringing since. Veterinarians, area dog rescues, boarding kennels and individual pet owners all are using their services.
To date, Laur has created custom prosthetics for Teddy, a 9-month-old Great Dane who was born with a deformed partial limb, and Tidus, a 4-year-old Boston terrier who had a partial amputation of his front leg after he was hit by a car.
Teddy and her brother, Tugg, live with Staci Kish, a veterinarian at Hobart Animal Hospital, and her family.
"These guys do fine three-legged, but it is so much easier with a prosthetic," said Kish, of Valparaiso.
Kish said the prosthetic will also help Teddy, who weighs about 80 pounds, avoid back strain.
"I want to walk her with her brother around the neighborhood," Kish said. "Before, it was so hard for her to move sometimes. I didn’t want to have to stop midway and carry her home.”
Laur also has created new leg braces for Pixie, a 9-year-old Chihuahua/dachshund mix, and refurbished leg braces for Georgia, a 9-year-old black Labrador retriever.
As the Indiana representative for a national dog cart company, Laur also has provided a wheeled cart for Charlie, a 7-year-old dachshund with permanent nerve damage from ruptured discs.
Charlie lives with Bill and Debbie Hackney, who have carried Charlie everywhere for the past year. Now, Charlie’s new wheeled cart increases his mobility.
"We take our walks, and he loves it," Debbie Hackney said. "When he’s looking for moles, he doesn’t think about being in the wheelchair."
Alternative to surgery
Laur said Paws In Motion provides in-house consultation, cast impressions, custom fabrication, fitting, adjustment and maintenance.
Before Paws In Motion, veterinarians took a plaster cast of the involved limb and sent it to a fabrication facility in either Colorado, Pennsylvania or Canada, where the prosthetic or brace was made and sent back to the customer.
"They have to make the limb so generalized because they never see the dog," Laur said. "We actually evaluate the dog here in the office, and I make every part of the artificial limb by hand. From a fitting perspective, this is the best route to go for better results and maintenance. I’m here and have everything on site to do it."
Laur said the cost of a custom human prosthetic, which is billed to insurance, can range from $4,000 to more than $100,000, while braces are from $1,000 to more than $10,000. A custom canine prosthetic ranges from $1,500 to $2,200, and braces are $600 or more, but both are an out-of-pocket expense for pet owners.
Laur’s new venture is growing fast, but what’s most important is giving new life to pups who otherwise might have come to the end of their road.
"I want people to know I’m out here, that there are other options to try — the sky is the limit," Laur said. "I just don’t think putting them down is the answer."
Laur wants people to give animals the same options that people have.
"They don’t put humans down when they lose limbs," Laur said. "I want to be known as an alternative option to surgery and a last hope when everything else fails where mobility is concerned."