Screwdrivers and pliers may not be typical tools of the trade for a veterinary business, but Derrick Campana knows his company, Animal Orthocare, is anything but typical.
These and more hardware tools crowd the walls and surfaces of a small workshop, one of two main rooms that make up the offices of Animal Orthocare in Chantilly. And in the corner sits… what is that, exactly?
“A pizza oven,” Campana offers. As the owner and president of Animal Orthocare, one of just a handful of businesses that produce prosthetic limbs and braces specifically for animals, he is used to answering questions about his atypical equipment.
Because the market for supportive braces and replacement limbs for animals is small, Campana cannot order supplies made specifically for those devices. Instead, he must get creative, repurposing materials meant for human braces and prostheses. The pizza oven melts the plastic then molded for the final products.
Campana had to revamp his training as well. He went to graduate school to become a certified orthotist and worked on the human side of the field. Then one day, a veterinarian came in with a dog that needed a prosthesis.
At the time, only one company specialized creating braces and artificial limbs for animals, according to Campana. Shocked, he agreed to help build the prosthesis for that dog. Soon after, recognizing a need and a niche, Campana founded Animal Orthocare, and since 2005 has helped thousands of animals, ranging from dogs and cats to goats, llamas and even a gazelle.
Such work can give much loved pets a new lease on life, according to Megan Hubbard.
The Fairfax native, now living in Washington, D.C., last year adopted a pit bull puppy that had lost part of one of his rear legs. Though the puppy managed at first, after a few months he strained his other back leg as a result of the strange gait his condition required.
Worried, Hubbard took the dog, JR, to a veterinary specialist that knew of Campana. While Campana works with veterinarians, it can be hard to get many of them to accept what is a relatively new treatment option for animals.
“So few people know this even exists,” Campana said. “Mostly it’s the owners who do the research and bring it to the surgeon’s attention.”
Luckily, Hubbard’s veterinarian had worked with Campana before. In April 2013, Hubbard took JR to the Animal Orthocare office, where Campana took a plaster cast of the dog’s leg. Less than 10 days later, the prosthetic was ready, and JR walked out of the office on it that day.
“It took him a while to get used to it,” Hubbard admitted. “There were a few trials and tribulations.”
JR chewed it a few times, necessitating repairs by Campana. And the dog had to build up leg muscles that had atrophied from lack of use. But within a month, he had acclimated to his new limb.
Because not many people know about prostheses for animals, Hubbard says JR receives a lot of attention.
“Not a day goes by that somebody doesn’t ask me about it,” Hubbard said.
Not knowing that prosthetics offers an alternative, veterinarians often suggest full amputation in such a case as JR’s, according to Campana. A prosthesis can replace a paw or part of a leg as long as there is still a stump to which it can be attached. If a surgeon performs a full amputation, it would be too late.
Prostheses can also save owners the expense of a surgery. While veterinary surgeries can run to $5,000, a typical prosthesis from Animal Orthocare costs about $500-700.
“The biggest challenge in the field overall is just getting the word out and getting surgeons and doctors on board,” Campana said. “People really think of their pet as their child. I want them to know that they have options that really can help.”