Tucker is ready to put his best foot forward.
With the help of the College of Engineering’s 3D Printing Club, Kendra Earl Warlow’s 5-year-old Australian Shepherd will soon walk on four paws.
Born without his hind right foot, Tucker has adapted throughout his life to travel on just three. However, with age, he’s begun to face more health challenges and thus turned to a handful of MU Engineering students for a prosthetic.
“It’s starting to give him arthritis in his hips,” club vice president, project head and Mechanical Engineering student Andrew Dove said. “As an older dog, he gets a gait in his step, and hopping on three legs has become more difficult.”
The project kicked off last spring when the club’s interest in dog prosthetics and Warlow personal aspirations for Tucker intersected.
“I recommended we take on dog prosthetics, and at the same time by coincidence, [Tucker’s] owner Kendra found us,” he continued. “It just started happening. We took measurements, and we got the plaster mold of the dog’s foot.”
In April, the process for creating the prosthetic first began. The 3D Printing Club had Warlow take the initial step in making a plaster mold of Tucker’s stump. The group was able to then take measurements for scanning. Since, they’ve developed a number of different models, each of which has been tested by Warlow’s dog.
“We’ve made three prototypes with probably a dozen prints in total with various size and shape adjustments,” Dove said.
The ongoing changes in the prosthetic models have all been directly influenced by Tucker’s reactions.
“Working with an animal, you can’t ask him, ‘how does this feel?’” Dove said. “So, you have to listen to the body movements. Does he put weight on it?”
Along the way, the group has found ways to better the prosthetic, including the addition of a compression sock and sling to help with stability and comfort. But according to Dove, it’s been a bit of a guessing game.
“It’s been a year of learning how to make a prosthetic,” Dove said. “How to do measurements, how to test, how to do the whole process beginning to end [and] how to work with a client.”
Dove is confident that Tucker will be up on all fours by the end of the semester. As for the future, Dove is excited about future opportunities.
“I’m open to any possibilities,” he said. “This has kind of been my baby. I don’t know if somebody is going to come along and take it over and want to do their own thing. If it’s just me, I guess we’ll take a vote and see what everyone wants to do.”