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Veterinary Medicine

Great Dane gets stronger, longer leg at Veterinary Teaching Hospital

September 29, 2011

Meet Cooper. As his owner Sally Stoffel asks, who could not love this face?

Cooper as a puppyStoffel received this photo of Cooper, crippled and needing a new home, from a couple who was fostering him. He had just recently been rescued from euthanasia because he didn’t receive veterinary care as a two- to three-week-old puppy when his mother stepped on and broke his rear right leg. For Stoffel, it was love at first sight – she saw his face and decided there wasn’t much she wouldn’t do for him. For Cooper, it is a happy ending – or rather, a happy beginning -- at the Colorado State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital, where Cooper’s misshapen and useless leg was recently surgically straightened, giving the still growing pup the ability to travel enthusiastically on all fours.

Stoffel and Cooper have – beginning within a few days of her adoption of him in late January –traveled to the Colorado State University Veterinary Hospital eleven times in eight months. At CSU, Dr. Ross Palmer, a small animal orthopedic veterinarian at CSU, straightened his leg and grew it three inches to keep pace with the growth rate of a Great Dane in a procedure that included partners from Italy and a lot of commitment from Stoffel and Cooper.

“We were interested in giving Cooper a great quality of life,” said Palmer. “His leg was somewhat useless – like the leg of a T-Rex that dangled from him without supporting weight. It was slowing him down and, while he compensated quite well, it was an obstacle for enjoying the typical life of a puppy. Now, he has many years of mobility and play ahead of him – and best of all, after a long but successful process, Cooper is getting on with his life.”

Cooper's leg before surgeryAt CSU, Cooper’s bone was cut, strengthened and repositioned. In a strategy that is relatively rare in veterinary medicine, Palmer then attached a metal device to the outside of Cooper’s leg that kept the bone in place but allowed Stoffel to stretch the healing bone one to three millimeters a day for the next month. Stretching the bone was a critical part of the process – because the injured leg had stopped growing, it would be useless to Cooper unless it caught up with his other three legs. Stoffel spent time daily stretching the device to grow the bone as it healed in a delicate process that balanced a pace between allowing the bone to heal and stretching it before it became set.

In the few months between Cooper’s adoption and surgery, he had grown from a puppy of 30 pounds to a 130-pound, still growing dog, at his last check up in late September. He is 10 ½ months old and he could continue to grow for another five to eight months – but standing on all four legs that are just about the same length. That’s because Palmer and Stoffel got an additional three inches of length out of the bone –some from the initial surgery that straightened it, and some through the metal device. The device that Palmer used had proved difficult to find, so a colleague from Milan, Italy, had to ship it to Palmer for the surgery.Cooper's bone after surgeryCooper's bone before surgery

Stoffel says that Cooper was very relaxed during the adjustments: He usually fell asleep and “snored through the entire thing.” She describes him as a stoic dog – and knows how he survived as a young puppy without the ability to walk; she’s watched him lie on his good side and pull himself to food with his front legs. When she adopted him, he compensated well, but still did a “bunny hop” to run. Now, he lopes around with a gregarious personality.

At Cooper’s recent check up at the VTH on Sept. 26, a month after the positioning and stretching device was removed, reporters were invited to learn more about the unique procedure that Palmer used to give Cooper a great quality of life. A natural star, he enthusiastically pulled Stoffel into the VTH from the parking lot and across the lobby to greet Palmer. Shortly after, he welcomed the TV and newspaper crews there to hear his story by licking most of the cameras. A natural ham, Cooper waited anxiously for part of his exam outside where Palmer and Stoffel gave him rein on his leash to show off his new mobility and speed. He happily trotted on the grass outside of the hospital, mugging for the cameras, Palmer and the veterinary students.

Stoffel adopted him knowing that she would need to find a way to fix his leg. Her message to other pet owners is that when one becomes an owner to an animal, he or she is committed to that animal, and to doing the right thing for them. She hopes that lesson will resonate, since Cooper’s breeder’s choice not to get him veterinary care when his leg was initially broken nearly led to his death.

Palmer is optimistic that Cooper’s growth rate has begun to slow and that, while Stoffel may want to fit him with a prosthetic lift “shoe” that adds any needed height to his leg, allowing him a more balanced gait, Cooper’s quality of life has improved dramatically. Since the surgery, he has learned to walk – and run – and bask in the care of his owner, just like any other dog.


Contact: Dell Rae Moellenberg
E-mail: dellrae.moellenberg@colostate.edu
Phone: (970) 491-6009