Gather the whole family tonight for My Bionic Pet, a heartwarming and inspiring Nature episode on PBS that looks at how technological innovations – and human compassion – are giving disabled animals a new lease on life and happiness.
Granted, the cost of making and then surgically attaching prosthetic limbs to disabled animals can be considerable, but as this program shows, many kind souls, sometimes with fundraising assistance, have volunteered to adopt and care for these pets, who otherwise would be euthanized. Los Angeles friends Kathy Wyer and Elodie Lorenz, for example, decided to co-foster Roofus, a beautiful golden retriever who was found abandoned in a field as a puppy, blind and with deformed front legs. Thanks to a set of flexible metallic prosthetics, Roofus today is able to frolic freely around the yard with his canine playmates.
In some cases, the disabilities don’t even require expensive, high-tech solutions. Someone brought in a small piglet with deformed, functionally useless back legs to the Florida veterinary clinic of Dr. Len Lucero to have the little critter euthanized, but Lucero, immediately smitten, asked instead to adopt the animal himself. Using pieces from his son’s old toys, Lucero fashioned a tiny “wheelchair” that could be strapped to the piglet’s hindquarters. As My Bionic Pet delightfully shows, the little pig – whom Lucero somewhat questionably christened Chris P. Bacon – quickly adjusted to his “hind wheels” and today tears happily around his yard at a fearsome clip.
In New Orleans, Kaye Harris was impressed by the indomitable spirit of a little pony named Molly, who survived Hurricane Katrina only to lose the lower part of one of her legs to a vicious dog attack. Traditionally, a horse who has been hobbled by a serious injury to his hoof or leg is automatically put down, but instead Dwayne Mara of nearby Metairie, La., fashioned a simple prosthetic extension for the injured leg. If you visit the Crescent City, you may well catch a glimpse of Molly, who enjoys a full and active life as a therapy animal, often mingling with and cheering up small kids who are struggling to adjust to their own disabilities.
These days, nearly 1,000 animals a year are fitted with some form of prosthetic device, which often in turn leads to discoveries that are beneficial to human beings. Among other things, this growing practice reflects a shift in public attitude away from thinking of pets as objects rather than sensitive living creatures, especially as researchers continue to understand more and more about how complex an emotional range many of these animals experience. Subsequently, many animal lovers have begun to think of themselves as their pet’s guardian or companion, not owner.
“I think if we can save an animal and make that animal have a higher quality of life by giving them a prosthetic limb, then we are obligated to do it,” says Marc Bekoff, professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado-Boulder. “It sends the message that animals are not just there for our own entertainment and amusement.
“These animals aren’t things or property, like couches. They are sentient beings who have a right to a full and rich life.”
As always remember to check your local listings to see when My Bionic Pet airs on your local PBS affiliate.