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2010-07-07 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

Oscar, an ordinary, black cat from Britain made medical history last month. He’s been dubbed the “bionic cat” because of his surgically implanted prosthetic back feet. Oscar and his remarkable vet are about to star in a new BBC documentary TV series, “The Bionic Vet.” Funny thing. Neither of them looks like Lee Majors.

In October, 2 ½ year old Oscar was lounging in a field when a combine harvester severed the bottom part of his two rear legs. By the time his owners found out, Oscar was near death. Their local vet was able to stabilize him despite a tremendous loss of blood, but the prolonged quality of life for a cat minus two feet is grim. Luckily as an alternative to euthanasia the vet referred them to Dr. Noel Fitzpatrick, a neuro-orthopedic veterinary specialist in Surrey, UK who decided after viewing x-rays that Oscar was a good candidate for a new cutting edge procedure. Oscar is a friendly, laid back cat which made him the purrfect patient.

Oscar, the Bionic cat Oscar, the Bionic cat Fitzpatrick fitted Oscar with two metallic pegs that link the ankle to his new paws. In a three hour operation, he drilled holes into the cat’s legs and inserted metal rods which protrude and are designed so the skin seals the other end, miraculously without infection. The pegs mimic the way that deer antlers grow through skin and have a fancy name-intraosseous transcutaneous amputation prosthetics or simply – Itaps. This technology developed by a team at the University College London is being tested on people too and was used to create a prosthetic for a woman who lost her arm in the 2005 London bombings. (Meanwhile in 2008 Dr. Fitzpatrick made an artificial knee for a cat that had been hit by a car.)

After months of Oscar perfecting the art of peg leg walking, these engineers fashioned wobbly feet (at a cost of about $3,000, not including the operations) that Dr. Fitzpatrick screwed onto the pegs during a second anesthetized procedure. These feet are springy to simulate a feline gait allowing Oscar to run and climb. Dr. Fitzpatrick then wrapped the fake feet with black tape, because, as he said in the video, he “wasn’t going to let a black cat walk on brown feet.”

The results were amazing. (Watch the YouTube. Just Google “Oscar bionic cat.”) Within moments of waking up, Oscar was tiptoeing around the clinic, jumping on the rolls of paper blocking his escape, and smoozing up to his doctor to show proper cat-gratitude. The next six months will be critical for Oscar. He will be monitored closely for infections, pressure sores or any other mobility problems that may pop up, but the success so far bodes well for this pioneering approach for other amputees.

Cats and dogs usually do well with just three legs. Ask my Veto. Dogs with paralyzed back legs may be fitted for a special cart; whereas, most cats won’t tolerate such a contraption. Therefore, losing two legs at once, as Oscar did, is usually a death sentence for a cat.

A dozen years ago when I first adopted Veto, then a 3-footed kitten, the bone kept breaking through his skin as he grew, causing a re-occurring infection. I was hesitant when my vet first suggested amputating the rest of the leg. A friend who is an engineer at a university marine biology department offered to rig up some sort of prosthesis, but as soon as we saw that Veto wouldn’t keep a baby sock on for more than a nanosecond, we scrapped that plan. Veto has always been the antithesis of the purrfect patient.

Instead my vet amputated Veto’s leg while padding the stump with muscle. My cat zooms and has never been handicapped. Most folks don’t realize he is missing a limb. You’d never know he was approaching his 13th birthday. However, Veto, the Don Corleone of cats, still holds a grudge. He’ll sleep on you, but don’t dare pet him. Unlike the sweet, sociable Oscar, Veto is not the least bit appreciative. He always gets his revenge.

For Adoption at Babylon Town Shelter (643- 9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon: “Victoria & Albert” are stray parti-colored Cocker Spaniels that came in separately but resemble each other. Sweet “Victoria” in the Puppy Room is lighter in color and weight than “Albert” in Cage 17. Meanwhile “Cynthia” #20347 is one of four declawed cats presently at the shelter. She is an absolute doll. Other declaws include: “Snuggles”

gray & white; “Garfield” semi-longhair tabby;

“Missy” hefty gal in the lobby. Female Dogs: “Star” #92319, “Jinni” #93155 (carries her bowl); “Brownie”#93150, “Heather” #92855- all variations on the Pit theme. Male Dogs: “Casper”-purebred Weimaraner #93398; “Challenge” his Pit brother #93397; “Bradley”-Beagle #93344. • On behalf of Last Hope Animal Rescue, sincere thanks to Chris Elton and Babylon Town for hosting Last Hope’s free rabies clinic on June 26 at Babylon Town Shelter and to the staff of Aldrich Animal Hospital for providing such patient (volunteer) veterinary personnel. Over 200 shots were administered to the public’s pets on a scorcher of a Sunday. •Update on Rockville Centre’s illegal ban on Rottweilers and Pit Bulls: After 350 dismayed dog lovers showed up at Village Hall on June 29, the Trustees decided to “reassess” their ordinance. Another public hearing will be held on July 20th at 7:30 pm. Please attend and be heard. It ain’t over yet.

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