Derrick Campana, aka Virginia’s very own “Dr. Doolittle,” was in the business of making prosthetics for people when a one-of-a-kind customer walked into his workplace: A vet. She had a bit of an unusual request. She wanted a prosthetic for a dog.
One of Campana’s superiors was supposed to take on the “pet” project. But that very same day, he quit for an unrelated reason. The request was redirected to Campana. Though he’d never made a prosthetic for an animal before, he agreed to the challenge.
The device turned out to be a success. The vet was happy with Campana’s work, and mentioned that there were hundreds of thousands of dogs out there who needed prosthetics, but no one to make them.
Campana was intrigued. He told Reader’s Digest that a “lightbulb” went on in his head. “I thought of the business,” he explained.
Since starting his very own animal prosthetic business, he’s been dubbed a “modern-day Dr. Doolittle.” As one of only six to ten professionals dedicated to making animal prosthetics in the world, he’s also tapped into a niche market with a high demand. His private practice, Animal Orthocare, is based in Virginia, but Campana takes care of orders from furry and feathered clients all over the world.
A lot of the time, he doesn’t even see his patients. Instead, he’ll receive a cast from the animal’s vet or owner, and use it as a mold in order to create the prosthetic. It takes about a week before the prosthetic is ready to ship to the client.
According to Campana, animal prosthetics present some unique challenges. For one, a lot of human prosthetics are made from carbon fiber. But while suitable for humans, this material isn’t the greatest for animals who can’t come in to get fitted because it can’t be adjusted easily. As an alternative Campana uses durable, medical-grade plastic in his prosthetics.
Insurance coverage is another issue. Few people have pet insurance, so keeping costs down is a priority for Campana. He tries to keep all his prosthetics and braces under $12,000, but many cost between $500 and $700. Often, this is less than the cost of surgery.
The vast majority of Campana’s customers are canines, but he’s treated ponies, goats, gazelles, deer, llamas, horses, and even birds. Since starting his business he’s even had the opportunity to travel to the Friends of the Asian Elephant hospital in Thailand to create an elephant cast.
Some of the species Campana treats require unique considerations. For instance, birds such as cranes, eagles, and owls have tiny feet, which means that getting a good mold can be a challenge. As a result, Campana uses a 3D printer to scan their legs and bases the prosthetic on that model.
The work is rewarding. Campana explains that most animals try to kick their prosthetics off when they first get them. But they’re quick to adapt when they realize that they can walk better with it. Some of Campana’s former clients have even called to tell him that their dogs love their prosthetics so much that they’ll actually bring the devices to their owners’ feet in the morning before their walk.