Carl Wunsche Sr. High School Graduate Dawn Ford adjusts a student-designed prosthetic device on Tootsie, an English Bulldog who had her front paws amputated because of complications at birth.
On a sunny June morning, Rony Hozaifeh wheeled his English Bulldog through the front doors of Carl Wunsche Sr. High School. Tootsie, who is the reason for his visit, rode over the hot concrete in a baby stroller. The people that Hozaifeh came to see all know that the stroller is not just a luxury for his dog, it’s a necessity.
“She was born with the umbilical cord wrapped around both of her paws, where they had to wind up amputating her front two paws,” said Hozaifeh.
Tootsie, who is now mostly grown but still has a lot of puppy in her, is fairly mobile on soft carpeting. But hobbling about on hard or rough surfaces with no front paws is a painful experience. Hozaifeh would love to do what other dog owners do every day – take Tootsie for a nice walk.
The Hozaifeh family heard good things about Wunsche’s Veterinary Science and Engineering programs, and so in the Fall of 2019 they asked the school if there was anything that they could do to help his dog. Soon after that, Tootsie happily found herself the center of attention while being examined by dozens of students in the school’s Veterinary Sciences classroom.
The students from two separate career pathways who normally might not have much in common, found themselves collaborating with the goal of designing some custom-made prosthetic devices for Tootsie. The engineering students considered how to structurally enhance Tootsie’s front legs, while the veterinary science students worked to make sure that any design is comfortable and safe for the dog.
After her first meeting with Tootsie, Veterinary Science Senior Shianne Koch knew right away that she wanted to help the dog. “I was really sad when I heard that she didn’t have any front paws, and it hurt my heart. I want to better her life,” she said.
Over the next several weeks that effort became an extensive learning experience for the Wunsche students. Several designs were considered and created using the school’s 3-D printer.
When Koch and her engineering cohort, Dawn Ford went home for Spring Break, they knew that they were close to a successful prototype. What they did not expect was that the COVID-19 pandemic would close their school and cut off access to their equipment.
“I thought everything was pretty much shot,” said Hozaifeh, who added, “I gave up pretty much any hope of Tootsie getting anything finished. And then I got an email from Dawn.”
Dawn Ford had now graduated, but she knew that she wasn’t done with this special Wunsche project. She found a local company, ZYLtech Engineering, who agreed to 3-D print her latest prosthetic design. Artificial paws in hand, she contacted Hozaifeh and set up a fitting at the front of the school.
Ford expressed appreciation to ZYLtech for helping the project move forward. “They were really a big help in making sure that I could continue doing this even though we’re out of school,” said Ford.
Tootsie’s right prosthetic will require some minor additional adjustment, but the left one fit well and the bulldog was easily able to support her full weight on it as she walked about on the hard tiled floor at Wunsche. The students took one more set of measurements and said they intend to create a new final version quickly.
Ford said that she was happy to see the success after having the opportunity of only two fittings with Tootsie before the school was closed this spring. “I was excited because it means that all of the adjustments that we have made so far have been working,” said Ford.
Koch smiled as she watched Tootsie put her weight on the bright red artificial paw. “It looked like she really enjoyed the feeling of it, I was so happy that it was comfortable for her, because I wasn’t sure how she would feel about it, but that made my heart really happy,” she said.
Rony Hozaifeh was grateful to the graduates who came back to school just to help his dog. “It’s amazing, these students, the dedication that they have you know? Sticking to what they said they were going to do,” he said, adding, “I’m excited to see what’s the next step for them in their journey in life. They’re probably going to be astronauts or whatever, you know?”
After completing the paw’s final adjustment, Dawn Ford will head off to the University of Virginia, where she plans to study physics, and her friend Shianne Koch will be studying closer to home at Lone Star College with plans to continue pursuing a career in veterinary science.
Both the students were thankful that Wunsche High School was able to incorporate the Tootsie Project into their school experience. “There’s just so much that Wunsche has to offer and it caters to a variety of interests, and I think it’s just an amazing experience, and an amazing school to go to,” said Ford.