Are you ready for your daily dose of cute? If so, meet Emma. Emma is a very tiny, miniature donkey foal born with a deformed leg that would have been a life sentence if not for the love of a few two-legged friends. Now Emma, complete with a bright-pink prosthetic leg, is frolicking alongside her mommy.
Equines are a bit behind other animals that seem to be getting prosthetic body parts on a fairly regular basis. When an equine has a serious injury to a leg, it typically means the animal must be euthanized. So when a leg deformity like Emma’s requires amputation–even when a prosthetic is available–most equines’ quality of life declines rapidly afterwards.
“It’s not something that’s very successful in these size animals–what I mean is 1,000 pound to 1,200 pound horses,” explains Emma’s equine surgeon, Dr. Fred Caldwell, an assistant professor at Auburn University’s College of Veterinary Medicine in Alabama.
“Donkeys typically are not as large. Since she’s a miniature donkey, it makes that more of a feasible option. They don’t run the risk of having complications of the other limbs, the support limbs.”
According to Dr. Barrie Grant, one of the pioneers of equine prosthetics, caring for a horse or donkey with an artificial limb is tricky, if not impossible. It is rarely attempted, because the prosthetic has to be such a perfect fit that the animal finds it comfortable and stable enough to equally distribute weight between the prosthetic and the three natural limbs. If the equine doesn’t balance properly, the natural limb opposite of the artificial limb will break down from supporting the extra load.
Emma has her pint-size to her advantage, coupled with a prosthetic limb from one of the top companies in the world. The Hangar Clinic that designed Emma’s leg is the very same company that designed the prosthetic tail for Winter, the dolphin from the movie Dolphin Tale.
Emma’s prosthetic is comparable with those of Paralympic athletes and requires daily care. Luckily, she has about 70 caretakers that include the staff and students of Auburn University. Her success, they say, is largely due to her determination.
“She’s definitely a fighter,” Dr. Caldwell says. “She has a great attitude.”
Emma provided what might be a once-in-a-lifetime teaching opportunity for the veterinary medicine students that Dr. Caldwell teaches. After this, Emma’s owner hopes that she’ll be able to give back to her community as a therapy animal to inspire people with injuries and deformities to overcome the odds.