When Gus, a one-year-old husky mix with tan and white fur, hits the trails at Happy Jack, he turns heads.
On Wednesday morning, Gus trotted up and down the Campground Loop showing off a new prosthetic ski that supports the front half of his body. A handful of Nordic skiers glided by, glancing back and smiling.
“That’s awesome!” said one skier as she headed toward the parking lot.
Melody Rezzonico adopted Gus through Black Dog Animal Rescue about a year ago, adding to a household that already includes Gertie, a Boston terrier mix, and Gunner, a blue heeler.
“I saw his picture and knew that that was going to be my next dog,” she said.
She described Gus as “the most hyper, fun-loving dog ever” and said he’s always smiling.
“I love introducing him to new people,” she said.
Thanks to his new prosthetic, Gus can now keep pace with Rezzonico and his housemates on trails near Laramie or in Colorado, where they go often to explore.
“He can keep up now, which is really great,” she said.
Gus was born with a shortened right front leg. His deformed left front leg was amputated in October because of swelling and pain. At home, he scoots around the floor or hops on his rear legs to get around.
Last fall, while researching prosthetics for animals, Rezzonico discovered a company in Sterling, Virginia, called Bionic Pets. Animal orthotist Derrick Campana started his career by making orthotics and prosthetics for humans before finding a niche in the animal world. According to news reports, he’s built custom prosthetics for dogs, goats, sheep, deer, llamas, camels, cats, turtles, cows and elephants around the world.
“I just love doing this for animals, and I think giving them the same type of treatments that we have access to is something that they need,” he told WDVM television in Maryland. “Seeing them walk for the first time, run for the first time — their eyes sparkle and their tails wag.”
Rezzonico got wind of Bionic Pets after her grandparents saw Campana featured on Animal Planet. In November, she and Gus drove to Virginia to fit Gus with a rigid shell that he wears around his torso.
A couple months and a couple adjustments later, he was ready to test the new prosthetic, which features two supports set atop a sawed-off snowboard.
At Happy Jack, Gus cruised easily up and down the groomed trail. Like any inexperienced skier or snowboarded, he slid sideways off the trail into deeper snow when he crossed an icy patch.
“There was an adjustment period,” Rezzonico said. “The first time we got out, he barely took any steps in it and was really nervous.”
But on a recent trip to the mountains, after a couple more tries with the device, he kept up with four other dogs.
Gus also has a wheelchair with a harness that holds his body, but it’s too bulky for indoor use. Rezzonico is hoping to get a wheeled attachment to use in place of the snowboard when Gus is off the snow.
According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, 1.5 million shelter animals are euthanized each year. Rezzonico said every dog deserves a home.
“They have their challenges, but they just want to be loved,” she said.