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Miss Harper tries out new prosthetic leg

Marc Werner, a certified prosthetic orthotist, and Sean

Marc Werner, a certified prosthetic orthotist, and Sean Rapp, a technician with Long Island Orthotics Prosthetics, work to fit a prosthetic leg onto Miss Harper on April 21, 2014. Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

The prosthetic limb fell off the puppy as soon as she started scampering in search of her next chewing fixation -- even while her still-healing stump left faint smears of blood on the floor.

Miss Harper, who has become a symbol of animal abuse since her leg was crudely cut off last year, went to the first fitting of her new limb Monday at Long Island Orthotics and Prosthetics in West Babylon.

Time after time, technician Sean Rapp and company owner Marc Werner, a prosthetist orthotist, placed the dog's right rear leg, severed just below the knee, into the socket of a red, plastic sheath lined with foam and attached to a curved strip for a foot.

They shaved the sheath to refine the shape and added more straps, but while the artificial limb supported Miss Harper when she was still, it plopped off when the 11-month-old dog started behaving like a puppy.

"It's back to the drawing board," Rapp said as the dog ran and sniffed around the workroom, seemingly unaware of the disappointment in the air.

The company has made leg braces and wheels on carts for about a dozen animals, but Miss Harper, a Nassau SPCA case, is its first pet prosthetic project, a free service to the rescued dog.

Joking about a patient whose language is "MilkBones," Werner had to watch for signs of discomfort from Miss Harper, like whining and attacks on the artificial limb. Going into Monday's appointment, the big challenge was to keep her from chewing on her limb-to-be, which she did, and make sure the prosthesis lined up with the dog's "pit bull stance," with hind legs stretched out behind her rear.

"There's really no book we can open up and say 'This is how we do it,' " Werner said. "We're just trying different ideas, what works, what doesn't and we're eliminating."

As Rapp said, they are "winging it." In a week or so, they hope to have a new limb for Miss Harper to try, one with movable joints that can flex with her as she walks and runs.

The pit bull mix was rescued last September from her owners in Oyster Bay after her leg was found with protruding tissue and possibly bone. Her ears were infected after being improperly cut off.

The couple who owned her and a veterinary aide have been charged with animal abuse and have pleaded not guilty. The case, headed by the state attorney general's office, is still pending.

It appears the dog was scratching her mutilated ears too much, so socks were placed on her rear legs, said Bob Sowers, president of the Nassau SPCA. Rubber bands holding the socks in place cut off circulation and both legs became infected, with one being amputated, he said. It was unclear which defendant was responsible for placing the socks and rubber bands on the dog's hind legs, the complaint indicated.

Miss Harper's left rear leg still shows a pink band of skin where the rubber band bound the sock. She had to have a second operation on her stump recently at My Pet's Vet in Huntington, which is in charge of her care, because the dog keeps reopening her wound as she bangs it around.

Her antics Monday had the staff laughing as she bounded on three legs and the stump. She pushed open a swing door in the workroom and dashed into the waiting room. She chewed the flap of a cardboard box, found keys on the floor and tried to make away with a prosthetic leg after it fell from a shelf.

She also pulled off her bandage sock and kept licking at her stump, breaking the skin again.

An artificial limb would help prevent back, spine and hip problems for the dog, but if it doesn't work out, Miss Harper may have to have the rest of her right rear leg amputated, Sowers said.

"She deserves a second chance," said Rapp, who called Sowers some months ago to offer the company's services.

Said Rapp after the disappointing first fitting, "I'm more determined now."

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