When Angela Langoski took in Ferguson, a miniature donkey, at her donkey rescue center east of Fond du Lac, his front left hoof was so disfigured it had formed a large abscess.
“It looked like a loaf of bread,” said Langoski, who runs Holyland Donkey Haven near Mount Calvary.
At UW-Madison, a veterinarian amputated part of the animal’s leg and a prosthetist fit him with an artificial limb. Now the gray-and-black creature who spent most of his days lying down in pain is standing, walking and developing some equine attitude.
“He had been a little sad before, but he has become a bit sassy,” said Samantha Morello, the veterinarian who performed the amputation last month at the UW School of Veterinary Medicine.
It was the first amputation with a prosthesis at UW’s large animal hospital, Morello said. Many of the procedures have been done at the small animal hospital on cats and dogs, who generally can get by on three limbs.
Amputations on large animals such as horses and donkeys, who bear more weight, especially in their front limbs, are more complicated and rarely are done, Morello said.
“It would not have been wrong to euthanize him,” said Kelly Shaw, a UW veterinary resident who joined Morello in caring for Ferguson. “He was in so much pain, a lot of people would have.”
Langoski, who opened Holyland Donkey Haven in 2011, currently has 15 donkeys and has accepted animals from Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin. Most are former pets or guard animals that have been neglected, she said.
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She adopted Ferguson in 2015, after a woman who had picked him up at a junk yard, where he was malnourished and his leg already deformed, had a hard time caring for him.
Langoski met with UW veterinarians, who said periodic hoof trimming might cure his abscess and reduce his pain. But after more than two years of regular care, the infection persisted and Ferguson could barely walk.
Morello amputated the 250-pound donkey’s leg below the fetlock, which is sort of like the human ankle, on April 18. He spent several weeks in a cast until Wednesday, when Morello removed the cast during surgery and Amy Paulios fit him with the artificial limb.
“I’m not very familiar with non-human anatomy,” said Paulios, a prosthetist at UW Health who previously had worked only with human patients. “But knowing he had the ability to bear weight through the end of the bone was a massive advantage, no matter what mammal we’re talking about.”
She used acrylic and carbon fiber, instead of silicone and urethane as she does for most artificial limbs for people, so Ferguson’s artificial leg would hold up in wind and rain.
Langoski raised $9,000 for the procedures through Facebook and the Marjorie Christiansen Foundation. It’s not clear what Ferguson’s total bill will be.
Most of Langoski’s rescue donkeys are adopted by other people once they’re healthy. But Ferguson, who will require regular care, likely will remain with her. He is 10 years old; donkeys can live to 30 or more.
“He’s probably going to be a lifer here,” she said.