Stitches' hoof was injured when it got stuck under a fence and later had to be amputated when the wound became infected.
One veterinarian told Tracy Amonette that the animal should be euthanized. Instead, she hired a farrier to make a leather boot that Stitches hobbled around in for a few years. This spring, veterinarians at the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine in Blacksburg suggested that the Amonettes try something different — a donkey prosthetic.
Sidney Nicely, a prosthetics maker who usually spends his days building limbs for human clients at Virginia Prosthetics, got the call. He had never made a limb for a donkey, although he built one for somebody's pet pig once.
"The donkey was a lot more cooperative than the pig," Nicely said.
Because the miniature donkey weighs only about 250 pounds — about a third of what a regular donkey weighs — Nicely was able to easily construct the prosthetic using carbon acrylic fibers, resin and padding. Nicely and Virginia Prosthetics donated the time and materials to fashion the artificial limb.
When the Amonettes' farm manager, Walter Nelson, unloaded Stitches from a trailer Wednesday, Nicely noticed that the prosthetic had gotten a little loose and it appeared that the donkey had nibbled on it. Nicely added a little extra padding inside the prosthetic to make it fit more snuggly.
Nicely said that he doesn't plan to make more animal limbs — humans keep him busy enough — but he was glad to help Stitches.
"They called me because they knew I liked animals," said Nicely, whose interest in prosthetics is deeply personal. He lost most of his right leg to cancer as an infant and has walked with the assistance of a prosthetic leg ever since.
"Because of being an amputee, I wanted to use my hands to do something that helped people," he said. And donkeys, too.