‘Blade runner’ legs give maimed Thai dog new lease on life

Above, owner John Dalley fits Cola the dog with his curved ‘blade runner’ prosthetic legs at Soi Dog Foundation in Phuket. (AFP)
Updated 13 December 2017
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‘Blade runner’ legs give maimed Thai dog new lease on life

PHUKET, Thailand: Just over a year after he was maimed for gnawing on someone’s shoes, Cola is romping across a beach on new sleek paws: curved “blade runner” prosthetics modeled on those used by Paralympian sprinters.
The former street pup nearly lost his life last year after a Bangkok man hacked off his front legs with a sword in revenge for chewing up his boots.
A quick trip to the vet saved Cola but left him with two amputated, kangaroo-like stumps for front paws.
Today, his tongue is lolling about and his tail is wagging wildly as he bounds across the sand on carbon-fiber blades, similar to those made famous by Paralympian runner Oscar Pistorius.
The lightweight legs were tailor made for the high-energy hound, who loves to run and was encumbered by previous, heavier prosthetics.
“(These legs) give him a lot more balance, a lot more spread,” said Cola’s owner John Dalley, who founded the Thailand-based ‘Soi Dog’ foundation that helps strays.
He and his late wife rescued Cola after the attack and brought the dog down to the beaches of Phuket.
“It’s actually quite amazing how adaptable dogs are and how forgiving they are,” he added as Cola — who shows no fear of humans despite his trauma — curled up around his feet.
While other dogs have been fitted with a variety of prosthetics, Cola is believed to be the first to receive the pricey ‘suspended’ blades.
The blades curl up in an ‘C’ shape, while the amputated limbs rest in a silicon socket.
Cola’s prosthetics were developed by orthopedist Bendt Soderberg, who works at a hospital in Phuket, and are still being fine-tuned to fit the mutt.
“What we wanted to achieve was...something that was not so heavy, that could be a bit flexible in the feet so that when he jumps and bounces they would not be completely stiff,” said Teddy Fagerstrom, director of the orthopedic lab.
His team, who until now has only worked with humans, is also hoping Cola will raise awareness among Thais about the benefits of higher-tech prosthetics.
The winsome dog, grinning and panting as he laps up attention, is a fitting poster-child for taking the use of artificial limbs in stride.
“(Cola) is not embarrassed being an amputee. He just acts as he always does,” said Fagerstrom.
“I think he will show that having a good pair of legs will make it possible for you to continue to run and have fun.”


Mystical connection: The African village where crocodiles are welcome

Updated 20 min 42 sec ago
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Mystical connection: The African village where crocodiles are welcome

BAZOULE, Burkina Faso: Crocodiles may be one of the deadliest hunters in the animal kingdom, but in a small village in Burkina Faso it is not unusual to see someone sitting atop one of the fearsome reptiles.
People in Bazoule, around 30 kilometers from the capital Ouagadougou, share their pond with more than 100 of the razor-toothed creatures.
“We got used to the crocodiles when we were young, swimming in the water with them and all that,” said Pierre Kabore, just a few meters (yards) away from a crocodile feasting on chicken provided by the village.
“Now we can always approach them and sit on them — and if you have the courage, you can lie on them too. There’s no problem, they are sacred crocodiles. They don’t do anything to anyone.”
According to local legend, the startling relationship with the predators dates back to at least the 15th century.
The village was in the grip of an agonizing drought until the crocodiles led women to a hidden pond where the population could slake their thirst.
“The villagers organized a party to celebrate and thank the reptiles,” Kabore said.
A celebration known as Koom Lakre is still held every year during which villagers make sacrifices and ask the animals to grant their wishes of health, prosperity and a good harvest.
Far from being considered a threat, the crocodiles are deemed to have a mystical connection with Bazoule.
“Crocodiles are represented as the soul of our ancestors and if one of them dies, they are buried and even given a funeral as if they were human,” said Kabore.
“When a misfortune is about to happen in the village, they cry out. Elders are charged with interpreting the cries, and then make wishes to ward off bad luck.”
The unusual contact between man and croc has drawn disbelieving tourists to the village to see for themselves.
On their arrival, travelers can buy a chicken which is hung on a stick by a guide and used to entice the crocodiles out of the pond so that visitors can pose with the creatures.
“It was nice to watch from a distance but sitting on one was a bit freaky,” said Thomas Baspin, a young Frenchman who came to visit his grandparents in Burkina Faso.
“I’m glad I did it — but I’m also glad it’s over!” he quipped.
Tourism has become a big money-spinner for the impoverished villagers, but a three-year-old jihadist insurgency in Burkina Faso is taking its toll.
Ouagadougou has come under attack three times, most recently in March, when jihadists attacked the military headquarters and French embassy.
“We could have more than 10,000 visitors per year but at the moment, there’s no more than 4,000 or 5,000,” said Raphael Kabore, one of the guides.
Global warming is also believed to be having an impact. Rainfall levels are down each year, and the famous pond that is the crocodiles’ home is shrinking. When it disappears, will the reptiles once more guide their human friends to a new watery home?