Dr. Peter Bonutti

Dr. Peter Bonutti is trying to use his medical skills to help his puppy Sienna with her deformed leg. As you can see, Sienna likes Dr. Bonutti a lot.

By Steve Raymond
News Report Staff
Peter Bonutti was just a young boy when he got his first dog.
As a four-year-old growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, he was expecting a German Shepherd. But his parents brought home a Doberman Pinscher instead.
That was long before he became a renowned orthopedic surgeon that also travels the world to present lectures and educational seminars on joint reconstructive surgery, specializing in hips, knees and shoulders.
Little did he know then he would never have another type of dog other than a Doberman.
And little did he know he would use his medical skills to help one of them.
But that’s exactly what happened after Peter and his wife, Simone, went to get a Doberman puppy a short time ago.
“We were going to get one, but ended up with two,” Simone noted. “One of the puppies had a deformed leg and Peter said ‘I can’t leave her.’”
So the couple headed home with both Sienna and her sister, Samantha. That would make nine Doberman Pinschers Peter has had through the years. And the two new puppies joined 10-year-old Shelby to make it a trio in the Bonutti household that also includes six kids, ranging in age from 2 to 13.
Sienna was born with a club foot, missing part of her radius. Her front left leg was constricted and bent at a 180-degree angle. And then her wrist was bent at a 90-degree angle.
“I was told the dog would be euthanized or have her leg amputated,” Peter said. “I was told people were reluctant to do surgery and that the deformity was incurable. That was unacceptable to me. I thought I could use my skills to provide a different outcome.”
And he is trying to accomplish that.
“We’re doing serial casting. We’re unaware if this has even been performed on a dog before,” Peter noted. “But it’s using the same principles that work on people. You just have to think outside the box.”
Sienna is 3½ months old and much too young for an operation. Her bones are just too soft. So Dr. Bonutti decided to begin a series of plaster casts that will allow the leg to grow, as well as stretch the tissue and joints.
The first casting was done with the help of Dr. Nanci Huels at the Pet Wellness Center. Dr. Huels anesthetized Sienna and Dr. Bonutti applied the cast.
“We straightened the leg the best we could and then applied the cast,” he explained. “When we did the second casting five days later, the leg was straighter.”
The third cast was applied last week and Dr. Bonutti was encouraged by the improvement shown. And no anesthesia was required for the last two casts.
“The leg is straighter, plus it’s growing, which is very important,” he said. “If the leg and the muscles aren’t used, it won’t grow and will always be deformed. But we’re very optimistic right now.”
He has a video of Sienna running in their backyard, playing with Samantha and Shelby. During the interview, she was running in the hallway at Bonutti Clinic, even though she had to avoid a couple “puddles” she created along the way.
“Hopefully, the bone fuses itself,” Dr. Bonutti said. “But we’ll have to wait until she’s nine months old to know just how much we can proceed. Even if her leg ultimately ends up being stiff, if we can get it straight, she will have a functional leg. She might always limp, but she will be able to use all four legs.”
For right now, the casting will continue every five to seven days. Once the serial casting process is completed, the plan is to work with engineers at Joint Active Systems to customize a brace for Sienna until she is fully grown. JAS, which is headquartered in Effingham, manufactures and sells custom Orthosis worldwide.
“If we can get the deformity pretty straight, the plastic brace will keep it straight while the leg grows,” he explained. “Once the leg is straight, we can then fuse her wrist, which will allow her a more normal walking pattern.
“Hopefully, this all works. I can tell you we’re very optimistic. We’re seeing some promising results,” Peter added.
After all, this is a Doberman Pinscher.
“That’s always been Peter’s favorite,” Simone pointed out. “Sienna is his first red Doberman, though. The others have all been black and tan.”
“Dobermans are the best dogs for kids,” Peter added. “They’re not vicious. They’re friendly animals. They just have to be trained properly. I’ve never had a bad episode with any of my dogs.
“When I was told they were either going to amputate her leg or put her down, I thought there had to be another way,” he recalled. “I thought – ‘What’s the downside to trying to help her?’ If this approach works, maybe we can improve techniques that will help other animals.”
Sienna is a cute puppy. Yes, she’s got a cast and limps noticeably. But she isn’t shy around people and was quite poised while Peter and Simone applied the cast.
And she’s quite affectionate. When Peter picked her up to have a picture taken, she immediately started licking his face.
“She likes to give him kisses,” Simone quickly noted.
And Dr. Bonutti was enjoying every one of them.