Born with a deformed left foot, Buttercup seemed destined for the life of a sitting duck.
But with the help of his rescuers at the Memphis-based Feathered Angels Waterfowl Sanctuary, Buttercup is doing the duck walk thanks to a prosthetic foot created on a 3D printer.
Mike Garey of the waterfowl sanctuary designed the foot using the foot of Buttercup's girlfriend, Minnie, as a model. Local copier company NovaCopy donated their 3D printing services. Garey's video of Buttercup's first steps went viral, and the eight-month-old Pekin duck became an internet sensation.
He's been featured on Fox & Friends and on a soon-to-air episode of NBC's Today show. Last week, Buttercup walked the red carpet at the Peabody when he became the first "Honorary Duck" in the hotel's famed duck march.
Flyer: So Buttercup was born in Memphis?
Mike Garey: Buttercup was hatched November 9th at Houston High School as part of a biology class hatching project. We really need to stop these hatching projects. If the eggs are not turned properly, like the mama duck knows how to turn them, they're born with deformities. That's what happened to Buttercup.
Everyone takes a baby duck home, and they think it's cute for about four weeks, until they're full-grown and pooping in the house. The parents end up taking them down to the community lake or the park and set them free. At that point, you have a domestic bird that is no different from a puppy you raised from a day old. You've basically thrown them out to the wolves. We have 27 ducks at our sanctuary, and we can't take them all.
How'd you end up with Buttercup?
In January, [our sanctuary] got a letter from Chase Wellborn, the student who raised Buttercup. She did the responsible thing. She lived in a condo with her mom, and she said he'd out-grown them.
Could he walk at all?
She'd wrapped the bad foot in gauze, so he was walking on the top of his foot. It was bleeding through the gauze.
Because he'd lived in her bedroom for a couple months, he didn't know anything about being out in the grass or a pond or around other ducks. We put him around our other ducks, and he turned around to go back in the house. He doesn't think he's a duck.
So you decided to make Buttercup a prosthetic foot?
Our vet did an amputation of his bad leg, because he said he was probably in a lot of pain walking on that bad foot. That's when I had the idea of building him a prosthetic foot.
I had no prosthetic experience. By trade, I'm a software engineer and network IT guy.
How'd you do it?
I'd seen where people had made prosthetics for animals that were carbon fiber, but I wanted to make him a real duck foot. It needed to be large enough, like a boot that his peg could go into. And it needed to protect and cushion his peg.
I wanted to mold a foot from Minnie's, but I knew she wouldn't stand still in a mold for 20 minutes. But I guessed she would stand still for two minutes, so I could take a camera and go around her foot and take pictures. Then I could use a program to create a 3D model. Once I had a model, all I needed was a 3D printer. I placed a phone call to Melissa Ragsdale, [president] at NovaCopy. She agreed to donate that part of the project.
The video of Buttercup taking his first steps went viral. Were you expecting that?
The first video was at night, and it was a terrible video. It was going in and out of focus. I didn't really think anyone would see it. But I had to video it, because, if it worked, it would be the first time he ever walked.
Have you had calls from others who want prosthetics for their animals?
I've been getting emails from all over the world. Mostly very sad stories and serious situations where ducks don't have either leg. But that's beyond my capability. I just try to be kind and give them advice about where I would look and some things that I did. But I'm not willing to go into this as a business. I'm not a veterinarian.