Taylor Berry had seen "Dolphin Tale," the movie about a bottlenose dolphin given a prosthesis to replace the tail it lost while entangled in a crab trap.
That got Berry thinking.
He wondered if a prosthesis could be made for Freya, an American kestrel with a missing right wing at the Chattanooga Nature Center. The center is a haven for about 50 injured wild animals -- and breeding pairs of endangered red wolves -- tucked into the woods on the western slope of Lookout Mountain. Berry is the lead naturalist and animal keeper.
"We were talking about how she was kind of off-balance because of her wing," he said.
The stump also bothered the 3.8-ounce bird. Instead of being covered with extra skin and feathers, the wing bone juts out and it bleeds sometimes.
"The amputation was poorly done," said Tish Gailmard, the nature center's director of wildlife.
The kestrel came to Chattanooga about a year ago from a center in Nashville, and its caretakers here don't know the history behind the bird's injury or amputation.
Gailmard's husband knows someone connected with Fillauer Orthotics and Prosthetics Inc., a Chattanooga-based, family-run business that has about 300 employees at facilities around the world and is celebrating its 100th year making replacement limbs for humans.
So Gailmard made a call, and Fillauer offered to help Freya.
"They were all over it," Gailmard said. "They put her in a patient room and treated her like a regular patient."
The kestrel made several trips to Fillauer's Amnicola Highway headquarters and manufacturing facility, where the bird's measurements were taken for a thimble-sized "socket" to cover its stump.
"She pecked all over me," said Dallas Whicker, a self-described "jack of all trades" at Fillauer who helped fit Freya for the device.
Fillauer engineer Steve Edwards made the prosthesis out of thermoformable composite, a lightweight material that has the strength of carbon fiber yet can be reshaped under heat. It took Edwards two tries to build a prosthesis he was happy with. He visited the Nature Center on his day off and used a heat gun to shape the socket to fit.
"Just trying to help out, and it's rewarding, too," he said. "I like the challenge of these things."
This isn't the first time Fillauer has made an animal prosthesis. Whicker said he once helped make a prosthetic hoof for a little girl's pet donkey.
Gailmard is happy with Freya's stump guard.
"It probably weighs a tenth of an ounce. It's protecting her stump, and it's also restoring her balance," she said. "I'm so incredibly appreciative to Fillauer. They have just gone way above and beyond."
Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at email@example.com or www.facebook.com/tim.omarzu or twitter.com/TimOmarzu or 423-757-6651.