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Courtesy of Crystal Lesley
In October 2018, Taka was burned so badly in a house fire that most thought he wouldn't make it. Today, he is working on becoming a therapy dog for children in the burn unit. His owner, Crystal Lesley, hopes burn victims can relate to Taka.

On Oct. 23, 2018, a fire broke out in Georgia. The family had time to get their kids out, but there was no time to go back in for Taka, their nine-year-old Shiba Inu. The fire burned the entire porch, causing the floor to collapse and Taka to fall through. Taka was able to run to a neighbor’s house. Upon seeing a dog on fire, the neighbors panicked and reached out to Crystal Lesley, a veterinarian at Care More Animal Hospital on Facebook.

“When I saw the picture I immediately called her and told her she needed to bring him to me!” Lesley says. “She was able to get some help and they brought him in. He was still smoking when they found him.  We had never encountered a burn victim as severe as Taka before and we were terrified that he wouldn’t make it.”

Because they couldn’t touch Taka without him screaming in pain, they sedated him to assess his injuries. They realized this would be a lot of work, but Lesley was determined to help the dog.

A Community Effort

After posting a photo of Taka to the clinic’s Facebook page, it took off and the entire community came together to help raise money to send Taka to a specialist. But things still weren’t looking good. After two days, Taka took a turn for the worse and his pain seemed unbearable.

That’s when Lesley left work and drove him to the South Carolina Veterinary Specialists and Emergency Care in Columbia, South Carolina. “He and I lied on the floor in the waiting area crying together,” Lesley says. He ended up staying for a month and a half, so on weekends, Lesley would visit him.

Once he was done at the specialist, it was Lesley’s turn to care for him. “Weeks of daily bandage changes and wound care,” Lesley says. “We quickly realized Taka couldn’t blink.”

Taka rests during months of care at Care More Animal Hospital. Photo courtesy of Care More Animal Hospital.

One of the nurses at the Joseph M. Still Burn Center fell in love with Taka’s story and soon, the center called offering to do skin grafts and reconstructive surgery on him to allow him to blink — all at no charge!

“We were incredibly humbled and awestruck at the magnitude of service they provided for this amazing dog,” Lesley says. Today, Taka can blink again.

A Future for Taka

Because of the medical care Taka needed, his previous owners signed him over to the vets. They chose not to get him back due to his injuries and not being able to care for him properly.

“I had been taking him home with me every day, so eventually I realized I couldn’t part with him,” Lesley says. That’s when Taka officially became Lesley’s. “After months of recovery and the impact he had on the community.  I was approached by a nurse at the burn center about Taka coming in to visit burned children, in hopes of giving them something to relate to.”

Lesley knew right away that Taka’s personality was perfect for this job. “He LOVES kids and people,” she says. She describes him as the perfect mixture of silly and sweet. “I thought about it and decided that he was too special not to share him with the world.”

Crystal and Taka. Photo courtesy of Care More Animal Hospital

CGC & Therapy Dog Training

In order to work in the burn unit, Taka would need his Therapy Dog certification. This is what started Lesley on a journey of training Taka. She started working with trainer Mandy Foster, and Taka immediately loved it and was proud of himself.

The first step to therapy dog training is the Canine Good Citizen (CGC) test. The most difficult part of CGC training was teaching Taka to stay. “He took a little while to do that out in public,” Lesley says. “But honestly, he has flown right through it. He is so smart!”

Taka took the CGC test on July 26 and passed. Lesley was beyond happy. “I am so incredibly proud of him,” she says. “Just thinking back to how far he has come and where he is now, is just so emotional.  The amount of love and respect I have for him is profound.”

Lesley says she hopes she and Taka can start visiting the burn center and interacting with other burn victims as soon as possible.

If you’re interested in training your dog to become a therapy dog, the first step is Canine Good Citizen training. Find a CGC class or evaluator near you.

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Canine Good Citizen (CGC)

This program is recognized as the gold standard for dog behavior. In CGC, dogs who pass the 10 step CGC test can earn a certificate and/or the official AKC CGC title.
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