A dog’s life was irrevocably changed three years ago when he was caught in a home fire and suffered terrible burns.
But he hasn’t allowed his injuries hold him back; instead, he’s found a new purpose in inspiring others like him.
A family’s home caught fire in October 2018, trapping their pet Taka, an 8-year-old Shiba Inu, inside a screened-in porch.
The family was unable to save him before fleeing the flaming house. Taka was able to escape on his own, but he was severely burned by the fire.
He was transported to the Care More Animal Hospital in Martinez, Georgia, for burn treatment. “He had burns around his eyes, his mouth, his ears, his belly,” vet Emily Martin told The Dodo at the time. “We really didn’t know how severe his injuries were initially, just because we had to worry about inhalation burns.”
Taka demonstrated that he is a fighter despite his horrible experience.
“He went through something so traumatic and so painful, and yet he doesn’t give up,” she said. “He’s so resilient.”
Taka’s family made the painful decision to surrender him in order for his health to improve. But he soon found a new home with one of his caregivers, Crystal Lesley, a vet tech.
“When you’re seeing somebody through or an animal through something like this, the bond is so strong,” Crystal told WJBF. “The thought of him kinda going anywhere else was stressing me out.”
“I just feel like he was meant to be mine.”
Taka initially did not get along with Crystal’s other dogs, but after behavioral training, the dog was regarded as a “very good dog.”
Taka, in fact, had the potential for a very fitting new career: becoming a therapy dog at the burn hospital, providing hope and support to burn patients like him.
“He’s got the right temperament for it,” Canine Training Project founder Mandy Foster told WRDF. “Of course, he has the scars to show for it and he can relate to a lot of the people there so I think it’s going to benefit both him and the patients there.”
Taka went through therapy dog training. There were some hurdles to overcome due to Taka’s poor vision, but his wits and will won out.
“There were a lot of things we had to work on. He has to be able to sit outside of a room and stay until I tell him it’s OK to come in. He has to know if gurneys are coming down and step to the side,” Crystal told FOX 5 DC. “Those were difficult for him because of his vision. He really has no depth perception. But we worked on it, and he did great.”
Taka soon began his work as a therapy dog, and he has brought a lot of joy to patients over the past three years.
“The people in the Burn unit LOVE Taka,” Crystal told The Dodo in a recent update. “They want to pet him, take pictures of him, and hear all about his tale.” He definitely makes their day.
He’s so famous that the Burn and Reconstructive Centers of America dubbed him a “four-legged superhero” and recently released his own coloring book in his honor.
“Taka is the hero of a new coloring book that was made and put out by the burn center, so he got to go around and help [hand] them out to the children,” Crystal said. “He seemed to love it.”
Taka, according to Crystal, is getting older and slowing down, so he’s been making fewer visits to the burn ward recently, but he still makes appearances, delighting everyone he meets.
Despite everything he’s been through, Taka has remained an inspiration to so many others.
“When you have a bad day or start feeling bad about your life, look at Taka,” Crystal told The Dodo. “He is the epitome of strength … He has changed my life greatly. He is my inspiration.”