TAMPA — Doggie acupuncture.
Sounds cute, right? But adorable as it may be, it's serious when it comes to the injured spine of a Tampa search-and-rescue canine.
Chief, a 5 1/2 year old black Labrador who works for Tampa Fire Rescue, hurt his back early this month in a training exercise. His handler, Lt. Brian Smithey, said Chief fell from a ladder.
It wasn't a big fall, and Chief got right back up. But as the day wore on, with Chief practicing his usual sprints and swimming, Smithey noticed something was a little off with Chief's back legs.
The next day was worse. Chief's left back leg was "just flopping all over the place."
X-rays showed no damage, but an MRI pointed to fibrocartilaginous embolization. Basically, Chief suffered a sort of stroke in his spinal cord, causing inflammation, said Dr. Felicity Talbot of BluePearl Veterinary Partners. It was cutting off blood flow to his hind quarters.
Surgery wasn't necessary, but instead Chief will undergo costly rehab treatments — including acupuncture to stimulate his nerves and walking on an underwater treadmill to build muscle strength.
Talbot said she hopes he'll have a full recovery.
In the meantime, however, Chief's medical bills are mounting. Smithey estimated the total could top $10,000.
He'll be paying it out of pocket, after using the $660-per-year Tampa Fire Rescue stipend he gets to care for Chief and two other rescue dogs, Powder and Doak.
"He's my partner," Smithey said. "I can't leave him behind."
To help him out, BluePearl is seeking donations for a new fund tailored for search-and-rescue dogs. It'll be part of the vet office's already established Frankie's Funds Charitable Pet Foundation, which helps any patients who are struggling.
Reach Kim Wilmath at firstname.lastname@example.org or 813-226-3337.