MARRERO, La. - It wasn't that long ago that when a pet became disabled, it was euthanized.
Now with vast improvements in veterinary care, many animals with disabilities can enjoy life, especially on Thursday, when it was National Disabled Pet Day.
We met Dawson two years at at Dag's House, a dog rehab facility on the Westbank.
With a bullet stuck in his back, this beautiful doberman was adjusting to life in his wheel chair.
Today, Dawson flourishes. His love of tennis balls and running have not changed. But, what has is the bullet that paralyzed him was removed.
Since his surgery, Dawson has been in intensive rehab for three to four hours a day to build his muscles. It's a lot of work.
Stacy Chasson of Dag's House has worked with him extensively, massaging his atrophied twisted leg and working to straighten his his paw.
Dawson is endlessly patient, as if he knows all of this is for a reason. He is getting stronger each day, adding two inches of muscle to his withered leg.
"What I'm doing is getting the leg in a forward range of motion and stretching the tendon," Chasson said.
It is a mission for Chasson, who was in the operating room when the 22-caliber bullet was removed from his spinal column.
"On his belly side we went in and took 20 cc of fat and created stem cell," Chasson said.
Dawson gets monthly shots of his stem cells, all part of the incredible effort to get him to walk again.
"If not, he will live in his wheel chair and as we can all see he is very happy and loves his wheelchair, but I'd be even happier to get him out of it," Chasson said.
She is also working with Dawson's new best friend, Jake, who arrived three months ago in terrible shape.
Jake, part basset, part dalmatian, part everything, had been dragging his back legs around a farm in Mississippi.
Kim Dudek, founder of Dag's House, got the call that Jake had been kicked by a horse.
He arrived wrapped in a sheet and soaked in his own urine.
"I was holding him like a baby and one of the legs went out and he had massive sores...when a dog can't move his legs, he was just dragging everywhere," Dudek said.
X-rays couldn't prove he was kicked by a horse, but they did show he was hit by a bullet. So once again, the same difficult and risky surgery to remove the bullet in his spine was performed seven weeks ago.
"I almost fell over the other day when I walked into Dag's House and he is on the treadmill with his back legs and front legs and I'm like, 'Yes!'" Dudek said.
Jake's daily rehab, like Dawson's, is to build up muscle and work on his range of motion. But, with less time paralyzed and less atrophy, Jake's prognosis is excellent to walk again.
None of this would have happened if it hadn't been for the view of one man who believed strongly that it was worth the risk to take the bullets out of the spinal columns of these two dogs in order to give them a better life. That attitude pretty much summed up Dr. Hank Klimitas.
"[Klimitas did this] strictly by heart...Only by heart," Dudek said.
Klimitas spent a lifetime wanting only the best for animals. He did the research for the spine surgery and for the stem cell therapy. He assisted as Dr. John Mauterer operated.
Klimitas died April 23 and his loss is profoundly felt throughout the animal community.
"Dr. K has been in my life for a very long time and I feel so honored to have had the opportunity to work with him," Dudek said.
For Jake and Dawson, the work and hopes of Klimitas live in them. They represent the progress in veterinary medicine and in the commitment to rehab - that there can be quality of life after an animal has been injured.
There will be a memorial celebration of Klimitas' life on May 12 at 6 p.m. at Bella Doggie on Washington Avenue. Dawson and Jake will be in attendance.