BLUE MOUNTAIN LAKE - Oakland, a seasoned search and rescue dog with Champlain Valley Search and Rescue K9 Unit out of Keeseville made an awaited public debut at the Adirondack Museum Aug. 7, after a serious injury he sustained last August.
The 3-year-old German Shepherd, specializing in air scent tracking severed his Achilles tendon after sliding down a rock scramble during a training exercise.
"We knew something wasn't right the moment after it happened," said Oakland's handler and co-founder of Champlain Valley Search and Rescue's K9 Unit Shannon Bressett.
What was thought to be a routine Achilles tear was discovered by Oakland's vets as a complete tendon tear. Initial treatment suggestions included freezing the tendon, which would have permanently retired Oakland.
Despite the detrimental diagnosis, Bressett sought the advice of Dr. Paul Howard of Vermont Veterinary Surgical Center. After learning of a breakthrough surgery at a veterinary conference in Washington D.C., he began researching stem cell therapy to re-grow the injured tendon. Before Oakland, the procedure had been routinely used on injured racehorses.
"When I heard his official diagnosis I was worried that Oakland would not pull through," said Bressett. "But, he is a member of my family and I was not going to give up on him that easily. We took a gamble on him and it was worth it."
Being the first canine to receive the surgery, a team of vets from across the country used fat tissue from Oakland's stomach and a piece of his hamstring muscle to re-grow his Achilles tendon. He received his last surgery in October and is now approaching a full recovery and back to work.
"Oakland is a work dog," said Bressett, "and keeping him immobile during recovery was the hardest part, but we are so happy to see him back on his feet."
Under the supervision of his rehabilitation veterinarian, Trish Myatt, Oakland has been working with underwater treadmills and low level laser treatment to rehabilitate the injury.
According to Bressett, Oakland returned to work last weekend during a training exercise.
"He did an excellent job," she said. "He has not lost any of his ability, although he has become pretty comfortable spending many hours of his day laying on my couch."
Myatt, a vet at Eagle's Nest Veterinary Hospital in Plattsburgh, is encourage by Oakland's progress and has no doubt he will return to top working condition.
"His drive has a lot to do with his recovery," she said. "He keeps pushing himself and I can tell that he wants to get back to work. He has spoiled me and I couldn't ask for a better patient."
Oakland greeted his public followers and met some new canine friends while showing off the work of the Champlain Valley Search and Rescue K9 Unit at Saturday's festivities at the Adirondack Museum. Now that he has returned to work, he should see some official search and rescue missions soon.
For more information, contact the unit at 314-6756 or visit their Web site at www.champlainvalleyk9unit.com.