Regenerative Medicine Gives Back To Hero Dogs

Two 9/11 search and rescue dogs suffering from severe degenerative joint disease are able to live out their days in greater comfort after receiving stem cell regenerative therapy.

Two 9/11 search and rescue dogs suffering from severe degenerative joint disease are able to live out their days in greater comfort after receiving stem cell regenerative therapy.

MediVet America donated the service because it wanted to reward the animals that responded with their owners after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, said Katherine Wilkie, director of the company laboratory in Nicholasville, Ky.

“We just want to make them comfortable and happy in their retirement,” Wilkie said.

Wilkie was present at the Companion Animal Hospital in Goodlettsville, Tenn., where Bailey received her stem cell therapy last Veterans Day.

Bailey had served at the Pentagon and had worked in search and rescue for several years before retiring.

“It was pretty obvious early on that there was not going to be any live work” the day of the attacks, said Keith Lindley, Bailey’s owner. “Bailey was not a cadaver dog, so she became a therapy dog for the rescuers.”

Bailey’s was the first stem cell procedure performed by Mary Ergan, DVM. Bailey presented with severe osteoarthritis of the elbows.

“She’s about a 50-pound Labrador retriever, so a small-framed dog that was otherwise in good condition,” Dr. Ergan said. “The swelling in her elbows was visible, and when we took radiographs, we could see the arthritis.

“I think her line of work as a search and rescue dog took its toll,” she continued. “She had a lot of wear and tear from jumping in and out of the truck and walking over rubble that was harder on her front end than her back end.”

“When I first saw her, I could not flex her front legs at all,” Ergan added. “She had problems going down stairs. She would hesitate, and she always came down both legs together.”

Chris Persing, DVM, owner of the Western Veterinary Clinic in South Bend, Ind., did the procedure for Hoke, a 13-year-old yellow Labrador deployed to the World Trade Center in New York City.

Hoke presented with severe arthritis in his hips. A neurologic component complicated Hoke’s presentation. The veterinarians donated their time.

“Hoke is a geriatric dog that was fairly arthritic and neurologic,” Dr. Persing said. “We not only have joint pain and problems, we have problems with the nerves being able to activate the muscles to the hind legs. He was ataxic and wobbly. He knuckled over his feet, so he was walking on the tops of his feet, not just his pads and toes.

“He did not have a normal gait,” Persing continued. “And he didn’t look like he had a lot of energy.”

The Procedure

Both dogs underwent the same procedure. The veterinarians harvested a 20-gram sample of adipose tissue from the abdominal area while the dogs were under general anesthesia. The dogs were allowed to wake up.

Using MediVet’s in-house process, the veterinary technician broke down the harvested adipose tissue using an enzyme wash, and then centrifuged it to obtain the 400 to 600 million stromal cells needed for the procedure.

In addition, a sample of the dog’s blood was centrifuged to create platelet rich plasma (PRP). The veterinary technician adds the PRP to the stem cells and puts the mixture under an LED light. PRP and photostimulation activate the stem cells, which enhances the amounts of anti-inflammatory growth factors that reduce pain and inflammation and promote healing of musculoskeletal problems.

Processing the stem cells takes about 2 1/2 hours. The dogs were then given a sedative before injecting the joints and infusing the PRP-stem cell combination. As an autologous procedure, it is safe and effective, proponents say.

Both Lindley and Julie Noyes reported that their dogs came through the procedure just fine, and the owners have seen big changes.

“I saw marked improvement with Hoke,” said Noyes. “He has a neurologic problem, too, and he walked on the tops of his back feet and drags them a little. Now, he can pick up his feet. He’s not running like a puppy. He never will because he’s 13 years old, but he is able to run to me when I call him. He seems happier. He’s more alert and he’s brighter.

“I was a little worried about doing the procedure, but really, it’s no big deal” Lindley continued. “I would tell anyone to do it. Hoke was weak and barely walking, and he came through it great.”

Lindley said he got his old dog back.

“I just figured it was her age,” Lindley said. “Bailey wouldn’t chase the ball anymore. You could tell she hurt on cold days, and she would just lie around. Now, she’s running up stairs again, she’ll bark and run to the other dogs.”

But the real signs that these dogs are doing better? Bailey jumped off the porch to play, which she hasn’t done in over a year, and Hoke has taken up an old bad habit. He’s very interested in what goes on in the kitchen.

“He’s almost back to his normal begging behaviors,” Noyes said. “You know how they lie down because they aren’t supposed to be begging, but their head is up and their ears are forward? Well that’s what he looks like. He knows not to beg from me, but he follows my kids around. Now, if someone pops popcorn, he perks right up.”

Red, a 12-year-old black Labrador retriever, was about to undergo the stem cell procedure at Burke Animal Clinic in Burke, Va. John Herrity, DVM, was scheduled to do the procedure. Red was sent to the Pentagon on Sept. 16, 2001, with her handler, Heather Roche of Annapolis, Md. No longer able to handle tasks like climbing a two-story ladder, Red retired in July 2011.

“She still wants to work, but her body just can’t do it anymore,” said Roche.

“We are proud to help the unsung canine heroes of 9/11 more than a decade after the attacks,” said MediVet-America CEO Jeremy Delk. “They deserve the very best stem cell therapeutic care that is now being received by animals across the nation.” 

This Education Series story was underwritten by MediVet-America of Nicholasville, Ky.

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