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Working like a dog, but still ‘America’s happiest’

By From page A1 | September 19, 2012

Anjolie holds a treat to entice Batman to exercise on the underwater treadmill as Dr. Lauren Frank, a UC Davis veterinarian, works with his hind limbs. Batman, a Formosan mountain dog, has just started to reflexively move his hind legs thanks to once-a-week visits for acupuncture, laser therapy and the treadmill. Sue Cockrell/Enterprise photo

His short life has included many challenges, but they haven’t dampened his spirit. Batman, a black Formosan mountain dog who was paralyzed when he was hit by a car last year, recently was voted “America’s Happiest Dog” by viewers of the Hub television network.

Batman was injured in an alleyway last summer in Taiwan. The 3-year-old dog, then nameless, was rushed to a veterinarian who determined his spinal cord was defective — the energetic pup would no longer be able to move his hind legs.

A year passed as Batman sat in a tiny pen. There wasn’t a single vet who wanted to euthanize this dog with such a happy and loving personality.

In early June, a San Franciso Rescue Group called Love and Second Chances, dedicated to finding “forever homes” for dogs that have been abandoned and abused, adopted Batman after seeing pictures as well as hearing his story.

Soon after, the group got a call from a second-year UC Davis veterinary student, Anjolie, who wishes to be known only by her first name.

“I emailed them and said ‘Hey, I’m a vet student on summer vacation and I can foster a dog,’ ” Anjolie said. “They contacted me back and asked if I would be comfortable with special needs. They said that they had this one dog that they really didn’t want to put down. At first I was skeptical because I lived in an apartment with stairs and I had no idea how it would work out.”

After meeting Batman — along with his sidekick, Alfred, a 7-year-old terrier mix — Anjolie was sold.

“I really fell in love with them,” she said.

Using doggie wheelchairs, or “bat mobiles,” Batman and Alfred became best friends, moving along with the greatest of ease and pulling themselves up Anjolie’s stairs with no problem.

Anjolie’s roommate, Eray Bekir, was flipping through television channels one evening and randomly settled on a Hub Network television show called “Pound Puppies.”

“That’s when I saw a commercial saying  ‘enter your dog in a pup-ularity contest for the Happiest Dog in America,’” Bekir said. “I thought why not, he might win.  I went online, submitted his picture and we started a Facebook page for him.”

Batman not only won the contest, he also received a $5,000 donation in his name. On top of that, Bekir and Anjolie’s personal prize, a trip for four to Los Angeles, is being traded for its value, funneling more money into Batman’s rehabilitation.

Batman and Alfred are receiving treatment at the UCD School of Veterinary Medicine, and the muscle-building treatment looks like it’s paying off.

“Most of these dogs would’ve just been euthanized in this country,” said Dr. Lauren Frank, a veterinary and therapist at the vet school.

Teaching a dog to walk without a spinal cord is tricky, and very few dogs with this condition have the opportunity to develop the technique, called spinal walking.

Alfred, whose condition is not as severe as Batman’s, often moves his hind legs and even wags his tail, purely by reflex.

“It’s a reflexive type of walking that only exists in dogs,” Anjolie said of spinal walking. “They learn to extend and flex their limbs as though they were walking but they have no voluntary control over it.”

Batman has just started to reflexively move his hind legs thanks to once-a-week visits for acupuncture, laser therapy and the use of an underwater treadmill.

“It takes the burden of gravity off of them, while still eliciting movement,” Frank explained.  “We want that muscle memory and strength.”

While Batman and Alfred are still looking for a permanent home, they have come a long way.

Batman will be fitted for braces on his hind legs very soon, and this will almost mask his condition, Frank said.

But one thing’s certain: Even when he was waiting in that confined pen in Taiwan, Batman was always full of life and happiness.

Local residents who are interested in adopting Batman may learn more on his Facebook page, www.facebook.com/helpbatman. For more information about adopting Alfred, visit www.facebook.com/helpalfred.

Dominick Costabile

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