Dog injured in fire, now training to help burn victims

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Wednesday, July 24, 2019
News 12 at 6 o'clock/NBC at 7

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - Taka, the dog badly burned in a house fire back in October is about to take on a new job. He's training to be a therapy dog for the burn center and News 12 can't think of a dog more qualified.

It's been a long and hard road for Taka and he has the scars to prove it. Now all he has to do is get through his training to help other burn victims.

"I'm very proud of him," Chrystal Lesley said. "He's a very good dog."

Crystal Lesley has been by Taka's side from day one. She went from being his vet to owner. But, it wasn't the smoothest transition with Crystal's other dogs. She says Taka was instigating fights.

"I didn't know if I was going to be able to keep Taka and it was breaking my heart," Crystal said.

Until someone suggested she get him trained. Crystal never thought that was an option because of how old Taka is. But, the founder of the Canine Training Project says dogs are never too old.

"They can be trained just like any other dog," Mandy Foster said. "Sometimes it takes a little bit longer, but in Taka's case he's nine-years-old and he has flown through his training. He's brilliant."

Mandy Foster has trained a lot of dogs, but this time it's a little more special.

"I knew that there were some problems, some challenges that were happening, and I wanted to get in there and help," Mandy said.

Taka first has to learn the basics.

Mandy is working on distraction training. That's why they're in Academy Sports.

"Making sure that they are able to listen in a distracted environment," Mandy said.

She's working to turn Taka into a therapy dog for the burn center. But first, he has to get his AKC Canine Good Citizen.

"He's got the right temperament for it," Mandy said. "Of course he has the scars to show for it and he can relate to a lot of the people there so I think it's going to benefit both him and the patients there."

Crystal couldn't be more appreciative of Mandy's help.

"Because of her I can keep Taka," Crystal said. "To see that he could be an encouragement or at least a light at the end of the tunnel for a child or anybody that has gone through what he's gone through is what all of this is about."

Taka's owner and trainer hope to have him certified this Friday as a Canine Good Citizen. Then he'll start his training for therapy dog status, which they have no doubt he'll fly through.

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