Crystal Lesley, a vet tech at the Care More Animal Hospital in Martinez, Georgia, fought back tears as she gazed at the 8-year-old Shiba Inu that had just been rushed in after fire tore through his family’s home. Taka had severe burns around his eyes, mouth, ears, and on his back and belly. Given the extent of his injuries and the medical care he would require, Taka’s family made the heartbreaking decision to surrender him to Care More.
As the staff cared for his extensive burns, Taka never so much as whimpered. They watched in awe as the determined pup pushed past what they knew had to be excruciating pain to eat and walk. He’s not giving up. We can’t give up on him either, Crystal thought, love filling her heart.
Over the next several months, Taka kept fighting, and finally, he was well enough to find a new home. People had been following his journey on the animal hospital’s website, and offers to adopt him began coming in. But in the end, Crystal couldn’t let him go. She’d developed a bond with Taka. You’re coming home with me, she told him.
With her love, Taka continued to thrive. And despite all he’d been through, he was the same happy, playful dog he’d been before the fire. Wanting to share his joy with others, Crystal set up a Facebook page for him called “Taka’s Journey,” where he quickly touched thousands of hearts.
People whose own pets had been in accidents messaged, saying Taka gave them hope. Folks facing all kinds of challenges echoed that sentiment.
Seeing the magic he was working, Crystal got Taka certified as a therapy dog, and in July 2019, began taking him to a nearby burn center, as well as to other area hospitals and nursing homes. Everywhere Taka went, faces brightened as he trotted in, offering nuzzles and kisses.
One young woman, who was also burned in a house fire, traveled 700 miles from Missouri to meet Taka. “I love you,” she told him as she hugged him close.
Today, Taka also attends burn survivor camps. The burn center where he was treated even created a Taka coloring book for young patients, featuring him in a superhero cape. He continues to bring smiles and hope on Facebook, to his neighbors and to visitors at the animal hospital, where he goes to work with Crystal each day.
“People look at Taka and think, If he could survive all he’s been through and come out tail wagging, I will get through this,” says Crystal. “He truly is a symbol of hope.”
This article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.