Patient named Sugar - photo by UM NewsNot all the donations to victims of the Joplin, Mo., tornado in May were delivered to the two-legged survivers. A dog named Sugar, found in a drainage ditch with her hind legs paralyzed is on the road to recovery, just like her owners, thanks to surgery and therapy donated by the University of Missouri Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital.

Tornado sirens had been sounding in Joplin and a quick check of the weather forecast prompted high school teachers Steven and Debbie Leatherman to head to the basement with the family pet. But, Sugar, a chow-chow cocker spaniel mix sensed the fear of her owners, became panicky and bolted back upstairs to her own “safe area,” a spot under one of the beds. (Photo by UM News)

Debbie Leatherman tried to pursue the family pet, but her husband grabbed her and pulled her back into the safety of the shelter and closed the doors above them. Less than a minute later they could hear the twister tearing their house apart.

When they emerged from the shelter, debris was all that remained of their home and Sugar was missing.

Their son Daniel, a student at the University of Missouri, drove home to Joplin from Columbia and began picking through the rubble of their possessions, dreading the possibility that they would find their dog’s body.

And then a breakthrough. A Facebook page revealed that a dog resembling Sugar had been taken to the Joplin Humane Society. A good Samaritan had found the injured animal in a flooded storm ditch several blocks from the wreckage of the Leathermans’ house.

With much of Joplin in ruins and resources stretched, Daniel called the UM Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, where veterinary neurology technologist Stephanie Gilliam advised him to bring Sugar in.

Daniel with Sugar, UM News photoAfter an examination and MRI, it was noted that while she had no use of her hind legs, she retained pain sensation in her paws, indicating she had sustained a traumatic spinal disc rupture.

Time was critical, Wininger said. With pain sensation intact, immediate surgical intervention allows more than 80 percent of dogs to regain function in their legs. Two days after surgery, rehabilitative therapy  began with electrical stimulation on Sugar’s hind limbs to help prevent muscle atrophy. Sugar received the treatment once per day for seven days, along with underwater treadmill therapy. The owners were shocked to hear there would be no charge for any of the services.

The Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital through its Silent Partners Fund and College of Veterinary Medicine absorbed the cost of Sugar’s treatment and therapy. Orscheln Farm and Home in Columbia also helped out by donating food and toys to help with Sugar’s care.

A little more than a week later, on June 14, Daniel Leatherman collected the family’s beloved pet to continue her recovery at home. “We are so warmed by everything that has been done,” he said. “It has given us back our family.”

See more reaction in the video below from UM News

Thanks to Joel Arellano for submitting the story idea to our Facebook page!

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