Roseville police officers were recently given some sad news. Despite surgeries and several weeks of physical therapy, Major -- the police dog who was viciously stabbed in November -- will not regain movement in his hind legs.
On their website, the Roseville cops thanked the donors who covered Major's entire $20,000 medical bill, but suggested they send their checks to other worthy causes.
That might have been the end of it -- until U of M vets suggested one last treatment idea.[jump]
In November, Officer John Jorgensen released Major into a darkened truck parking lot to look for possible car thieves. Soon after, he heard Major yelping in pain. By the time officers found him, he was bleeding out, with stab wounds to his head and neck. He had a punctured lung and spinal damage, and was unable to move his hind legs.
Earlier this month, Roel Joseph Perez pleaded guilty to stabbing Major with a butterfly knife when the dog found him hiding in the lot and latched onto his leg. He told cops he was stealing truck parts for drug money.
Major went through several weeks of intense therapy, including electronic stimulation of his muscles, physical therapy in a water tank and even acupuncture. Though police brightly updated a web page dedicated to Major's recovery -- breathlessly chronicling small movements in his back legs -- in December they delivered news with an air of finality: Major will never walk again. He was sent home from the vet center to live with Jorgensen and his family.
Then last week, vets tried one final course -- an experimental stem cell treatment. Although stem cells have been used successfully in dogs to treat injuries and arthritis, Major's procedure was even more aggressive.
Major was put under anesthesia and given a spinal tap. Using stem cells harvested from the fat tissue of another dog, doctors implanted the cells directly into his spinal canal. The procedure went well, and the hope is that the cells will differentiate into nerve cells that will help Major regain some control of his bodily functions and legs.
"People are doing a lot of different stuff with it to figure out what exactly it can do," says Dr. Steve Barghusen, a veterinarian whose practice in Bloomington offers stem cell treatments. "If that helps regenerate things like nerves, that's something that until now has been impossible." Major is not the first police dog to benefit from such cutting-edge technologies, but perhaps the first with such dramatic injuries. A police dog in Fremont was helped by stem cell treatment after he tore a muscle in one leg and another actually returned to duty in Chicago after the treatment cured his severe arthritis.
But will Major actually walk again?
"It would be very exciting if it worked," says Barghusen carefully. "In general, spinal cord damage does not regenerate."
No matter what the outcome, it is a virtual certainty that Major will not return to the force. The department has plans to announce his official retirement on Feb. 16, at Roel Perez's sentencing.
Nevertheless, Lt. Lorne Rosand says Major is still a very happy and playful dog, with or without the use of his back legs. And as for all the money, time and technology that is being poured into his recovery: "Is he worth $20,000? He's worth that and everything else we're giving out."