SOUTH BEND – A special dog had what could be a life changing surgery on Thursday using stem-cells. The procedure could help cure the dog's arthritis, helping him move better and live pain free. For all this dog has done to help people, it is the least that can be done for him.
Hoke is your typical 13-year-old yellow lab. He is happy, but aging. He had debilitating arthritis that makes getting around tough and painful. But while most dogs his age get that way from playing, running, and jumping, Hoke's pain comes from years of helping.
"He's very much a hero, very much," Hoke's handler, Julie Noyes said. "He's trained to do live search in collapsed structures in the FEMA system so we went to 9-11 and searched for survivors in the rubble."
Hoke is a special dog. He's searched for survivors in some of the worst disasters in the nation's history. He combed the rubble after the attacks on 9-11. He also looked for survivors after Hurricane Katrina slammed the Gulf Coast.
Now retired in the Central Indiana town of Lebanon, Hoke traveled to South Bend to undergo a treatment that could make his remaining years pain free.
"If there can be any repair that can be done with stem-cells, we're going to give it to him," Veterinarian Chris Persing said. "He's definitely a special case considering he's a search and rescue dog and a 9-11 dog. He deserves the best chance at that."
In order to get those stem-cells, they start by cutting fat out of Hoke's belly. Stem-cells are dormant in every animals' fat. The trouble is separating them. Techs shred the fat then process the tissue for hours. The cells are then activated using LED lights and eventually injected into the animal.
If everything is done right, Hoke will be able to live the rest of his life without pain.
"He's done a ton for his country and I'd like to see his retirement play out with a little less pain, a lot more fun and a little less pain," Noyes said.
Hoke is one of only eleven 9-11 dogs that are still alive. There were around 100 search and rescue dogs sent to the World Trade Center after the attacks.
The procedure is free for Hoke. The company that provides the stem-cell equipment is paying for the whole procedure because of the service Hoke did for his country. The only thing his handler had to pay for was an ultra sound done before the procedure.