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Dog Paralyzed in Joplin Tornado, Back on her Paws

Megan Lynch
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Sugar, a 10-year-old cocker spaniel, was brought to the University of Missouri Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital after the May 22, 2011 tornado in Joplin. A spinal injury had resulted in her hind legs being paralyzed. (Photo/MU News Bureau)

Sugar, a 10-year-old cocker spaniel, was brought to the University of Missouri Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital after the May 22, 2011 tornado in Joplin. A spinal injury had resulted in her hind legs being paralyzed. (Photo/MU News Bureau)

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sad sugar 11 Dog Paralyzed in Joplin Tornado, Back on her Paws

Sugar, a 10-year-old cocker spaniel, was brought to the University of Missouri Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital after the May 22, 2011 tornado in Joplin. A spinal injury had resulted in her hind legs being paralyzed. (Photo/MU News Bureau)

COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMOX)- A Joplin family that lost everything in last month’s tornado, gets something very precious back — their little dog — paralyzed in the storm, but now on the road to recovery.

“When she got here to the university she was completely paralyzed in her hind limbs but she did have the ability to feel her feet.”  And University of Missouri Veterinary School neurology technologist Stephanie Gilliam says that feeling told them Sugar had a chance.

Sugar’s family, the Leatherman’s, had sought shelter from May’s massive tornado in their basement.  But when the winds kicked into high gear, the 10-year-old cocker spaniel bolted up the stairs and under a bed.

A search after the storm was fruitless, until a family member found she’d been rescued from underneath rubble blocks away, and taken to a shelter.

<<See more photos of Sugar here>>

After scans to determine Sugar was suffering from a ruptured intervertebral disc compressing her spine, the MU veterinary team rushed her into surgery.

Just a few days later, Gilliam started her on rehab, first with an underwater treadmill.  “With the water, the buoyancy it provides, it makes it a lot easier for them to move their legs so its a lot easier for us to see if she had any movement and it took her about a week to regain movement in her hind legs.”  Gilliam says Sugar continued to improve from there.

This week, she was reunited with her family.  Gilliam says Sugar will be on “bed rest” and will need assistance walking for a couple of weeks, along with home therapy exercises.  The cocker spaniel is expected to do well in her recovery.

Gilliam says helping Sugar and her family was one of the best experiences of her career.  “I can’t even imagine what these people have gone through.  They literally lost everything.  So to be able to give them back a member of their family, they love this dog so much, it was just awesome.”

Sugar’s treatment costs were covered by a private, anonymous fund.

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