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Study tests whether stem cells heal arthritis in large dogs

Certified therapy dog Baxter, a 10-year-old German Shepard rescue, with owner and handler Cheryl Tim
Baxter, a 10-year-old German Shepard therapy dog, poses for a photo with owner Cheryl Timmons at Lamoreaux Justice Center in Orange.
(File Photo)

About a year ago, Cheryl Timmons was worried her dog Baxter would soon need to retire from being a therapy dog due to arthritis in his hips.

The 99-pound German shepherd’s physical health was wearing down after years of bringing joy to children’s hospitals, senior homes and courtrooms, where he served as the first and only service dog providing comfort to child trafficking victims in Orange County.

Timmons, who rescued Baxter from the streets of San Bernardino, worried that she may even have to put him down.

To combat the worsening arthritis, Timmons took him to therapy sessions. A GoFundMe campaign to help pay for the therapy reached a goal of $4,500.

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But the arthritis was still taking hold, affecting how Baxter functioned during long workdays.

Then in late August, he was given stem cell injections as part of a new study at the Anaheim Hills Pet Clinic. The effort, headed by San Diego-based Animal Cell Therapies, is testing whether stem cells can help alleviate arthritis in dogs weighing 70 pounds or more.

Baxter, now 11 years old, has been feeling better since he received his injection.

“His arthritis is greatly improved,” Timmons said. “I swear by the stem cell treatment. It has made such a huge difference.

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“Everybody in the court would notice that he wasn’t having a good day. Now he’s looking great again. He’s running through the courtroom. He is one happy boy.”

Baxter was one of about 10 dogs that was tested at the Anaheim clinic. Animal Cell Therapies is conducting the testing at a dozen clinics throughout the country.

There are about 35 dogs currently enrolled in the study. Researchers are hoping to test between 60 and 80 dogs.

Kathy Petrucci, chief executive of Animal Cell Therapies, said it’s too early to tell whether the treatment is successful in treating arthritis in large dogs, but the early results are promising.

The company conducted a similar study a year ago, which showed benefits for arthritis in dogs under 70 pounds. However, the results were mixed for bigger dogs.

Petrucci said they increased the dosage for the current study.

“We don’t know every single mechanism that is involved ... it helps decrease inflammation in the joints,” Petrucci said of the treatment. “We think that the cells secrete a lot of positive beneficial growth factors that help decrease inflammation, help make the environment a better, more friendly place for more normal cells to come in and help repair the joints.”

Whatever the cause, Timmons just hopes the treatment allows Baxter to keep doing what he does best.

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“With the stem cells, he acts like he’s invincible,” Timmons said, laughing. “I really hope he is.”

To enroll in the study, visit dogstemcellstudy.com.

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