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Dog overcomes abuse and injury to become inspirational therapy hero

Therapy dog
Posted at 1:53 PM, Apr 28, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-29 12:46:40-04

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Tampa Bay was first introduced to the little terrier named Denali back in 2018. She spent 17 days in the ICU after being trapped in a house fire and ever since she’s been an inspiration throughout the community. Her perseverance is now gaining national attention.

Denali literally drags Karey Burek to their visits at Hope Villages of America. Inside are women and children who have escaped domestic violence just like her.

“She has overcome such a dramatic injury and abuse to be able to spread that joy and give people hope,” said Burek, a volunteer with Suncoast Animal League.

Four years ago Denali suffered third degree burns on over 35 percent of her body after she was left locked in a cage while the house was set on fire.

“I was the one who received the call from Pasco County Animal Services that they have a severely injured dog,” said Burek.

Burek will never forget that ride to the hospital.

“She laid in the back and she cried and screamed the whole ride, I couldn’t get there fast enough, she was in pain, her skin was basically lifting off her body from the burns,” said Burek.

Wrapped in bandages for the next two month, Denali’s story touched the hearts of people across Tampa Bay.

“So many people were commenting on how she was their inspiration, she just became something greater than just a dog that was overcoming injury, she became like a symbol of survival,” said Burek.

So Karey decided to adopt Denali, and share her sparkle, visiting schools, airports, shelters and anyone in the community that could use a little love.

“I think it’s just the energy she gives off, like she makes you feel like you’re her favorite person and she’s here to see you, her tail wags but I think she wags her entire body she is so excited,” said Burek.

The staff at Hope Villages said there is a level of understanding that goes beyond words.

“Denali is a living example of a being whose most basic trust in humans was violated and yet she has learned to overcome that and she has learned to trust and to love again and I think that’s the most important message she brings to us,” said Tracy Wiecking, Vice President of the Abuse Services Division.

Denali’s contributions are now being recognized nationally. She is one of 27 therapy dogs nationwide to be nominated for the 2022 Humane Hero Dog Award.

“She became this amazing advocate and symbol for strength and bravery and remaining kind and forgiving,” said Burek.

“She is a hero to all of us here, we all love her, and want her to win so much,” said Wiecking.

If you want to vote for Denali for the American Humane Hero Dog Award go to

Denali is in the Therapy Dog category. Voting for the first round ends May 18.