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Local therapy dog helps show victims how to become survivors

Denali still bears the scars of burns inflicted by her original owner during a domestic dispute.

CLEARWATER, Fla. — We're following up on a story we covered several years ago about a dog in Pasco County that suffered horrific abuse at the hands of her owner. It was back in 2018 when we first shared Denali's story

She was rescued by Pasco County firefighters after her owner was involved in a domestic dispute. The woman locked Denali in a crate, poured accelerant all over the dog and the home and then set it on fire. Thankfully, Denali's story didn't end there. She survived and now she's showing people how they can do it too.

Karey Burek remembers the day she met Denali.  

"She had 3rd-degree chemical burns over 35% of her body," Burek said. She says the 30-minute drive to the emergency vet seemed to take forever, hearing her cry the whole way. 

"We weren't sure if she was going to survive. She was in the ICU at Blue Pearl for 16 days."

But she did survive, coming home with bandages covering most of her body for months. 

"Once she was released from the hospital, people heard her story and her story of survival and they would contact the shelter and ask if they could meet her," Burek said. 

Burek originally volunteered just to foster Denali until she was better, but that all changed when she realized there was a much bigger purpose for both of them. 

"When I saw her walk into a room and she just lit up that room and her tail's always going and the people that meet her are so excited and happy to meet her, I thought this... we should do this," she said.

Denali now visits a domestic violence center in Clearwater each week, teaching victims how to become survivors.

Liz Menendez Pena works at the center. "When they know that she is a survivor, they know that they can do anything and they can you know be smiling and happy again the way that Denali is bringing joy to them."

Burek says Denali still inspires her. 

"For everything that she's been through and everything that she's overcome. To come out on the other side with no ill will, with no hate in her heart," she said. "She loves everyone that just to me... I learn from her every day. She has changed my life you know as much as she changes other people's lives."

In addition to visiting the domestic violence center,  Denali also visits hospitals and particularly burn victims and pediatric burn survivors. This month she has been invited to visit with kids at Camp Hopetake which is a camp for burn survivors.

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