Raha, a former stray dog in Iran, received treatment last month at the University after surviving firecracker burns to his mouth. By Cleo Krejci Ellen Schmidt Raha plays in the grass at Home for Life animal care center on Friday in Star Prairie, Wisconsin. The facility takes in dogs, cats, tortoises and birds for the rest of their life after many were rescued from unsafe situations like euthanasia shelters.
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After firecrackers were taped in his mouth and lit, severely burning his face, Raha, a sighthound-shepherd mix, survived malnourishment and traveled from Iran to the University of Minnesota for special treatment. He now bathes in the sun at his forever home in Wisconsin. After his August surgery at the University of Minnesota’s Veterinary Medical Center, the young dog, who was rescued in Iran this summer, lives at the Home for Life Animal Sanctuary near Star Prairie, Wisconsin. “They taped [firecrackers] in his mouth and set them off… it was kind of a miracle that they didn’t explode. But they burned and caused terrible damage,” said Lisa LaVerdiere, executive director of Home for Life. Raha’s past left him with one eye, missing teeth and impaired lip and tongue function, said Betty Kramek, the University clinical professor who performed Raha’s surgery. Raha basks in the sun on Friday at Home for Life in Star Prairie, Wisconsin. The University of Minnesota helped rebuild Raha's face. The dog hails from Iran, where a passerby found him after someone taped firecrackers into his mouth and lit them.
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“His skin was pretty much melted off in his mouth and on the side of his face,” Kramek said. When he first arrived in the U.S., Raha could only open his mouth about a centimeter, hiding the extent of his injuries and leaving him extremely malnourished. A pedestrian in Zanjan Province, Iran, found Raha after the incident. The individual took Raha to his grandparent's house, where they fed him chicken broth. The dog was then taken to Vafa animal shelter in Hashtgerd, Iran, said Farah Shaygan, the shelter’s volunteer marketing and social media director. “When a dog has severe disabilities, it is very difficult to have them live with other dogs,” Shaygan said of Raha’s situation. The two shelters, Vafa and Home for Life, connected through Facebook after Vafa posted about Raha’s condition and decided to bring him to Home for Life. Dani Peterson, who cares for Raha at Home for Life, said the shelter prefers to take dogs with special cases like Raha’s to the University for treatment. “I thought [Raha’s case] was way beyond the capability of any local vet,” LaVerdiere said. Home for Life has documented Raha’s recovery on its Facebook since he arrived last month, garnering thousands of reactions. “People gave over $10,000 for his care,” LaVerdiere said. Shaygan said she has witnessed many other instances of animal cruelty as a volunteer for Vafa. “But even for us, his was a shocking story,” she said. “Ours is the first official shelter and the biggest one in Iran.” Vafa is home to 1,200 stray, injured and pregnant dogs, Shaygan said. “Raha is not the only dog that needs help … hopefully, he can be the voice of other dogs in other places.” Despite his traumatic past, Raha is recovering alongside animals with similar stories. The sanctuary is home to many other dogs from the Vafa shelter as well as other special needs dogs, cats and two birds. Still recovering from surgery, Raha can now open his mouth around two to three inches. He eats a liquid recovery diet to help regain a healthy weight and stay hydrated. Until he is fully healed from surgery, Raha remains isolated with a cone around his neck, said Peterson. All Raha’s caretakers said he is surprisingly trusting of humans, despite his past. “He gave us a hug and he trusted us right away,” said Shaygan, who helped transport Raha from Iran to the U.S. “He’s had a tough run,” Kramek said. “Still, this dog will lay over on his back and show you his paws for you to pet his belly.” --- --- ...