Severely Burned Dog Rises from the Ashes Thanks to Fish Skins and a Vet's Love

Dr. Oakley covered Archer the dog's burns in tilapia skins to help the wounds heal faster

Dog heals from fire
Photo: Courtesy Dr. Michelle Oakley

Archer is a dog, but you’d be forgiven if you mistook him for a phoenix.

In January, the Alaskan dog was severely burned when the house where he lived caught on fire. Firefighters arrived on the scene and found Archer covered in flames. The scared canine ran when firefighters tried to pick up the pooch, leaving many worried that he would never be found.

Luckily, Archer was found near the ocean shortly after the fire and was immediately rushed to the vet. In Haines, Alaska, the remote area where Archer lives, emergency vet services aren’t plentiful. Often in a situation like this, Dr. Michelle Oakley, star of the Nat Geo WILD Show Dr. Oakley, Yukon Vet and experienced in helping animals big and small, would provide care.

Since Dr. Oakley was on her way back from California at the time of the fire, Archer took a seven-hour car ride, through severe weather, to the nearest vet that could treat his serious injuries. After Archer reached a stable condition he took a much less dramatic drive back to his home and started the long road to recovery with Dr. Oakley as his shepherd.

Dog heals from fire

“We started with bandage changes and set up burn unit in my office in town, since we needed a sterile environment where you can keep everything clean,” Dr. Oakley told PEOPLE about the special operation she set up solely to treat Archer.

When it became clear that Archer would need more help to heal than she could provide, Dr. Oakley reached out to Dr. Jamie Peyton, a burn specialist at The University of California, Davis, for advice. The specialist recommended a newer treatment, where the skins from tilapia are placed on burns to promote healing, and even came up to the Archer’s hometown to show Dr. Oakley how the treatment worked.

Archer the dogs' eye after surgery
Lucky Dog Films/Miranda Langevin/Courtesy Nat Geo Wild

Soon, Archer was covered in fish skin, which gave him an understandably scaly look and earned him the name “Archer the Dragonslayer.”

“The relief was instant,” Dr. Oakley said of how the fish skins helped Archer, who had burns all over his body, with especially nasty wounds on his face.

Additional relief came from the people of the community. Dr Oakley provided her services free of charge and the residents of Haines worked together to help cover Archer’s additional medical costs, which included a few operations, laser therapy, countless bandage changes and more.

All that love and fish transformed Archer from a scared, scorched dog with painful pink skin and no fur to a fully healed, happy pet, who now only has a quarter-sized bald spot left over from the burns on his face.

While Dr. Oakley had an important role in Archer’s recovery, she gives a lot of credit to the dog’s fighting, friendly spirit. Even though he went through plenty of discomfort and pain, Archer always showed up to his numerous vet visits wagging his tail and ready to work on getting better.

Dog heals from fire
Bill McRoberts

Almost at the end of his personal healing journey, Archer is just starting to help others heal. Thanks to Archer, Dr. Oakley now knows more about treating burns and will be able to apply this experiences to other pets and larger animals injured in fires.

“This one patient is going to help me help so many animals,” she added.

Dog heals from fire
Bill McRoberts

Overall, Dr. Oakley sees the months-long endeavor to help Archer heal as a career highlight and one of the most satisfying cases she has been a part of.

If you want to learn more about Archer and the amazing work Dr. Oakley does to care for the animals of the Yukon Territory and Alaska, tune in to this week’s episode Dr. Oakley, Yukon Vet on Saturday, Nov 9 at 9/8c on Nat Geo WILD.

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