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Physical Therapist Gets Komodo Dragon With Arthritis Fired Up Again

By Kathy Walsh

DENVER (CBS4) - There is a dragon at the Denver Zoo who has been, well, dragging.

Painful arthritis made Raja, a 15-year-old Komodo dragon, a lethargic lizard.

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(credit: CBS)

Amazingly, physical therapy has gotten him going again. You may wonder, how does his therapist get her hands on this dangerous carnivore? The answer is "very carefully."

"Hi, sweet boy! You're looking awesome!"

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Dr. Tammy Wolfe strokes Raja. (credit: CBS)

That's how Dr. Tammy Wolfe greets one of her favorite patients, Raja, as she enters his exhibit at the Denver Zoo. Wolfe is a doctor of physical therapy. Raja, a Komodo dragon, is relaxed and ready for his rehabilitation.

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(credit: CBS)

"Oh, look at his eyes close. It's like, 'Oh yeah, oh yeah, I've been waiting for this', he says," explained Wolfe.

This is physical therapy. It is crazy when you consider a Komodo dragon is the only reptile known to kill and eat humans. Behind that scaly smile are 60 razor sharp teeth. Still, Raja is putty in the hands of his therapist.

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(credit: CBS)

"I'm going to work with your neck here a little bit, buddy," Wolfe tells the 95-pound lizard.

About six months ago, Denver Zoo reptile keeper Tim Trout got concerned about Raja.

"I was watching him walk one day. I'm like, something just doesn't feel right about his gait," Trout told CBS4 Health Specialist Kathy Walsh.

An x-ray found arthritis in the big reptile's right knee.

"He couldn't even pick his pelvis up off the ground and walk when I first started working with him," explained Wolfe.

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(credit: CBS)

Wolfe tackled Raja's pain using the Wolfe Kinetic Technique she developed. It involves micro movements of the joints.

"It's a neuromuscular re-education so that we can retrain him how to move without pain or at least with less pain," she explained.

Call it magic manipulation. It's made Raja a whole new reptile.

"His movement is just great," said Trout.

And sometimes just a little scary.

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(credit: CBS)

"Sorry, you don't get to give her kisses," Trout said maneuvering Raja away from Wolfe.

Trout always keeps a broom between Raja's teeth and his therapist.

"I just hope they're well fed when I come in," Wolfe said with a chuckle.

The therapist laughs about the lizard, but she's delighted she's helped this dragon get fired up again.

Wolfe believes the physical therapy will extend Raja's life, at least his quality of life, for sure. She also works full-time seeing canines and other small animals for physical therapy for a variety of injuries and diseases, including older canines who have trouble getting around, just like Raga did.

Keepers at the Denver Zoo know dragons. They have exhibited Komodos for 20 years.

In fact, Raja's late father, Castor, was also treated for arthritis by Wolfe.

LINKS: Denver Zoo | Dr. Wolfe's The K9 Body Shop

Kathy Walsh is CBS4's Weekend Anchor and Health Specialist. She has been with CBS4 since 1984. She is always open to story ideas. Follow Kathy on Twitter @WalshCBS4.

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