His friends call him "Bailey," but this 5-year-old yellow labrador was destined to become a top dog in field hunting.

That was before he was struck and nearly killed by a van last June. But thanks to the never-say-die attitude of his owner and a "great big heart" on the dog's part, Bailey not only survived but has another good shot at the ultimate hunting dog award.Prior to the accident, Bailey had already won nine straight competitions and was preparing for his 10th. By winning the 10th, Bailey would become the first yellow lab in Utah to receive the "Master Hunting Title."

Though Bailey was adept at flushing out game, retrieving downed birds and obeying his master's commands, he hadn't learned about the dangers of the highway.

While working out with his owner, Lynn Morrison, on the Jordan River in Davis County, Bailey ventured out onto Redwood Road and was struck by a van.

The collision dislocated Bailey's backbone, damaging the spinal cord, and caused a major concussion.

As Morrison knelt weeping over the seemingly lifeless body of the dog, the van's driver, who refused to take the animal to the veterinary hospital, suggested the owner just "forget about the dog."

Morrison promptly waved down a passing motorist, who gave the dog a life-saving lift to the hospital.

Doctors gave Bailey, who had slipped into a coma, less than a 50-50 chance of survival. And if he did live, the dog would surely be paralyzed for life, the doctors said.

Try telling that to Morrison, who for the next several months stayed with the dog around the clock, massaging his wounded joints, whispering words of comfort, changing his IVs and feeding him with a spoon.

"It broke my heart to see this happen," said Morrison, who lost untold hours of work while caring for his best friend.

Through painstaking therapy - which included taking the dog swimming and suspending him from a tree in a sling - Morrison was able to help Bailey regain some movement in his legs.

Morrison then designed a wheelchair, similar to a baby's walker, for Bailey, who used it to gain back his coordination and equilibrium.

"We've had to work the bugs out of it," said Morrison, recounting how he and Bailey first tested the wheelchair out in the Weber River.

"It tipped Bailey onto his back and almost drowned him. I had to swim out into the river to save him. That shook us both up quite a bit."

By Jan. 1, Bailey was running again and is now into a routine that, a la "Rocky," includes the steps at Capitol Hill.

"We've nicknamed him `Crazy Legs' because of the way he walks. He's not the prettiest walker. He might fall down but he gets right up."

Morrison hopes to have the dog ready for spring trials in May.

"We'll get him his master title. I think he'll get it. Bailey is eager to go. He'd go right now if I'd let him."

Though Morrison has dedicated much time, money and emotional energy to his dog, he credits Bailey for the miraculous recovery.

"If it hadn't been for his great big heart, by golly, he probably wouldn't have made it."