Cutting Edge Medicine Meets Dedication and Compassion

By Steve Dale

Montreal, Canada. Miracles can happen. Or are they really miracles? Pets who theoretically shouldn’t be alive today appeared at a press conference at the Forum of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine/Canadian Veterinary Medical Association Convention on June 4 at the Palais des Congrès de Montréal.

These ‘miracle pets’ benefited from a little help from friends, who happen to be veterinary specialists with medical tools often equal to what’s available for people. “There’s little doubt pets are living longer than ever before, and advances in veterinary medicine clearly are one explanation,” said Dr. Sandy Willis, an internal medicine specialist and member of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine, who introduced various pet survivors at the press event.

According to the Morris Animal Foundation Cure Cancer campaign, one in four dogs will die of cancer. However, the good news is that many dogs diagnosed with cancer go into remission or even beat the disease.

“We knew dogs could get cancer but didn’t know about chemotherapy for dogs,” said Douglas Hamblin of Pierrefonds, Quebec Canada. About a year ago, he noticed his 8-year old Samoyed not eating. A large mass was discovered in Nanook’s chest, and increasingly he was having a hard time breathing. His diagnosis was an aggressive cancer called intrathoracic histiocytic sarcoma. Most dogs succumb quickly, even with treatment. Today, Nanook is in remission. Most important to Nanook, his appetite and quality of life have returned. “He takes food off the counters like a vacuum, but we love him,” Hamblin adds.

“I wasn’t at all convinced at first that chemo could help such an old cat,” said Sylvie Bermingham of Eastman, Quebec. Now, 18 years old, Pistache was diagnosed with inoperable oral squamas cell carcinoma just over a year ago. Increasingly Pistache had been having difficulty eating and was noticeably suffering. “The decision had to be made,” she said. “Either I was going to put Pistache to sleep (euthanize) or treat him, it was a quality of life decision.”

When offered hope by Dr. Louis Phillippe de Lorimier, a veterinary oncologist in nearby Brossard, Bermingham she opted for treatments. “My only requirement was that Pistache was always made to feel comfortable,” she said. “Their requirement from me was that I would be dedicated to the treatment. Today, Pistache is an old lady, a cancer survivor, and still every now and again, she still brings back a mouse.”

While Pistache was able to return to her rodent hunting passion following treatment, a Jack Russell Terrier named Forest Gumpy also never retired from his passion. The pup, which had been previously adopted and returned by other families, was rescued in August of 2007 by the McDougall’s of Welland, Ont.

“He was a great dog but he had his issues,” explained 15-year old Sarah-Simone McDougall. Gumpy loved his family, but Gumpy was aggressive to others. However, it seemed that whenever Gumpy was around water, he was so focused on swimming that he pretty much forgot about “his issues.” It wasn’t long before the McDougall’s discovered the canine sport of dock diving. Dogs are scored on their ability to race off a dock and dive in the water. Gumpy quickly became a star and record holder.

Along the way, Gumpy was diagnosed with lymphoma. Acting like the disease does in people, Gumpy would undergo treatment, pushing back the lymphoma for a time and continue with life, until the disease returned again. Gumpy demonstrated an ability to live with cancer by hitting a record-setting dive of 21 feet in 2008, and even appeared on Late Night with David Letterman.

This past February Gumpy passed away. “I was amazed at what the veterinarians could do, but I wanted to help other dogs with cancer,” said McDougall, who held several fundraisers for Chase Away K9 Cancer. Famed artist Stephen Huneck created an image, which he donated for selling t-shirts at The effort has, so far, raised nearly $205,000. McDougall spoke through tears at the media event, “I miss Gumpy every single day.”

While various cancers were a focus of this press conference, ACVIM veterinary specialists also specialize in large and small animal internal medicine, cardiology and neurology.

Sylvain Gadoua of Sorel-Tracey, Quebec had Great Danes before, and at first assumed the symptoms to be puppy rapid bone growth. Sam was having difficulty walking, and moaned in terrible pain. Gadoua, who clearly is a macho kind of guy, even slept with his suffering dog overnight hoping to comfort him. No one had an answer. Gadoua said, “I was just about to tell the kids we were sending Sam to ‘doggy heaven.’ At that moment, Sam approached with a toy, asking me to play. I took that as a sign that she wasn’t ready to die.

Dr. Andrea Finnen, an ACVIM neurological candidate at the University of Montreal, Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec said that Sam, who was just under a year old, was admitted to the veterinary teaching hospital. “I don’t know that I can even honestly say I was optimistic, even when we discovered the source of the problem which was Diskospondylitis (an infection in the vertebrae),” she said. However, after an aggressive regiment of antibiotics and forced inactivity (to allow healing), Sam is now pretty much a normal Great Dane. Struggling to hold back tears, Gadoua said, “I was amazed when Sam ran through the woods again. If our politicians want to really learn about health care, they should pay attention to what veterinarians do, and their compassion.”

©Steve Dale, Tribune Media Services


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