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Creature Care – Rise of the Hero Dogs

The stories of Max & Bodie – Inspiration and Hope


by Dr John Weiner - May 26, 2016

Dogs and cats are brought to the veterinarian for many reasons beyond the need to have booster vaccinations and annual wellness examinations. The pet may have a fever, not be eating well, or is losing weight. Perhaps the owner thinks the pet is not as active as usual or is in pain. There may be a lump or mass visible to the owner on the skin, or a noticeable limp or lameness that prompts the call to the veterinary office for an appointment. As a veterinarian, I have to keep the diagnosis of a ‘cancer’ or a neoplasm on the list of possible causes for the signs and symptoms that concern the owner. Tumors, both benign and malignant, are common in dogs and cats. Some dog breeds, such as Golden Retrievers, have cancer incidence rates as high as 60% or more. Malignant cancers are the number one cause of death in dogs and in the top three for cats.

Making a diagnosis properly is critical and begins with a thorough physical examination and patient history, followed by diagnostic blood tests and often some form or forms of imaging the body such as radiographs, ultrasound, CT scans and even MRI scans. There are biomarker screening tests for certain types of tumors that are now becoming available to aid in early detection; however, surgical biopsy or some form of tissue sampling is necessary to confirm the diagnosis and stage the level of disease.

Treatment and prognosis depend on many factors and are tailored to the specific patient and the diagnosis that animal has received. Cancer treatments for dogs and cats have come a long way from simply removing the lump and veterinary oncology is a specialty available to assist general practitioners in caring for their stricken patients. Chemotherapy, radiation and surgery are all available to pets even in our rural Pennsylvania area. Surgical removal of a tumor maybe curative, by removing all of the abnormal growth, or a component of the treatment plan that seeks to lengthen both the quantity and quality of a sick pet’s life.

Surgically removing an unsightly mass is often an easier decision for both the owner and veterinarian then making the ‘radical’ decision to remove a limb. This is where we as humans can gain inspiration from our beloved pets…our companions. The diagnosis of cancer is bad enough for our pets…what about when the diagnosis comes from our medical doctor about a friend, beloved member of the family or ourselves? How will we deal with it? What questions will we have? What decisions will we make?

My dog “Max” had an easier time with this diagnosis and treatment that I did most certainly. His elbow dysplasia and resulting lameness I had diagnosed years ago. When his limp became chronic and persisted regardless of the medication he was given I had to look deeper and eventually came to the realization that this was more than arthritis causing Max so much discomfort. The most difficult decision was to remove his leg in order to manage his pain, gain a diagnosis, and if cancer was present halt its spread. My wife and I, like most pet owners, faced with this situation, had numerous questions and concerns. How long will he live if we do or do not do the surgery? How will he get along at his age without a leg? Is he healthy enough for the surgery? And then there is the self-doubt questions: Did I get it in time? And why did this happen?

As Max’s veterinarian I knew he needed surgery and that with proper care could and would heal. I also knew I had to get a diagnosis in order to further guide my treatments and to give my wife and family information about what to expect.

As he looked up at us with his aging yet eager eyes, we knew what had to be done. Max never missed a beat. He came through his surgery and was soon well into recovery and healing while we awaited the pathology test results and confirmation of the diagnosis. Max learned with a bit of assistance how to get up and move about on three legs. Soon he was strong enough to move freely up and down and around on his own. ‘Max is back’ said my wife indicating that his desire to eat, play with his ball and be with the family had all returned.

Max was diagnosed with a serious malignant cancer of his elbow we soon learned. However, like most dogs and cats stricken with a serious injury or illness the diagnosis did not matter. Pets like Max can be inspirational and instructive to us humans in how willingly they accept their circumstances and move on with the important business of living life.

For veterinarians and owners, lots and lots of questions remain and here we have not only inspiration–we have hope.

In March of 2015 the Morris Animal Foundation closed enrollment for the largest most in depth cohort study ever undertaken in veterinary medicine. The Golden Retriever Lifetime Study enrolled over 3000 purebred Golden Retrievers in a 10-14 year long research study modeled after the famous ‘Framingham Heart Study’ begun in 1948 and still ongoing that has given human medicine huge advances in the prevention, diagnosis, and management of human heart disease. The Golden Retriever Lifetime Study’s primary objective is to follow 3000 dogs for their lifetime and learn more about the near epidemic level of cancers affecting this breed of dog.

Dogs enrolled in the study have owners willing to agree to not only answer detailed questions about all aspects of their dogs background, environment, diet, medications, and activity, but they also take these dogs to visit the veterinarian at least annually for collection of an array of blood and tissue samples. At an estimated cost of over 25 million dollars, this privately funded research initiative is sure to give veterinarians and pet owners a treasure of useful insights and information in the years to come.

Thanks to hero dogs like Bodie and most certainly the owners of these thousands of dogs, we look forward to having more answers with hopeful anticipation.

To learn more about the Morris Animal Foundation’s “Golden Retriever Lifetime Study” here is a link.

For information on cancer in pets don’t abandon – hope, get more information starting here at our website (as always registration is free and we don’t share or sell your email information): Pet Cancer Information

You can also talk to your pet’s veterinarian or email me here at:

Thank you for viewing Creature Care here on Wellsboro Home Page.
John Weiner, DVM

Pleasant Valley Veterinary Care
‘care you can trust’

102 South Buffalo Street
Elkland, PA 16920



Writing: N/A

Photography: N/A,


Produced by Vogt Media

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