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Twice Annual Vet Exam Saves Chaser’s Life


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October, 2005

National Pet Wellness, an initiative encouraging twice annual veterinary visits, saved our dog’s life.

Our 14-year old Brittany went to the veterinarian this past April – even though Chaser appeared to be in perfectly good health for an old girl. We had just visited the vet six months earlier; we were back at the office for another visit. And it wasn’t for the free cookies – it’s because dogs and cats age much faster than people, on average about seven times faster. So, even in six months, a lot can happen. And it did.

As our vet began the physical, he noticed a small tumor on her vulva. Cancer isn’t a word any of us want to hear, whether referring to a person or a pet. My first response was as if someone reached inside my body and pulled out my heart. After all, it was Chaser who made this syndicated newspaper column possible and transformed my life. Gauging your email and letters, through the advice this column offers, many lives have been saved. You can thank Chaser.

My wife Robin and I rescued her from the country when she was about seven months old, and brought her to the big city where everything terrified her. Chaser was afraid of other people, other dogs, even fire hydrants. Whenever she was in public, she shook of fright.

What’s more her separation anxiety was so bad that whenever I closed the bathroom door to do what people do in there, she did the same thing on the other side of the door.

She piddled whenever we left the house. My wife became a desperate dog housewife. She blew up a picture of me, draped an old worn t-shirt around it, and played a recording of my voice, figuring if Chaser could see, smell and heart me she wouldn’t be so upset by my departure. Clever idea, even if it didn’t help one bit.

I was determined not to give up on my dog. How could I? If you don’t believe pets can love, you haven’t met Chaser. She doesn’t merely look into my eyes. Her stares are far more intense. She’s seeking to see something in my soul. Her love for me is unadulterated and unconditional. So, of course, I fell in love with her. Still, who wants their home to smell like pee?

This all occurred before there were veterinary behaviorists or certified behavior specialists. I looked for help so I utilized the resources I had available, including a local animal shelter behavior consultant and a dog trainer. I made up my own behavior modification program for separation anxiety (which as it turns out, isn’t too different than today’s agreed upon protocol).

It took nearly a year, but Chaser did ultimately begin to get better. Along the way, she passed her American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen Test, and learned to tolerate being left home alone. As she began to improve on her own, we made certain she’d never have to be alone again when we added Lucy, a second dog. Still, if you could ask Chaser, I’m sure she’d say that if I’m not present, she’s alone.

As Chaser was well on her way to her Pygmalion transformation into My Fair Canine, I was offered a job writing this pet column. It’s as if Chaser entered my life for a reason. I sincerely wanted to help others, and to encourage them to not give up on their animals.

So, there I was in the vet clinic thinking this Spring thinking, ‘Chaser has changed my life in so many ways.’

“Are you listening to one word I’m saying,” our vet says. Actually, I wasn’t. He repeated. “This is not a death sentence. The tumor is operable. What saved Chaser is that you caught this early. I have every reason to be optimistic.”

The tumor was surgically removed and identified as mast cell cancer. Because of her advanced age, and the location of the tumor (on her vulva) radiation (which would cause discomfort there) and/or chemotherapy was not suggested.

I had consulted renowned veterinary oncologist Dr. Barbara Kitchell, Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine – East Lansing. “If you had waited for clinical signs (symptoms), I am certain Chaser would not be alive today.”

October is national Pet Wellness Month, an initiative of Ft. Dodge Animal Health (an Overland Park, KS based pharmaceutical company) and the American Veterinary Medical Association to encourage bi-annual wellness exams in order to catch illness early, just as our vet was able to do with Chaser. My ambition is to make twice annual vet exams standard, just as the American Medical Association set out several years ago to encourage people to have annual physicals. I’m confident this is the best investment you can make for your furry family member.

Chaser recovered from surgery. She never read the medical report, so she doesn’t know she has cancer. Now nearing her 15th birthday, Each morning I wake up and say ‘Good morning’ and think, ‘Well, I’m being blessed with another day, another good day with my pal, Chaser.’ These are good days that we’re both enjoying because we took her to our vet twice annually.

To learn more about National Pet Wellness month, check www.npwm.com.

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Steve Dale is a certified animal behavior specialist who has been a trusted voice in the world of pet health for over 20 years. You have likely heard him on the radio, read him in print and online, and seen him speaking at events all over the world. His contributions to advancing pet wellness have earned him many an award and recognition around the globe.

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