Sunday, May 8, 2011

Scully, the World's Greatest Dog

Scully, April 2011

Scully was one of the first dogs we ever saw after we opened, back in 2005.

My professors in school would have described her as an Alabama Red Dog… her parentage would best be described as “undeterminable”, but that didn’t matter much. She was laid-back and sociable. We liked her because she was easy to work with, and she was a great companion. After a few visits, she usually pulled her owner, Mr. Pete, through the door so she could check out what was going on in the lobby when they arrived.

She had a fairly normal medical history for a long time- ear infections, skin allergies, and the little things that happen from time to time when you’re a dog.

In 2007, things began to get unusual for her. She came to the clinic one day with profound pain in her pelvis and legs. She wasn’t the only one hurting. You could see it in Mr. Pete’s eyes- he was upset to see her in pain.

We spent the next few weeks trying, with better success on some days than others, to control her symptoms. We took an X-ray of her lower back and found that she had some disc spaces that were abnormal. Due to extra bone formation between her last vertebra and her pelvis, a condition called lubosacral stenosis was high on the list of probable causes for her trouble. The hallmark sign of this disease is simply pain in the hips and legs, and Scully had it in spades. As the abnormal bone growth progresses, the space left for the spinal nerves to occupy shrinks. This puts pressure on the nerves that can gradually increase over time.

We spent the next two years fighting bouts of pain periodically, with Mr. Pete as her advocate, trying different combinations of medications to allow her to live a comfortable life. I’m happy to say that over time, her symptoms have subsided to a great degree. I won’t tell you that I know for sure why that is, but I would guess that the disease stopped progressing and her body compensated for the problem. She needed less medication as the years went by, and she needed our help less frequently.

Last year, we got a phone call that we weren’t expecting. Mr. Pete, Scully’s best friend and the person who made sure she didn’t hurt, had passed away. I still remember reading his obituary in the local paper. It listed his survivors as his wife and daughter, as well as "the world’s greatest dog, Scully”.

From that day on, Mr. Pete’s daughter took over Scully’s care. Scully continued on the same path as before with only occasional problems until August of last year. Scully's Mom scheduled an appointment for us to check out some lumps that had appeared. We didn’t think much of it at the time; Scully was hitting middle age and lumps are a fairly normal thing. What we found when she got to the clinic made my heart sink. Every lymph node in her body was several times the size it should have been. There are very few diseases that can do that to a dog. I talked to Scully’s Mom about sending off some samples to a lab to find out what it was, hoping that I was wrong about what I believed it was going to be. We collected samples from several of the swollen nodes, and sent Scully home with a promise to call as soon as we got the results back. I went to my office to do my medical notes for the day. When I pulled up her file, I typed this into her chart and hung my head:

8-6-10: Enlarged lymph nodes full-body, sent off samples for cytology. Suspect lymphoma.

When the biopsy came back a few days later, it confirmed lymphoma.

Lymphoma is one of the few types of cancer that I consider to be treatable in the general practice environment that most veterinarians, including myself, work in. Scully’s family elected to try chemotherapy, and I was glad. We’ve been through two rounds of chemotherapy with her so far, and are into a maintenance phase at the moment.

Chemo for Scully usually consists of placing an I.V. catheter and giving drugs though it, as well as giving medications by mouth. She has been a real trooper. Through most of the treatment, things have been uneventful. Early in the first round of treatment, she became severely ill and would not eat.  I was not expecting this, because I’ve never seen a dog treated for lymphoma have side effects of that nature. We had to postpone treatment for a little while, but we resumed it and she has been doing great since. She’s had no nausea or any other significant side effects since late August of last year. Her quality of life (the one thing that determines whether or not chemotherapy is worthwhile in my mind) has been excellent. If it wasn’t, we wouldn’t have continued.

Now we see Scully every few weeks for treatment. She comes into the lobby looking for treats. Every time she finishes the I.V. portion of her meds, we open a fresh can of dog food. She sits on the table waiting for us to toss a piece into the air and she snaps it up when it comes close. Here’s a picture of her in action:

This picture shows the hallmarks of true excellence in tossed food catching.

In the picture, only the head is blurred by motion. The lower body is stock still, providing the solid platform a professional food catcher needs to perform at their best. Note the blurred area right next to her mouth- it’s canned food in flight. For those of you keeping score at home, Scully’s current record for consecutive catches stands at 7.

In the spirit of full disclosure, we don't know what the future holds for Scully.  Her cancer could stop responding to medication, or she could go into remission. For now, things are good- she's having no side effects from treatment. She feels just as good as she did before she developed cancer. We'll keep giving her treats as long as she cares to eat them. It makes her happy, and it makes us happy, too.