Canine deaths from cancer

As some of you know, my guide dog, Flossie, died recently. She showed no symptoms and played during the morning of her death. In the late afternoon she suddenly began shaking her head and then scrambled to stand. Her back legs wouldn’t work. Three hours later she died, taking our breath away. Turns out that she had a tumor in her heart which either spread to her brain or prevented blood from flowing there—result: stroke.
My local vet said that first, there is more cancer now in human beings and therefore, more cancer, too, in canines. Seeing Eye spokespeople confirm this, saying as my vet did, that the environmental pollution is affecting this increase. A Carnegie-Mellon scientist has been on a campaign to educate city residents and those in the Pittsburgh suburbs about the poisonous air we’re breathing in this locale. Very recently, in fact, Pittsburgh, though such a beautiful and satisfying city to live in, has been designated the 8th dirtiest city in the U.S. apparently our air is visibly tainted, and in many locations near the active coke plants, it smells.
Second, my vet said that usually the first sign of this particular tumor in the heart, somewhat seen more often in German shepherds, is the bleeding. Possibly the vets could have found the tumor had they X-rayed the heart each visit, but this is not routine, as you can imagine. At the emergency vet hospital the doctor drained about a pop can of fluid around Flossie’s heart–all blood. Though this gave her some relief, when given the chance to stand, she couldn’t move her whole left side.
Third, the vet said that even if we’d known about the tumor, most vets would have recommended no treatment. There is chemotherapy, but at best, it gives the dogs six more months.
Seeing Eye is now telling its students to be alert to changes in the dog’s behavior at the age of 8. Flossie was my fourth German shepherd. My first, Marit, born in April, 1977, lived to be 13 and a half before she died of stomach cancer. Ursula, born August, 1989, died on her 12th birthday, cancer in the nose. Handley showed symptoms of a medical condition at 8 and guided me until she was 9 and a half, died at 11, diagnosis unknown. Flossie died at 8. Although the cause of death is undoubtedly multifaceted, each dog consecutively lost ground, working less time, dying sooner.
In the 35 years I’ve been a guide dog user, the breeding of these special canines has been modified and perfected to rule out hip dysplasia and many other common ailments in large dogs. It’s so disheartening that while science is improving their life expectancy, we continue the scientific and technological practices that contribute to their demise. And if we are hurting our dogs’ life expectancies, what are we doing to our own?


About Sally Hobart Alexander

Blinded at the age of twenty-six, I left California and elementary school teaching for life in Pittsburgh, Pa. There, I met my husband, got a Masters' degree in social work, had two kids, now 35 and 32, and became a writer. Surprisingly, the writing career led me full-circle to teaching, and I teach in Chatham University's M.F.A. program and lead two writing critique groups. Always, since the age of 26, I have traveled, not in the stereotypic darkness attributed to blindness, but a mist. My blog then, "traveling through the mist" will deal with issues in my culturally different life as a blind writer, teacher, speaker, and human being.
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