Several years ago, Jason Allen had combed the state for a Doberman pinscher, eventually turning his search to a breeder in Dearborn who sold rottweilers, a medium to large breed that is very loyal and protective.
“When I first saw Savannah, she was in a pen in a fenced-in yard and was playing on her back, yipping and yapping. I told the owner, ‘I want her,’” said Allen. “I picked her up, and from that point on she’s been my dog.”
Once a week, the Traverse City resident grooms and bathes the nine-year-old Savannah who—like most of us pet owners believe—is not just a dog, but a beloved family member.
JUST ANOTHER SWIM
In June 2012, Allen took Savannah swimming for her birthday when he discovered the lumps underneath her chin.
“I took her to the vet and low and behold, it was a form of cancer,” said Allen, who immediately wanted a second opinion about the swollen lymph node which was caused by a cancer also found in humans, lymphoma.
Cancer effects one in every three dogs, according to the National Canine Cancer Foundation.
The first veterinarian, located in Benzie County, had informed Allen there were treatment options available – one being Prednisone, a steroid that reduces inflammation and suppresses the immune system.
“But she said that would basically just block the cancer for a couple of months more or less,” he said.
The other option was chemotherapy treatment, which meant several costly trips downstate.
“At first, I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to do anything because of the cost of traveling so far,” he said.
Meanwhile, the lumps on Savannah’s chin had turned to major swelling; and the usual playful, ball-fetching rott became lethargic and could barely eat.
“I am not kidding when I say (her head) was twice its normal size,” Allen said of a breed that already typically has a larger cranium. “I just didn’t realize her face could stretch that much.”
A SECOND OPINION
Allen sought a second opinion from Dr. Dana Navidonski of Bay Area Pet Hospital. Navidonski, who specializes in soft tissue medicine, confirmed the lymphoma but offered Allen a light at the end of seemingly dark tunnel.
Navidonski, who works closely with an oncologist, said Savannah could be treated right here in Traverse City.
“For Savannah, she had what’s called a Modified Wisconsin Protocol, which is a 24-week treatment using a combination of medications aimed specifically at lymphoma,” said Navidonski.
While many humans who undergo chemotherapy experience great fatigue along with loss of appetite and hair, pets are treated with a method that helps to avoid nausea and weakness that comes with aggressive chemotherapy.
“We want owners to recognize that through chemo, we are trying to increase their pets’ quality, as well as quantity of life,” Navidonski explained. “The chances of cancer completely going away is low, but we can increase both quality and quantity of life.”
Most pets do not lose their fur (unless they are breeds with continuous fur growth such as a poodle or Shih Tzu) and maintain a similar or improved amount of energy.
Since her three years at Bay Area Pet Hospital, Navidonski has used chemotherapy on a handful of pets, with varying results depending on the cancer, she said.
ROAD TO RECOVERY
Allen said the treatment cost him around $3,800 from start to finish, with twice weekly visits to the hospital the first month.
“It wasn’t extremely hard to pay,” said Allen, who works as a condo engineer for Grand Traverse Resort & Spa. “You just live a bit more frugal for the time and give up certain luxuries.”
Doing, so, Allen said, is one of the best decisions he’s made and encourages others to look into the option if their own pets are facing cancer.
“I don’t have any kids and she’s the only dog I have,” he said. “She’s loyal, obedient and smart and I just couldn’t see her dying from that dreaded disease. I’ve always called her an angel in a fur coat.”
Today, Savannah is in remission and is back to playing ball, going for walks with her owner and going for swims in the lakes.
Bay Area Pet Hospital has two locations:
844 E. Front St. in Traverse City and 5415 U.S. 31 in Acme. For more information on cancer treatment options and other veterinary services, visit bayareapethospitals.com.