Sad, sad news
It’s been a tough few weeks. Only a couple of months ago he was out in the bush doing koala scat surveys with fabulous results, as part of our recent research efforts (see the previous news post for results). Then a few weeks later he started limping and after some X-rays the limp was put down to arthritis. However, he didn’t get better so I took him to another vet and after more X-rays, biopsies and a CT scan it was confirmed he had an aggressive tumour on his knee and it had spread to a lymph node in his pelvis.
The cancer is called histiocytic sarcoma and it has a terrible prognosis, around 3 to 6 months. Some dogs live longer, some less.
The tumour had already grown beyond the joint tissue and moved into the bone in his leg which was getting crumbly and would soon start to fracture. That type of bone pain is impossible to effectively medicate with pain killers and eventually it would result in early euthanasia. We can’t cure his cancer, so the awful choice I faced was to put him down early to avoid the pain, or to amputate his leg to manage the pain and give him a chance to live longer.
Apart from the leg he has remained bright eyed and full of energy, surprising the vets by still wanting to play and run and continuing to hoover down his food. He is only 8 years old. I couldn’t bring myself to let him suffer from the pain so I made the call for him to become a tripod dog. I took him up to the Blue Mountains again first, to see his doggie friends and to have a couple more bushwalks in the fresh air before the surgery. His operation was yesterday and he’s still at the vet hospital.
Once he is recovered from surgery he should hopefully get a few pain-free months to play in the sun again, and at least a chance to put up a fight. It was a very difficult decision to make, but I felt he deserved that chance.
He is of course retired from detection dog work, but who knows maybe he can help to raise awareness of the high rate of cancer in dogs. While his particular type of tumour is rare I had no idea that over half of dogs will eventually develop cancer.
We’ll be looking into ways to keep our detection dog program going, particularly since our recent research showed how important scat surveys are for mapping koalas in the Blue Mountains region.
Executive Director, Science for Wildlife