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Aspen

NJ - 2017

In June of 2006, I went to a shelter and picked out a friendly young (but fully grown dog) whom the shelter owners had named Aspen.  This was a small very personalized shelter that the owners ran out of their own home. They told me that Aspen was very affectionate to everyone, and he certainly was to me from the moment we met; he jumped up and started licking my face. They advised me that he had previously been adopted, but his prior owner had let him run loose and twice the police had retrieved him.  The second time he was thankfully returned to the shelter.  

I had never put a previous dog in a kennel, but my parents were getting on in years, and I am very peculiar about leaving a pet in someone’s care.  When I went on vacation about a year later, I called the owners and they agreed to care for Aspen while I was gone.  When I dropped him off, they informed me that they recalled what a nice dog he was and they were going to try and keep house with their own dogs unless any problems arose.  I came back to find that he had been quite a hit in the house, and I was not charged an extra cent for the special accommodations.  Every time I have had to travel I leave Aspen with that wonderful couple and never worry. 

Aspen and I have now had over ten years together.  I had two cats when he came to live with me.  One cat I had gotten on my own; the other was a stray without a tail who showed up at my door and nobody responded to my inquires for a lost cat.  Both of those cats have since died.  However Aspen now has two different feline companions, and coincidentally I acquired on my own and the other is a tailless stray who showed on day and once again nobody responded to my inquiries for a lost cat. Aspen, Pirate and Damsel are quite a team.

A few days before Christmas 2016 I came home from work and found blood on my kitchen floor.  I soon realized that Aspen was urinating blood so I rushed him to an all night vet about 30 miles from my house.  An X-ray seemed to indicate a large mass in his intestine, but I was advised that an ultrasound was necessary.  The next morning I called the Basking Ridge Animal Hospital.  (My previous dog had surgery once there and when he woke up howling at 2 a.m. I phoned the answering service; within 2 minutes a doctor returned my call. I have heard many other stories exemplary care about that vet). 

Although Basking Ridge only has a mobile ultrasound come in on Mondays, the receptionist told me she’d see if they could get someone to come in that day and would get back to me.  Within 20 minutes a veterinarian called me back and said an ultrasound tech as coming in and could I be there by 10:30!

Unfortunately the ultrasound revealed very disturbing information; Aspen had a large tumor and signs of cancer in his intestine and bladder.  While the vet suggested that I meet with their oncologist who would not be in until the following Tuesday, she said that her understanding was Aspen would only have a short time left  and didn’t believe that there was much that could done. Although I had already spent $2,200 on two vets within a 24-hour period and the prognosis did not look promising, I readily made the earliest available appointment what the oncologist.  Christmas was already going to be a bit of a challenge as I had lost my father back in late September, but I was determined to do all that I could to make what I then believed would be make Aspen’s final days as merry as possible for both of us. 

The next Tuesday I met with Dr. Hamilton the oncologist. He was realistic but upbeat and told me that a few options were available. He stressed that none would cure Aspen, but they could prolong his life a t a good quality for up to a year. (Since Aspen is 11 or 12, there is a good chance that he would not last much longer than that anyway.)The most successful options involved chemotherapy. There were two versions —both were six treatments, but one was a weekly treatment for 6 weeks and the other called for  sessions every three weeks.  He said that I could commence the tri-weekly treatment that day, but I would have to come back another day when because the vet was out of stock of the weekly dose.  Although I knew I would start the treatment I asked him for an approximate cost.  He had the reception desk work up an estimate and the total would come to about $4,300.  I really could not afford it but determined that I would raise the money somehow. 

I was very touched on Christmas when both my 95 year-old mother and my brother and sister-in-law (who have a son in college and another entering college in September) gave me $100 each to help with Aspen’s medical bills. Although it was a tiny dent in the overall amount I greatly appreciated it.  

On New Year’s Day on a whim I googled “help paying your veterinary bills.” I was pleasantly surprised to see that there are many organizations that provide such aid.  Many were specific to certain states or regions or only aided certain breeds or illnesses, but I immediately started contacting multiple organizations that I thought might be willing to help with my expenses.  Several told me either that Aspen was too old or that they didn’t cover chemotherapy.  Two advised me that my income was too high to meet their eligibility standards, but I kept trying. Brown Dog Foundation was one of the very first places I contacted and although I had good feeling from the start, I had decided to keep contacting places until I exhausted all my options. Brown Dog understandably requested considerable information and I complied with every request as quickly as I could.  My initially positive inclination proved to be well placed with the very generous donation your organization has agreed to make toward Aspen. 

Aspen is now midway through his treatment and seems to be in great health.  Had he not that episode a few days before Christmas, I never would have suspected that he was sick and he obviously would not be undergoing this needed treatment.  He is shedding like it is springtime which Dr. Hamilton advised me is common for dogs undergoing chemotherapy, but that is the only side effect.  The doctor was worried about him losing but Aspen has actually gained a little wait since treatment has commences.  He still loves to go for long walks and on cold days he still insists that we walk much further than I would prefer.

He and I are both VERY grateful for the generosity of the Brown Dog Foundation, and after this financial crisis passes, I hope to be in a position to aid Brown Dog’s good works for many years to come. 

 
For more information about Bladder Cancer and treatment options, visit VetInfo.
 
PUPdate! 4/20/2018: 

It was back in early 2017 when the Brown Dog Foundation generously agreed to help me cover two payments for Aspen.  When he was diagnosed with Cancer in December 2016, I was advised that his treatments could not cure him but could potentially extend his life for up to a year.  Sixteen months have now passed and miraculously Aspen seems fine.  Even His canine oncologist believes that his cancer the gone into remission. 

Since he thinks he should remain on his medications even if that is the case, I see no reason to subject Aspen to invasive, expensive screening procedures to determine if that is indeed true.  His appetite never waned, but his peeing diminished somewhat.   That was what I had to watch for.  Eventually, we feared it become so difficult for him that I would have to have him put to sleep. However around Thanksgiving I noticed that everything had returned to normal.  If anything his peeing has become excessive.  He even had two accidents in the house in early January—very rare for Aspen.  I never thought that a dog having an accident in the house could make me so happy!

He now goes for follow checkups every three months.  The last one was this past Tuesday, everything was still fine.

I did not expect I would still have Aspen for Christmas 2017.  Now I won’t be shocked if he is with me on Christmas 2018.  Had the Brown Dog Foundation not been there to help me, there is a very good chance I would have lost him early last year.

Both Aspen and I are very grateful for the Foundation’s generosity and for all your efforts to secure a grant for the treatment.

No words can express the thanks I feel, but I hope this update makes you see once again, how valuable the foundation’s work is.

PUPdate, 8/18/2018

When I last updated you in April, Aspen’s prognosis was much better than expected.  I was told that the treatment could prolong his life by up to a year but that it could not cure him.  Because he was doing so well at his July follow-up visit--7 months after that year had passed-- the oncologist wanted to do another sonogram.  Since it was not that invasive a procedure I agreed and am glad that I did.  He had the sonogram this past Monday, and it showed that the cancer is GONE.  The vet said that he had never seen a dog cured of such a cancer before. He called it a miracle.

I have been very grateful to the Brown Dog Foundation all along and now we have clear evidence your very generous donation and all the other money I spent was worthwhile. 

At thirteen, I do not know how much time Aspen has left, but his story is an inspiration. I hope many other pet owners are encouraged by hearing about his amazing recovery.  I also hope that many people who are afflicted with cancer will also be encouraged.  If incurable cancer can disappear in a dog; it can disappear in a human too.

I am going to make a donation to the Brown Dog Foundation today and encourage others to donate also—as I have previously.  I hope you and the rest of the staff realize how much good your work does and how significantly it is appreciated.   Thanks once again for helping me achieve an outcome that even the experts did not think was possible.