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The Sleepy Eye Herald Dispatch - Sleepy Eye, MN
  • Amy Gehrt: A golden opportunity to find some answers

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  • Ten years ago today, what started as an impromptu road trip with my parents ended with us bringing back two new family members: golden retriever puppies we named Sammy and Sosa.
    Sosa lived with me, while Sammy lived with my parents. Yet “the boys,” as they came to be known, spent lots of time together at each of our homes and we all thought of ourselves as having two dogs.
    Over the years there were birthday parties, vacations at the beach, Halloween costumes, presents for holidays large and small, trips to the dog park and the trail, and myriad other just-because celebrations and special moments. Most of all, Sammy and Sosa brought loads of laughter and love into our lives.
    We took our jobs as pet parents seriously. We were at the vet’s office far more than necessary, and I called so often they recognized my voice. We read labels and researched food, treats and toys. We made sure the boys got plenty of exercise and socialization. We spent hours bathing and brushing them, getting rid of knots, brushing their teeth, cleaning their ears and protecting their paw pads.
    Yet, as we found out in the fall of 2010 — when they were just six — none of that was enough to protect them. Sammy was diagnosed with osteosarcoma (bone cancer), beginning a 14-month fight to save his life that included amputation and several rounds of chemotherapy. On Dec. 5, 2011, Sammy crossed over the Rainbow Bridge, surrounded by his parents, me and his brother Sosa.
    Canine cancer came screaming back into our lives the following December, when Sosa was diagnosed with histiocytic sarcoma, a rare and fast-growing cancer with a particularly poor prognosis, especially when the tumor was in the spleen, as Sosa’s was. On Jan. 4, 2013 — a week after his second chemo treatment — my sweet boy died in my arms.
    Losing two goldens to cancer at such young ages — and within about a year’s time — might seem like nothing more than bad luck. However, more pets die from cancer than any other disease. In fact, according to the Morris Animal Foundation, cancer kills more pets than humans.
    The startling statistics don’t stop there. Of the 70 million dogs who live in the United States, half of those who reach the age of 10 will die of cancer. The disease is also the leading cause of death for dogs more than two years of age.
    The news is even worse for golden retrievers — an astounding 60 percent will die of cancer, about twice the rate for other breeds. Experts don’t know exactly why that is, but the Morris Animal Foundation has launched a groundbreaking study — the longest and largest ever conducted — to get some answers.
    The Golden Retriever Lifetime Study will track 3,000 purebred goldens beginning at two years old or younger, and whose lineage can be traced back at least three generations, throughout their lifetimes. It’s an observational study, so enrollees live and play as they normally would. Participants are required to have yearly health exams, and veterinary appointments, tests and results must be reported to the study.
    Page 2 of 2 - “We do not ask you to try any products, medications or diets, nor do we suggest any lifestyle changes for this study,” notes a webpage dedicated to the study. “The information collected will help provide insight into risk factors that may lead to the development of cancer and other canine diseases.”
    As of this writing, there are 1,312 enrollees — one of which, I’m very proud to say, is my parents’ golden, Wrigley.
    Knowing that he and 2,999 other goldens just might hold the key to unraveling the canine cancer mystery, sparing millions of people each year from the gut-wrenching pain that comes with helplessly watching as a loved one’s life is stolen, gives me hope for a future in which cancer can no longer claim countless victims. And the fact that there are organizations such as the Morris Animal Foundation that are fighting canine cancer on so many fronts makes me eternally grateful.
    So, while I can’t spend the day celebrating 10 happy years together with my boys, I can give voice to a call for action in their honor. Please consider joining the Morris Animal Foundation’s Unite to Fight campaign. Get educated, spread the word, make a donation or participate in the virtual walk June 22.
    If we all work together to eradicate this devastating disease, it just may be your pet’s life we save.
    For more information visit http://www.caninelifetimehealth.org.
    Amy Gehrt may be reached at agehrt@pekintimes.com. Follow her on Twitter at @AmyGehrt. The views expressed in this column are not necessarily those of this newspaper.
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