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A Study in Gratitude

Bella the dog
underwent an abdominal ultrasound that identified a mass in her colon and was later confirmed to be cancerous. Photo by John Joyner/NC State Veterinary Medicine

Everyone who meets Bella the Labrador retriever describes her as always sweet. Her owner, Valerie Maitre of Wilmington, would add another description: always hungry.

So it was alarming two years ago when Bella’s appetite suddenly wasn’t as robust as it always had been. Her energy level waned; she just wasn’t herself.

Then it got worse.

Bella began to suffer from constipation. Local veterinarians experimented with a modified diet that included a laxative. That was somewhat helpful, but Bella continued to struggle.

Last April, Bella underwent an abdominal ultrasound that identified a mass in her colon, and a referral to the NC State Veterinary Hospital soon followed. Bella came under the care of Valery Scharf, clinical assistant professor of small animal soft tissue surgery.

The mass was confirmed to be cancerous and was surgically removed by Scharf in November. Bella had a bowel resection to restore structure and function to the colon. There was no evidence that the cancer has spread.

Bella is set to return to NC State every four months for rechecks and to determine if any further treatment is warranted.

Nevertheless, Maitre says that Bella is not only doing very well, but that she is even better than she was before her illness.

“She has her energy back, and her body looks so much better,” she says.

Medical care for animal companions involving hospitalization and surgery can become expensive. The financial burden of getting necessary treatment can create a heartbreaking dilemma. In addition, when an animal’s medical condition goes untreated, it can deprive veterinary medicine of potentially valuable learning experiences that improve the quality of care, especially in rare or unusual cases.

That is why the Petco Foundation established a program to help defray the cost of cancer treatment for small companion animals like cats and dogs. The NC State Veterinary Hospital is the recipient of a generous three-year grant from the foundation making advanced cancer care more accessible to pet owners and increasing the opportunities for veterinarians to learn more from their clinical experiences.

Maitre and Bella are two beneficiaries of the Petco Foundation program.

“We’re very grateful,” Maitre says, “and really happy with our referring veterinarian and our experiences with NC State. Dr. Scharf was great. She has been very honest with us. When we left Bella there, we knew that she was in the best place she could possibly be.”

~Steve Volstad/ NC State Veterinary Medicine