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Saving the Irreplaceable Rowdy

Radiation Oncology Service Tracy Gieger
Tracy Gieger, center, worked on Rowdy's case through the NC State Veterinary Hospital's small animal radiation oncology service. Photo by Nathan Latil/NC State Veterinary Medicine

To most, Rowdy looks like a typical black and white Staffordshire terrier who still thinks he’s a puppy. But to his owner, Jennifer Beard of Summerfield, North Carolina, he’s something far more special.

“This dog has gotten me through the hardest times in my life with unconditional love,” Beard says. “He’s irreplaceable.”

When Rowdy developed a fast-growing cancerous tumor on the upper part of his left shoulder, Beard feared that she might be losing her beloved friend. But thanks to Tracy Gieger, associate clinical professor of radiation oncology of the NC State Veterinary Hospital and the Petco Foundation and Blue Buffalo Cancer Treatment Fund, things are looking up.

Beard adopted Rowdy as a puppy at a rescue event in a park when he was 2 weeks old in 2011. She hadn’t anticipated going home with a dog, but when Rowdy lay down between Beard’s feet, she felt as if he was the one adopting her. 

Beard first noticed a small lump on Rowdy’s shoulder a year ago. At first it didn’t seem to be a problem, but she eventually took Rowdy to her local veterinarian to have it checked. A biopsy was inconclusive, and the idea of surgically removing it was discussed. That would mean a large, extra expense — one that Beard couldn’t afford right away. 

She began saving money for Rowdy’s surgery. In April, when she noticed that suddenly the lump had gotten much bigger and seemed to be growing rapidly. She knew that she had to get it removed right away. She took a second job to help her save even more money and asked her veterinarian to perform the surgery.

The news was devastating. It was advanced, grade three soft tissue sarcoma. The tumor had grown close to Rowdy’s jugular vein and into other areas that are difficult to treat. 

“Rowdy has always been there for me,” says Jennifer Beard. “I’ll do whatever I have to for him”

The surgery was unable to remove every trace of the cancer, and the veterinarian said that for Rowdy to have any hope of long-term survival, he would have to be referred for specialized treatment at the NC State Veterinary Hospital. 

“The vets there were amazing,” Beard says. “They were so good to Rowdy.” 

Timing was important; the tumor was getting near Rowdy’s spine and he was having difficulty walking.

In the meantime, COVID-19 shutdowns impacted Beard’s employment. Her second job was eliminated. Then she was furloughed from her other job. 

“I kind of shut down,” she says. “It was a hopeless feeling. I just wanted Rowdy to get better.”

Then Gieger took charge of Rowdy’s case, consulting with Beard about options. 

“She was fantastic,” Beard says. “So nice and so thorough. I was holding my breath while she talked. We were on the phone for an hour. She said, ‘We can do it,’ and I let out a sigh of relief.”

With a course of intensive radiation treatments, there is a good chance that Rowdy’s life can be extended significantly. But that’s not all. 

Gieger told Beard about a generous grant investment from the Petco Foundation and Blue Buffalo Cancer Treatment Fund to NC State to help clients defray the cost of cancer treatment for their animal companions. The program helps more pet owners have access to critical care so they can focus on providing the best possible care for their pets rather than the cost of care.

Rowdy immediately began receiving treatments in mid-May, which ran through June 5. He continues to do well. 

“I’m so grateful to Dr. Gieger, Petco and the Blue Buffalo Fund,” Beard says. “They’ve saved my dog. I couldn’t have done it without their support. Rowdy has always been there for me. I’ll do whatever I have to for him.”

~Steve Volstad/NC State Veterinary Medicine

Photography for this story was taken prior to enhanced COVID-19 safety and mask protocol established for CVM faculty, staff and students, as well as the general public.