Sophie came into our life in 2007. Our journey really began two years before that, in August 2005. On the day that Hurricane Katrina made its’ horrific landfall in Louisiana, our vet and her assistant arrived at our home to euthanize our beautiful Mexican rescue dog, Victoria. Little did we know that two years later we would meet and fall in love with another amazing dog who would ultimately be diagnosed with Osteosarcoma.
Victoria and Sophie had a lot of things in common. Both had been tossed aside as puppies, at 6 months and 10 weeks, respectively. Both were in a weakened state due to Mange, malnourishment and other health issues. It took a number of months for each of them to be restored to reasonably good health.
Victoria was with us for 7 and 1/2 years; a serious yet happy and intrepid companion. We both adored her but my partner formed a bond with her like no other dog he had known. In those last few months her suffering had reached a point that pushed us to make the decision to have her put down. What else was there to do? Everyone assured us that all avenues had been explored- these things just happen, that’s all. For two years we remained dog-less. We could not bear to suffer that kind of heartbreak again. And yet, our hearts broke over and over whenever we said her name, saw a picture of her, and thought of the adventures we had shared together.
On another August day, two years later, we drove to Texas to meet the pup that I had found on the Belgian Tervuren Rescue website. As good fortune would have it, we immediately fell in love with this six month old charmer. I had already chosen her name, based on all the photos her foster family had sent. And, so, Sophie came home with us to New Mexico and a few months later back to Washington. Our first task was to help her gain strength in her hindquarters due to atrophy from being crated a great deal of the time. Job two was to teach her how to play. It took way longer than we could have imagined but she finally got the hang of it- mostly she was interested in our reactions to her acting playful. And, last but not least, if she was going to be a Northwest girl, she was going to learn how to swim!
And swim she did! Just for the sheer pleasure of it. No balls or sticks necessary. It certainly wasn’t the herding dog part of her that turned her into a lifelong swimmer. Perhaps she does have some retriever in there….
Sophie became our constant companion, accompanying us wherever we went. She was rarely refused service; perhaps due to having that service dog look not to mention impeccable manners. Those first years were filled up with road trips, hiking and camping, herding turkeys, swimming, riding on the ferry, going shopping, dining out and other such adventures. Fast forward to 2011- Sophie is now approaching 4 years old and although still feisty and happy, things are starting to go wrong. Limping, backing up so she can then go forward, sitting differently, etc…
Off to the veterinarian we go to be told that she most likely has a torn Cruciate ligament and will probably need surgery. Some pain meds and we are on our way. Her symptoms continued to get a bit worse. We re-visited the vet only to be told to give it more time. This did not feel right to me. I remembered driving by a dog spa in Sequim on numerous occasions and decided to check it out. I spoke with Cindy, the owner, and she was able to get Sophie in right away..
Although Sophie is a natural swimmer she was not accustomed to swimming with someone, except other dogs at the beach. She soon relaxed and the two of them had a lovely session. Cindy wanted to see her again so we were back for a second session within a week. It was during this session that Cindy expressed concern for Sophie’s health and suggested we get her leg xrayed as soon as possible. She voiced these words very calmly and very matter of factly said she was worried that Sophie might have Cancer. She quickly laid out a game plan which started by getting us in quickly to see an orthopedic surgeon she trusted. The diagnosis from the x-ray was Osteosarcoma- prognosis bleak.
Shellshocked, I could barely see through my tears to drive Sophie and I home. Cindy had already instructed me to call her that evening. She immediately took my call and on the other end of the line was the reassuring compassionate voice I so desperately needed to hear. She was familiar with a doctor in the Oncology Department at WSU and helped fast track us through the process of getting Sophie an appointment; faster than normal, I might add.
By this time, my partner had returned from his weeklong trip, just in time to join Sophie and I on the trip to eastern WA. It was the dead of winter and was snowing most of the way there. So beautiful and terribly bleak at the same time.
I cannot say enough positive things about the experience we had there; from the receptionist to the students, doctors and even the business office folks who helped us arrange payment. We had 24-7 access so we could check up on Sophie anytime we needed reassurance during her 4 day stay there. Also during this time we had several conversations with the head oncologist about alternative therapies we had been reading about. Although he did not completely dismiss these out of hand, he noted that the money wasn’t there for research on these options. I commented that there seems to be limitless funding for the pharmaceutical companies to get their drugs into the practitioner’s hands. Why would there be research money available for natural substances as well as nutrition when there’s no money in it? In light of no conclusive evidence, he could only recommend the conventional route- Chemo or palliative care with radiation. We were told that, with chemo, Sophie could live up to one year. Without it she would be lucky to live 4 to 6 months. That was it.
In the end, we decided not to do chemo or radiation and deal with the reality of only having her with us those few months- a difficult decision to be sure! We had just spent close to $5,000 and we were opting for the shorter term scenario. Those four days we were waiting there at WSU I spent hours online researching alternative therapies for treating dogs with osteosarcoma. I joined a Yahoo group called Bone Cancer Dogs but everyone there was doing the chemo approach. Everyone with the exception of this one woman who , like me, had a Belgian Tervuren mix. She was all about switching her dog from kibble to all human grade food- cooked, but that was a start. Her dog lived 2 years and 5 months after having her leg amputated. Wow, that was way beyond anything I had encountered up to that point! I was cautiously optimistic. In fact, the only dog I have ever heard of living longer than that is Sophie !
Veterinarians that know of Sophie tell me the same thing and they use her story at conferences to search out other veterinarians with survivor patients. None have had patients nor know of other vets with this kind of outcome. So, we get comments like “do you know how extraordinary she is” or “ here she comes, the miracle dog!”
When we got home with Sophie from WSU, we contacted a holistic vet by the name of Anna Maria Gardner and she made a house call the very next day. Serendipity again; another client had cancelled and she worked us in. Otherwise, it would have been a month. A month is a long time when you’ve been told that your beloved has only 4-6 of those left.
Anna Maria spent over 2 hours with us, fleshing out a plan of attack. As scribe, I dutifully wrote down the very long list of all the herbs, flower essences, homeopathics and other supplements as well as medicinal mushrooms. We felt hopeful yet daunted by this extensive list. Where would I find all these items, how much would they cost, how would I get them all down her throat? Overwhelmed, I had a good cry, then headed out to see what I could acquire locally. Everything else would be bought online and together, Sophie’s natural medicine cabinet was assembled. These, along with her ketogenic, raw, grass fed meats and organic produce diet has continued to this day. I have dropped this herb or that homeopathic item when they no longer felt necessary – an intuition thing I suppose.
This journey has impacted our lives tremendously. We realized she was eating better than us and we decided to have what she was having- just a tad more cooked. We both lost some weight, began feeling better and, most importantly began living more in the here an now. Sophie has been an amazing teacher! We welcome and are grateful for each day with her and the opportunity to perhaps become just a little bit more like her.
Postscript: Twelve years ago we were not able to prolong Victoria’s life but this go ‘round with Sophie has brought some redemption……
Sophie’s Healing Plan 2/25/2011 ( 10 days post amputation)
- These are Homeopathic Remedies given 2x/day ( 3 pellets)
- Arnica: for trauma for 3-4 days, followed by;
- Hypericum: for phantom leg syndrome as well as mood
- Pulsatilla: for hypersensitive individual, as needed
- Nux Vomica: for digestive upset
- The following are Flower Remedies and are 2x/day:
- Self Heal
- Yarrow Environmental Solutions ( YES )
- Essiac Tea ( w/ 1 tsp extra Slippery Elm Tea, for coating uneasy
- stomach. 1/2 oz every few hours
Starting on March 1st:
Continue with all the above
- Red Flower Formula ( East Tao Herbs, Santa Fe, NM ) Helps w/ blood
- circulation 2x/day
- Canine Plus Multi Vitamin or Nu-Pro
- CoQ10 – 60mg/day
- Vitamin E (d-Alpha)- 400 iu / day
- Vitamin C – 1000 mg/day, ideally in four 250 mg doses
- Wild Salmon Oil – 3000 mg/day
- Transfer Factor Tri-Factor (Human version)1 tab/ 2x/day
- MUSH ( 5 Medicinal Mushroom blend from Fungi Perfecti) 1tsp 2x/day
- Greens Blend ( Spiraling, Barley, Wheatgrass) 1/2 tsp 2x/day
- Garlic 1/2 tsp/ day
- Glucosamine/Chondroitin/Herbs Blend 2 tabs/day
- Raw Organic Chicken or Grass-fed Beef/Elk/Venison ( high Omega 3’s
- Raw Veggies and Berries 1/4 cup day
In addition, I add the following to her fruit/veggie mix:
- Milk Thistle
- Red Clover
- Cat’s Claw
For Morning and Evening Snack I use the Ludwig Protocol of 1/4 cup low fat organic cottage cheese blended well with 1Tbs. Organic Flaxseed Oil.
Initially, I found this whole program to be overwhelming and, yes, expensive! Will it help Sophie make it to the 2 year mark and beyond?? Of course, only time will tell. I also realize that my partner and I should be partaking in, at least, some of these supplements as well as more and more organic foods. While we were there at WSU, the head of Oncology told us that the trend for dogs and cats is 1 out of 2 being diagnosed with Cancer by 2020 and that Humans are not far behind. Our four ( and, 3 ) legged friends are the proverbial canaries in the coal mine and human oncologists are sitting up and taking note of this disturbing trend. Perhaps our wonderful friends and companions are leading us toward a healthier future…..
These 4 Videos are part of the The Truth about Pet Cancer Series from
http://www.shirleys-wellness-cafe.com ( Holistic health for People and Animals) and, so many others you will discover…