My beautiful black Havanese, Oliver, was the runt of the litter. We brought him home at 11 weeks, 2 1⁄2 pounds. What we didn’t realize then, was just how amazing Oliver’s life would be. He was certified as a therapy dog for adults by Therapeutic Paws of Canada (TPOC). After attaining his Child certification, we began volunteering at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Ontario.
While brushing his teeth one day I noticed a small lump on his lower jaw and like any loving, overprotective mother, rushed my little Oliver to the vet to have it checked. The vet said it didn’t look good. A few days later we learned the biopsy results – mandibular osteosarcoma – a death sentence for dogs. As we left the veterinary office that fateful day, the technicians looked at me with tears in their eyes and said “feed him a steak, give poor little Ollie anything he wants.”
The diagnosis came as a shock but I just couldn’t accept that Oliver was sick – he looked too healthy. We went to see a cancer specialist and he confirmed the results, told us the cancer was not curable and anything that could be done would only prolong his life, not save it. Naturally he recommended surgery, explaining that they would have to cut through the bone of his lower back jaw, sew the jaws together, insert drains, and tube feed him. Then they’d start the brutal course of chemotherapy, which would see that he lost his appetite, his hair and worst of all, his playful personality. Prolonging life was one thing, quality of life was another. Oli was not acting like a sick dog and I wasn’t about to turn him into one.
With only little, precious time left, life changed for Oli. Short tummy rubs turned into full body massages, dried chicken treats were discarded in favor of fresh roasted chicken and my husband, two boys, Dina and I became doting, loving caretakers. We kept a close eye on him as the days turned into weeks, the weeks turned into months and to our great joy, the seasons passed us by. Oliver stayed as happy and lively as ever.
One quiet night as my husband and I lay in bed with Oliver at our feet, Oli developed a terrible, hacking cough. This is it we thought - the cancer has spread to his lungs - he’s about to die. The next day at the vet we were whisked into a private room, which is never a good sign, and waited for confirmation of the unfortunate news we had already discovered the night before.
The vet strode in and told us Oliver had kennel cough, that it was going around this month. Kennel cough? What about his cancer? The vet peered inside his mouth but there was nothing there. No sign of the lump I had discovered while brushing his stinky teeth. Just to be sure, they put him under, searched inside his mouth, pulled a tooth and finally, with huge grins, told us that Oliver’s cancer was in fact gone.
I never believed my dog had cancer; he was too spunky, too energetic, too full of life. Many people said I was in denial about his health, but there was something deep inside me that spoke louder. No one can explain how Oli’s cancer disappeared. There was no rhyme or reason, but one thing for certain – it was a miracle.
After we had been visiting at Sick Kids Hospital for close to 3 years, Oliver died suddenly of a brain aneurism. An inspiration and hero, Oliver is sadly missed, forever remembered and still talked about by many at the Hospital for Sick Kids.
A further Postscript
Simone has another Havanese – a delightful little girl named Dusty. Like Oliver, she is an adult and child certified therapy dog with TPOC and visits Sick Kids. Dusty’s story will be featured in December in PET THERAPISTS: Love on the Move – ed.