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Help Tennessee Rescue Heal After Harsh Diagnosis

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UPDATE, March 21, 2017: He was a gentle dog, about 4 years old when he arrived last fall from Tennessee. A little on the skinny side, with oversized, floppy ears, pretty brown markings on his white coat, and a little bump on the left side of his muzzle that made him look adorably goofy. We felt sure he was a perfect candidate for adoption.

We were wrong. That “little bump” on his muzzle began to grow rapidly. Our veterinarians diagnosed a fibrosarcoma, an aggressive malignancy that, in Chico’s case, was located close to vital structures in his face: the nose, the left eye, and the oral cavity. Surgery was not an option. The pathologist and our Senior Vice President and Chief of Veterinary Staff, Dr. Mark Verdino, decided on a new form of targeted radiation, along with steroids and holistic medicine. For a while, it worked.

Then it didn’t.  By then, many people had become profoundly attached to Chico — especially Vet Tech Emma Arctander, who was one of the first to meet Chico when he arrived on campus. When the radiation stopped working, Emma decided she was going to give Chico the home he’d come all the way from Tennessee to find.


Chico blended in beautifully with Emma’s other dogs — Mary, Julio, and Grandma. He had his family. He took long walks, played in the leaves, played in the snow, and basked in the warmth of Emma’s tender affection. He grew playful and peppy again. He was a happy dog.

Then he wasn’t.  Emma and our veterinarians soon realized that the radiation and medications used to treat Chico were no longer able to stop the growth of his aggressive cancer.  Chico’s disease was winning and there was not much more we could do to save him.  On Sunday, March 12th, Chico died peacefully with Emma by his side.

“Chico brought me so much joy,” says Emma.   I am thankful I had the privilege to share many happy moments with him during the final months of his life.  He brought me so much love and together, we shared a very special bond.  Chico, my gentle, sweet, loving dog, will forever be in my heart”.

UPDATE, February 16, 2017: Chico has undergone several rounds of radiation treatment to shrink the tumor that covered much of the left side of his face. The radiation combined with steroids and holistic medicines controlled the growth of the tumor for a short time, but eventually it began to expand again. Since the tumor has continued to grow exponentially, invading other areas of the face, it remains inoperable.

We continue to watch Chico to keep him comfortable and monitor the tumor for any increased spreading to other vital organs. In the meantime, Chico has been living with one of our Vet Techs, Emma Arctander, who was one of the first to meet Chico when he arrived on campus last year. Emma has chosen to give this sweet dog a home, for whatever time he has left, and show him what it's like to be a beloved companion in a happy home. You can read more about Chico and Emma in their story, Going the Extra Mile.

When Chico arrived at North Shore Animal League America, fresh off a rescue transport from Tennessee, he seemed like a healthy dog, grateful to be on his way to a second chance. There was no doubt that this handsome Terrier mix, estimated to be about 4 years of age, would be adopted into a responsible, loving home as soon as he was medically cleared by our veterinary staff.

But it was during his initial medical examination when things took a turn for the worse for Chico.

The veterinary team inside our Alex Lewyt Veterinary Medical Center immediately noticed swelling on the left side of Chico’s muzzle. At first they weren’t overly concerned, figuring it could have been caused by a variety of things before his transport to our Port Washington, N.Y. campus, but they’d continue to monitor him. It wasn’t until several weeks later, when the lump appeared substantially larger, that doctors grew more concerned.  

“When he came in the swelling was not at all this large, it has been growing. We’ve been working with the oncologists to figure out a plan of attack for Chico,” said Mark Verdino, Animal League America Senior Vice President and Chief of Veterinary Staff. “We diagnosed him with a fibrosarcoma, which is an aggressive tumor. It’s physically very aggressive in that it’s growing rapidly and is very close to some of the vital structures in the face; the nose, the eye, the oral cavity, but its histologically low grade. The pathologist felt that it was a fairly low-grade tumor, which means it’s less likely to spread internally to the other organs.”

Doctor Verdino said the next step for Chico is to undergo three days of a newer form of intense radiation therapy to hopefully shrink or possibly even eliminate the tumor. If the treatments are deemed successful, the Tennessee rescue will be placed in Animal League America’s Foster Care Program, where he will spend his days and nights recovering in a home under the care and supervision of one of our awesome foster parents. Our hope is that Chico has all the time he needs to fully heal and become the perfect adoptable Animal League America Mutt-i-gree!

“We didn’t feel that based on the location and size of the tumor that it was amenable to surgical removal. It would be difficult to get any kind of clear margins on it, so we decided to do stereometric radiation, which very accurately targets high levels of radiation directly to the tumor,” he said. “The benefit of that, is that they’ve shown to produce better response rates with fewer treatments.”

Your dedicated support of the life-saving Help Me Heal Program allows us to provide animals, like Chico, the extensive care they need to heal regardless of how expensive that care may be.

When you donate to our Help Me Heal program, you are giving hope and health to sick and homeless animals like Chico. Please donate today.

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