Sometimes a dog comes into your life and changes everything. From the moment Kat Osen and Jordan Sackman welcomed Buddha into their lives in 2009, it was never the same.
“The stars aligned, and Buddha became the light of our lives,” Kat smiles. “He had a stoic, calm nature about him; he absolutely loved playing in the snow, and he was a faithful companion. He stayed by my side when I was in labour with our first-born child, helped us welcome his littermate and sister Flare into our home at the age of two and he was a certified therapy dog, volunteering at long-term care facilities, libraries and kindergarten classes,” she reminisces.
Kat and Jordan remember seeing their five-year-old black Newfoundland for the first time after his amputation in December 2014, shortly after he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma. “He came bounding down the hallway at the Ontario Veterinary College (OVC), on three legs, with his favourite Winnie the Pooh stuffed animal he’d had since he was a puppy in his mouth, and excitedly greeted us.”
Osteosarcoma is an aggressive cancer that causes destruction of the bone when cancer cells form a tumour — sometimes the bone can even break because it’s so weak and causes very painful clinical signs and symptoms in both dogs and humans who are diagnosed with the disease. When a dog is diagnosed, 90 per cent of patients have already had tumour cells spread to other parts of the body, which can be difficult to detect. The standard of care for dog patients with bone cancer is amputation, followed by chemotherapy; it commonly spreads to the lungs, and unfortunately there is no therapy once this occurs.
“Medically, Buddha’s case was extremely unusual. He survived much longer than the average patient and he ultimately developed another bone tumour that could either represent spread of his original tumour or another primary site of osteosarcoma. No other evidence of spread of the bone cancer was ever detected,” says Dr. Danielle Richardson, board-certified veterinary specialist in internal medicine and medical oncology at OVC’s Mona Campbell Centre for Animal Cancer. “If Buddha hadn’t been treated, he would have died within a couple of months of his diagnosis. Fortunately, we were able to extend his life far beyond the norm and he was able to enjoy a better quantity and quality of life with his family who love him so much.”
Buddha’s family believes he came into their lives for a reason. “We did anything and everything we could for him. His spirit throughout battling cancer was incredible,” Jordan says.
Kat and Jordan donated Buddha’s blood and tissue samples to the OVC Companion Animal Tumour Sample Bank, which now houses more than 23,000 samples that will be used for future research aimed to unlock answers to a wide variety of cancers that affect both humans and pets. Buddha’s owners also gave the harness their dog used following his surgery to OVC’s animal cancer centre with a heartfelt letter to pass along to the next client and pet who may benefit from it. They hope Buddha’s contributions will help the scientific community learn from his case and that the harness will offer a little bit of relief to the next dog in need of wearing it.
“Buddha was our dream come true. He had this beautiful presence about him. We still feel so alone without him,” Kat says. “He will forever hold a special place in our hearts.”
The Story of the Harness
How a special connection in OVC’s animal cancer centre waiting room inspired one serendipitous legacy
The waiting room at the Ontario Veterinary College’s Mona Campbell Centre for Animal Cancer is a very special place. It is a space where pet owners meet each other, commonly share their stories, and, often, bond over their experiences with their pet’s cancer treatment. This heartfelt letter tells the story of connections made and it will accompany Buddha’s (and Miller’s) harness when it is given to the next dog in need. It is written by Jordan Sackman, in Buddha’s voice – from one dog, to another.
Hi, I’m Buddha the Newfoundland. If you’re reading this, then the wonderful folks at OVC believe that you are the right dog with just the right family to become a part of something very, very special. I’ll explain.
Early in 2015, while I was off getting one of my post-op chemo treatments, my dad met some lovely people in the waiting room at the OVC animal cancer centre, and they were going through a really hard time. They were the parents of the best friend I never met – a kind, gentle, beautiful soul named Miller the Newfoundland. Miller’s parents had, as I’m sure you’ll understand, a really hard decision to make. See, I already had my amputation, treatments were underway, and I was feeling pretty darn good considering. So, my experience was helpful for them. They decided to go ahead with the surgery and soon enough, Miller was once again pain-free, as every dog should be, back out and about on all threes, enjoying his ball and awesome family. See back then, this was Miller’s harness, given to him by his parents who did everything they could to support and shower him with incredible love. Tragically, my buddy Miller’s time came way too soon, and so, with all of the love and gratitude that fills their hearts, Miller’s parents left this harness at OVC for me. To honour Miller’s legacy, his gift to me, as well as the courage and love of his mom, dad and little brother, my dad embroidered ‘A Hug from Miller’ on the inside of the harness, and every time he put the harness over my head, dad would say “Here buddy boy, here’s a hug from your buddy Miller, Nelson’s son, such a good, good, boy.” For well over three years and against all odds, I enjoyed the supporting comfort of Miller’s harness hugs; I honestly don’t know if I could have done it without him. Miller, I love you brother, and my heart overflows with gratitude, buddy.
Well, now my time with this harness has come to an end. It’s your turn to participate and carry on with its magic. My dad added on my name, so every time you put on this harness, you are getting huge Newfie hugs from Miller and Buddha. May they lighten your load so you can live pain-free, and shower your people with incredible love for a long, long time to come. And when you no longer need our hugs, your parents can hand wash it and add your name to the inside before returning our harness to OVC so that the loving community there can find the right dog and family to receive it next.
Listen, my dad, he’s a really sentimental kind of guy, and he’s been hurting pretty bad since I had to go. Don’t tell him I told you this, but he would love to see a picture of you in our harness, and to know that you will appreciate its special story, the incredible community around and the powerful life force that flows through it. And if you ever need to talk about what you’re going through, my mom and dad are always there for you; they’ve got years of experience now with all of this, providing everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, so that I could in comfort fulfill my purpose, make a huge difference in the world in so many ways and live the life that I so loved to live. Man, did I love living.
Live it up buddy, you’ve got this, and Miller and Buddha, well, we’ve got you.
Peace & Love,
Editor’s Note: Buddha died on February 23, 2018 at the age of eight, three years to the day after finishing his chemotherapy treatments at OVC and surviving three and a half years after being diagnosed with bone cancer.
Read more in the fall / winter issue of Best Friends Magazine.