Your Dollars at Work

The following stories are heartwarming examples of just a few of the beloved pets that have benefited from areas of veterinary care that OVC Pet Trust contributes to.  Thank you for helping us make a difference in their lives.

Back to work: Therapy dog on the road to recovery

Daisy is back doing the job she loves — helping special needs children in schools and hospital patients — after recovering from back surgery at the Ontario Veterinary College Health Sciences Centre.

The nine-year old Schnauzer-Poodle cross had surgery in the fall to remove a herniated disc caused by intervertebral disc disease (IVDD). A few months later, she is well on the road to recovery, say owners Liz Raybould and Liz Oreskovic. “She is regaining her strength and balance and working on her stamina so that she can begin working her regular schedule again,” says Raybould. “She still occasionally sees a physiotherapist, but most of her exercises are done at home.”Daisy has been a St. John Ambulance Therapy Dog in Mississauga for seven years. But last fall, she began showing signs of serious back pain and was having difficulty walking, and the little dog that helps others heal was due for some healing of her own.

Her veterinarian diagnosed a herniated disc and prescribed medication and a strict reduction of exercise to try to ease the problem. When her condition didn’t improve, her case was referred to the HSC.

“Herniated discs can progress quickly and that was the case with Daisy,” says Dr. Brigitte Brisson, a surgery professor at the Ontario Veterinary College. Daisy had a herniated disc caused by inter-vertebral disc disease (IVDD), a condition that causes the shock-absorbing discs between the vertebrae to bulge or burst into the spinal cord space. The disc pushes on the nerves in the spinal cord, causing pain and nerve damage that can lead to paralysis. IVDD is a common cause of neurologic problems in dogs and is most common in middle-aged Dachshunds, poodles and Shih Tzu’s. But it can occur in any breed.

Treatment options can range from rest and medication to acupuncture to surgery. In Daisy’s case, surgery to decompress the herniated disc and remove damaged tissue was the best option, says Brisson, who has authored several articles on IVDD and is one of two editors working on a neurosurgery techniques book.

In recent years, donations to OVC Pet Trust have supported several studies by Brisson and others at OVC working to improve understanding and treatment of the disease. “Many of my research publications and achievements related to IVDD were made possible because of support from Pet Trust,” says Brisson.

Prior to surgery, Daisy was usually on the job four days a week – three days in schools and one day at Trillium Health Centre in Mississauga where they spend time in the palliative oncology ward, paediatrics and the psychiatric in-patient program. For now, she’s doing fewer, shorter visits until she regains her strength.

“She was so excited the first day we put her Therapy Dog scarf on her and she saw me in my uniform.She knew she was going to work and bounced around until we headed out the door,”says Raybould. Raybould and Oreskovic are thankful for the support of friends and family during Daisy’s illness, and they praise the work of the team at Malton Veterinary Services, as well as the veterinarians and technicians at the OVC. Daisy was brought to OVC on a Thursday and had surgery the next day.

“We saw four levels of doctors when we came in,” says Oreskovic. “Every single one came into the exam room with a smile and a handshake saying ‘I’m here to look after Daisy.’ They made us feel relaxed, as if we were the only patients in the hospital.

“We love that it’s a teaching hospital. We love that we get to help students with hands-on training.”


Alice the Cat–A New Beginning: Healthcare in action

The Emergency (ICU) unit of the Ontario Veterinary College can, by its very nature, be a heart-breaking and tension-filled place. Still out of illness and trauma, miracles can occur. Such was the case with a calico cat named Alice.

Born under a house to a feral mother, little Alice had been rescued by Mary Savage of Guelph. As she grew, she tamed, but remained reclusive and distant. Trips to the veterinarian were especially stressful for Alice, so Mary prepared for the usual Alice angst when she packed kitty off for a check-up and vaccination visit to her local clinic.

Routine took a turn for the unexpected when Alice went limp and became unconscious after the vaccination. “She was showing symptoms of anaphylactic shock,” recalls Mary. The veterinarian acted quickly, administering oxygen and starting an IV drip, but beyond this, he knew the cat’s life was in danger.

Beyond his expertise, the veterinarian called the Emergency Department at the Ontario Veterinary College. Within minutes, Alice, Mary Savage and a Veterinary Technician were on their way to OVC.

Alice’s Critical Condition

When Alice and her worried human arrived at their door, the ICU team acted immediately. Over the next hour, as Mary waited, staff members regularly came out to the reception room and gave her updates. At one point she was invited into the treatment room. “I could hardly believe the team around Alice,” recalls Mary. “There were at least five staff, including Dr. Holowaychuk all working on saving her life.”

All signs pointed to the cat having had a severe allergic reaction to the vaccination that had beenadministered at her veterinarian’s office. Alice remained in ICU for seven days, during which time Mary received regular phone updates and was encouraged to visit her pet daily. “I was never anything but amazed at the attention and care that she was receiving.”

Before Alice was discharged to home, Mary needed to be instructed on her home care, including how to use a feeding tube. This would be Alice’s source of nutrition for a time. Mary credits ICU senior student Catherine Sabino (working at the ICU in a Pet Trust funded position) for her expert instructions.

An Unexpected Change

Alice the calico cat returned home a very high-needs patient. “ICU couldn’t promise that she wasn’t brain-damaged given what she had been through,” recalls Mary Savage. “They indicated that I might have a pet with a significant disability.”

The first weeks after Alice’s discharge were tentative ones for both the pet and owner. “She was blind at this stage and could only creep around the house,” remembers Mary.

Still the OVC staff kept in close touch with their patient’s condition and scheduled regular check-ups. “And they treated her like a star when she came in,” laughs Mary.

Gradual Recovery

Slowly, Alice’s condition improved as she regained her sight, strength and appetite.But something was different. “Her personality was quite altered to what it had been before,” states Mary. She has a theory.

“Having had no human socialization in her very early days, she really was an aloof and unfriendly cat. But when she ‘died’ and came back to life on the table at ICU, she was surrounded by people 24 hours a day. And they gave her the attention and affection to develop normally socially.”

Alice, the miracle cat is now friendly and affectionate with her human. “She’ll greet me at the door, sit on my lap and purr now,” says Mary. “The ‘old’ Alice would never have done this before her illness.”

Mary Savage has nothing but praise and admiration for Dr. Marie Holowaychuk and her ICU staff. Dr. Holowaychuk plays down the praise. “We all have pets and we all love our pets, so we can identify when a beloved member of the family is brought into our care.” She also states that ICU veterinarians feel a significant responsibility to their human clients to make them feel “emotionally safe” even in a clinical setting.

Pet Trust helped to fund and support the renovations at ICU, while another Pet Trust donor funded much needed equipment. The result is a state-of-the-art ICU facility capable of handling such clients as Alice.


Minimally invasive technique a successful option in cancer surgery

There are many treatment options available at the Ontario Veterinary College’s (OVC) Mona Campbell Centre for Animal Cancer for companion animals in their fight against cancer. The recent addition of a specialist in surgical oncology provides one more opportunity to enhance those treatment plans.

Often there is a misconception that surgery for cancer has to be invasive, but that doesn’t always have to be the case, says Dr. Michelle Oblak, who joined OVC in September as an assistant professor of small animal surgery with a focus on surgical oncology.

Oblak completed her veterinary degree, internship and surgical residency at OVC before going on to a surgical oncology fellowship at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine. This position is one of only two surgical oncology fellowships in North America recognized by the American College of Veterinary Surgeons.  Her research focuses on osteosarcoma in dogs.

“I’m excited to be back in Guelph and to see a strong surgical oncology caseload, as well as work with other members of the soft tissue surgery service to provide cancer surgery for pets, says Oblak.

She points out there are options for minimally invasive surgery in cancer treatment that reduce recovery time, pain and enhance the pet’s opportunity for a full recovery.  “As long as these techniques don’t compromise our ability to get a cure, we are always looking for ways to decrease the impact of surgery in our patients, especially those with cancer,” says Oblak.

Case in point – Joey, a nine-year-old Border Collie, who first came to OVC through emergency services.  He was having difficulty breathing and had fluid in his chest, which upon testing, turned out to be blood.  The immediate concern was Joey had encountered some sort of toxin that was causing the bleeding, says Oblak.  He had a blood transfusion and was kept in the hospital’s intensive care unit until he was stabilized.  Working with the radiology service, the internal medicine service determined he had a tumour in his chest, but further diagnosis was required to determine what type of tumour and what was being affected.  They also evaluated him for any evidence of spread to other parts of his body and Joey appeared to be otherwise in great health. He was stabilized enough to return home and then returned to OVC the following week for a CT scan and biopsy.

The CT scan confirmed a cranial mediastinal mass in his chest that had likely eroded through a small blood vessel, causing the initial bleeding.

“ It was determined that the tumour was relatively small and discreet – we had expected a larger tumour based on his history,” says Oblak.  

Typically this type of surgery requires an open chest procedure, which results in a longer recovery time and increased need for postoperative pain medication.  Based on the discreet nature of Joey’s tumour, the surgery team determined that he was a candidate for a less invasive technique. By using thoracoscopy, Oblak and Dr. Ameet Singh, another faculty surgeon, were able to avoid cutting bone and the majority of the surgery was done inside his chest while working with instruments from the outside.

“In this situation, since a large margin of tissue cannot be removed around the tumour, the image we get with minimally invasive surgery is actually even better than what we can see with our own eyes. Based on this view and the major advantage of decreased pain, whenever possible we hope to use this technique for these types of tumours” says Oblak.

Three small incisions were made, including one slightly larger incision on the side of the chest instead of cutting through the sternum.  The anesthetist had to collapse one lung to allow more space for the surgeons to dissect the tumour. They were then able to remove the tumour through an incision between two ribs. “It was definitely a team effort to make sure everything went smoothly,” adds Oblak.

“We are very fortunate that OVC has the expertise and the equipment to do this type of surgery,” says Oblak. These types of tumours are not often removed in this way and there aren’t many veterinary hospitals in Canada performing this type of technique, she adds. This is the first time this technique has been used at OVC to remove a mediastinal tumour, although it has been used several times to remove both lung and intraabdominal tumours.

Oblak spoke to the owners prior to the surgery and discussed that they might have to go to an open chest procedure if the tumour was too invasive or there was a risk of bleeding. Fortunately, neither was a problem.

Joey required two days of recovery in the hospital, but could have gone home one day after surgery, says Oblak.  He also required little pain medication.

As well, Joey only needed to be quiet for about two weeks post-surgery, as opposed to a month with open chest surgery. And, he’s recuperated well.

Joey’s tumour is suspected to be Thymoma, which is a locally aggressive tumour that rarely metastasizes. While rare percentage of dogs have a local reoccurrence with this type of cancer – most go on to live long lives, adds Oblak.  That’s the hope for Joey as well.


Beacon of Hope: Banking for the Future

It takes time to grow an investment – ask your banker or financial advisor.

Or you could ask Dr. Brenda Coomber, Co-Director, Institute for Comparative Cancer Investigation (ICCI). She sees the value in a long-term investment, built over time with care and commitment.

You can’t buy what Coomber and her colleague, Astrid Cuncins-Hearn, Tumour Bank and Clinical Trial Coordinator, are saving in the ICCI’s Companion Animal Tumour Sample Bank. “It’s more than a bank,” says Coomber, “it is really a safety deposit box for our future.”

“What we’re storing isn’t something with numerical value, it has the potential to discover new diagnoses and new cures– to move towards better therapy for both animals and humans,” says Coomber. “You can’t compare what’s saved in this bank to material goods.”

This bank is tucked inside the Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) in the Mona Campbell Centre for Animal Cancer, the most comprehensive animal cancer research and treatment centre in the country, and is the only Canadian tumour bank dedicated to veterinary samples.

You can’t have an animal cancer centre without research and development, as well as the education component, says Cuncins-Hearn. For the last two years, the tumour bank has had a full-time person connected to it. This has helped increase sample collection.

But, a bank can’t dispense assets until it collects them. At present, the bank has over 2,000 tissue and fluid samples from 243 pets with cancer, with lots of room for growth and endless opportunities for research. Coomber would like to see at least 1,000 different cases at a minimum.

This bank is building a biospecimen repository for the study of cancer. Comparative Oncology, comparing naturally occurring or spontaneous cancers across species, is gaining increasing prominence. The tumour bank can play a role in these studies.

Dogs possess both anatomic and physiologic similarities to humans in terms of their cancer pathogenesis, the study of associated genes and proteins. As well, similar environmental, nutrition, age, sex and reproductive factors lead to tumour development and progression in both dogs and humans. Some cancers, such as osteosarcoma, lymphoma, melanoma, bladder cancer and feline mammary cancer are extremely similar.

“Cancer in both animals and people is not something that has developed overnight, and it will not be cured overnight, but if we can build a large enough bank of samples, it will mean we have better information and better potential to discover therapy and prevention measures for animal cancer in the future,” says Coomber. “It is this hope that guides us and this hope that motivates generous pet owners to make the decision to donate samples in the midst of making other critical life choices for their pets.”

Dr. Paul Woods, of the Mona Campbell Centre for Animal Cancer and the other Co-Director, ICCI, says “the families of pets with cancer and their veterinarians are encouraged by the possibility of the tumour bank helping future pets and perhaps people.”

“When a pet’s tumour is removed by our surgeons only a small part of the tumour is needed by the pathologists for diagnosis and therefore much of the tumour would be discarded,” he adds. “However, with the tumour bank we are saving that invaluable tumour resource for investigation by future veterinary and human-based cancer researchers for better ways to diagnose and treat cancer.  Our pets and their families with the support of the Pet Trust are helping us to better understand cancer.”
Lorraine Brown received the devastating news that Rinnie, her four-year old Beagle cross, had a mast cell tumour just one-and-a-half weeks after Jazzmine, her nine-year-old Beagle cross, had surgery to remove the same type of tumour.

When asked if she would donate samples of the tumour to the bank there was no question, says Brown. “They didn’t have to go into detail,” says Brown. “We thought if there is anything that would help in the future we’re interested in seeing advancements being made.”

Both Rinnie and Jazzmine required follow-up chemotherapy after their surgery. Jazzmine was finishing her last round of chemotherapy in mid-November and Rinnie was on her fifth of eight treatments.

Each of her pets has had few side effects from the chemotherapy, says Brown. They had an unbelievably quick healing rate following surgery and except for some diarrhea, you would never know they are sick to look at them.

“We collect all comers that are suitable,” says Coomber. To qualify for the tumour bank there are a number of criteria. Pathology and diagnostics always come first and the pet owner must give consent.

“It’s critical to bank the tumour where the animal is treated to ensure we have quality, well documented samples in our bank.  Knowing exactly what treatment the patients have gone through, whether radiation or chemotherapy before surgery, is key for consistent, quality future research outcomes,” she adds.

Cuncins-Hearn checks the surgery list and then speaks to the veterinary clinicians and owners about potentially donating a sample from their pet’s tumour to the bank. For diagnosis and evaluation of the extent of tumour invasion, most of the tumour tissue sample is submitted for examination by a Veterinary Pathologist. In most cases, the tumour sample is large enough that the bank will also receive a tumour piece to bank. To maintain the best integrity of the molecules for future study, the sample needs to be snap frozen within 30 minutes and stored under ultracold conditions

“When we consent the owner to submit their pet’s tumour, we make it clear it won’t impact the pet’s clinical pathway,” says Cuncins-Hearn.

"There are fewer feline cases in the bank at present with only 11, so we know we underrepresent cancer in cats", says Coomber. "This is an area where we definitely want to increase the number of samples collected".

Cats typically have smaller tumours, which aren’t optimal for sample banking, and more often present with lymphoma, which isn’t treated through surgery.

At present, capacity allows the team to collect about 150 samples per year. While this may seem like a slow process, all good investments take time and patience to ensure a quality bank.

The centre is also exploring other options to help build up the collection. A satellite bank, which could collect blood and tissue samples for DNA, is one idea being discussed. While not an actual tumour bank, this would be useful for studies into genetic patterns and hereditary markers associated with the development of cancer.

"My dream is to have a bankmobile that collects these kinds of samples on its travels", says Coomber.

The tumour bank and the coordinator position associated with it are solely funded by OVC’s Pet Trust. You can find more information about OVC’s Pet Trust and the important work it funds at