Kellie Rogers saw little reason for alarm when she noted a trickle of blood coming from the nose of her 12-year-old black Labrador, Josie, this past November.
She assumed Josie had scratched her nose on a sharp stick as she rummaged through the brush in a park near their home in Spokane.
Less than two months later, however, Rogers learned it was a sign of a deadly disease in Josie’s snout. That trickle of blood was caused by squamous cell carcinoma, one of the most common tumors that can develop in dogs’ noses.
“My world just kind of ended when I was told she had cancer,” Rogers said. “I can’t imagine my life without her and her sister, Sophie.”
In January, Rogers, Josie, and Josie’s littermate Sophie made the drive south to Washington State University’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Pullman for an appointment with oncology resident Dr. Caroline Hohlman. Rogers wasn’t expecting a miracle, but she was hoping to buy more time with Josie.
Hohlman, though, was hopeful she could offer more. Squamous cell carcinoma does not always metastasize, and depending on its location, it can often be successfully treated with surgery.
“Thankfully, the cancer sat far enough forward in her snout we felt we could get a good outcome with surgery,” Hohlman said. “We don’t get to say the word very often, but with this type of cancer and in certain cases, surgery can be curative.”
There was a catch: the procedure involved the removal of a significant portion of Josie’s upper snout. Small animal surgeons Drs. Tina Owen and Brittany Hyde held extensive discussions with Rogers to ensure she realized how different Josie would look after surgery.
“No matter how much you prepare an owner, there is that kind of shock when they see their dog for the first time without their nose,” Owen said. “You are taking a Labrador retriever that is basically going to look like a bulldog.”
Rogers only cared about one thing: Josie’s health.
“I didn’t care what she looked like,” Rogers said. “I just didn’t want to lose her.”
Rogers dropped Josie off for her surgery on a cold day in mid-February. While Owen and Hyde say the procedure was among the most complex they had performed, it appears to have been a success. No cancer has been detected in Josie since.
The first portion of the surgery involved the removal of roughly half of Josie’s upper snout from her nose to behind her canines. The second part, reconstruction, was more difficult as they essentially created a new muzzle for Josie. In all, Josie spent more than two weeks at WSU and became quite popular with her caretakers.
“She’s really sweet and friendly, a really easy-going dog,” Hyde said. “I have videos of the day she went home. It was so emotional for all of us because she was such a challenging case, and when she finally got to leave, everyone was so excited for her.”
Back at home, Josie, whom Rogers says now looks like a pug, has recovered from her procedure and adjusted well to not having a portion of her snout.
Rogers is grateful to the many people who looked after Josie, such as veterinary student Ryley Carman and surgical technician Chris Dumas. She is also thankful for the donors to WSU’s Good Samaritan Fund, established by WSU veterinary students to help animals whose owners cannot afford needed treatment. While the funds paid for only a small portion of the costs, it made a big difference.
“I have always known that the veterinary program is outstanding at WSU, but I never could have imagined everything that has been done for her,” Rogers said. “It makes me cry happy tears.”