One of the first questions that pet owners often ask after hearing that their dog has cancer is, “how much time do we have?” And no matter what the answer, it’s easy to interpret the vet’s response as a kind of promise. Like a timer has been set for our pet’s life, quickly running down to those dreaded final days. We believe that this ‘guess’ about how long our pets will survive is true and we plan and we prepare according to this imaginary date on the calendar.
But, sometimes our dogs don’t know that they’re supposed to be living on someone else’s timeline and seem to go out of their way to prove the statistics wrong. They demonstrate a remarkable strength and will to live that surprises everyone – reminding us that we can never lose hope in the fight against cancer.
Milo was a dog who fit this description perfectly. But then again, Milo started out as a bit of a surprise when he joined his family almost by accident when he was 4 ½ years old back in January 2006. As his mom Beth explains, “We had recently lost our precious cat Scamper and had started teaching American Red Cross Pet First Aid. We were handing out flyers one day and stopped by a pet adoption event in Oakland, CA. One of the dogs up for adoption was Milo, a lab mix with double dew claws on both hind legs. It was love at first sight.”
From the scar on his face, you could see that Milo had known pain in his past, and had probably suffered at the hands of other humans. But, when he was taken in by a rescue called Hopalong and cared for in a kind foster home, he discovered what it meant to be safe and loved. All he needed was that forever home, and now he had finally found it with Beth and Tom.
Once Milo came home to live with his new family, he continued to thrive. His true personality came out and he showed himself to be an energetic, intelligent and affectionate dog who loved treats, walks, going to the dog park and going to doggy daycare. He was a happy and healthy dog who even loved helping out during the Pet First Aid classes. Life was very good for sweet Milo.
On September 9, 2009, however, Milo started limping after a walk. More than just a pulled muscle, Milo’s family was devastated when they found out that Milo had osteosarcoma — bone cancer. The vet said he only had three months to live and suggested amputation and chemotherapy. Fortunately, Beth and Tom already had pet insurance through Pet’s Best. They had gotten it for Milo after he had eaten something off the ground one day, resulting in an $800 vet bill. But for the recommended treatment for Milo’s osteosarcoma, pet insurance would only cover $7,000, and full treatment would be much more than that. It was money that his family just didn’t have.
Not willing to give up, Milo’s devoted family decided instead to pursue Femoral Head Ostectomy (FHO) surgery to ease Milo’s discomfort by cleaning up the bone and giving him a false hip joint. They also searched for additional ways that they could support Milo in his brave fight against such an aggressive type of cancer. They spent hours searching the internet for information about canine cancer, and found online support groups where they gained valuable information from other pet owners about supplements and treatment options that even their vet didn’t know about. All of this research helped them decide how to best help Milo live a high quality life throughout his fight with cancer. As a result of their research and by working with their vet, Beth and Tom decided to switch Milo’s food to Hill’s n/d, a grain-free diet created specifically for dogs with cancer, and they started him on a line of supplements from K9 Medicinals which had a solid reputation for helping to extend the lives of dogs with cancer. Milo started getting (5) capsules of K9 Immunity daily, along with along with (1) Transfer Factor capsule and (2) K9 Omega capsules. They credit these supplements in particular for keeping Milo alive well past the initial three month prediction.
During Milo’s battle, Beth and Tom were also able to experience the kindness of others who want to help save the lives of dogs in need. When the pet insurance money ran out, they searched online and found out about an organization called Labrador Harbor, which is dedicated to providing funding for Labrador Retrievers in California who are in need of medical care. Labrador Harbor agreed to fundraise for Milo and helped to ensure that he could get the life-extending care he needed to continue his battle with cancer. Beth and Tom also did their part to help raise funds to help their boy by posting flyers about Milo in supermarkets and pet stores and by talking to other dog owners, co-workers, and neighbors. It seemed that so many people wanted to help save the life of this special dog. One neighbor who owned a store even had a collection can for Milo to help out.
Throughout his journey with cancer, Milo was a true warrior and inspired all those who met him. The vet staff who worked with him were among his biggest fans, continually rooting for him and encouraging him to keep on fighting. He was a living testament for how long a dog could survive an osteosarcoma diagnosis without amputation or chemotherapy. He truly lived up to his nickname, “Miracle Milo”, with his fierce determination and ability to defy the odds and keep surviving despite all of the challenges he had faced throughout his life.
“We thought Milo would live forever,” says Beth, “but on July 25, 2010, his cancer leg started swelling and getting larger. It was getting harder and harder for him to walk, even though he still wanted to run and play and wag his tail. The vet really couldn’t do anything and there was no guarantee if amputation would work or not. So on July 27, with great sadness, we decided it was time to send Milo to the Rainbow Bridge.”
Too often the argument made against pursuing treatment for pets with cancer is that treatment won’t substantially lengthen their life. As if you can put a price tag on or somehow quantify how much time is worth the effort to try to save a loved one’s life. But who can judge how much time is ‘worth it’? Even if blessed with a few extra weeks or months, families can make so many memories and share such precious time together.
Milo’s story proves how important and valuable even a few extra months of life can be. Milo survived an amazing 10½ months past diagnosis, when he was originally given only 3 short months to live. It may not seem like a lot of time to some, but in those extra 7 ½ months that Milo beat the odds, he also:
- Made it to his 4 year adoption anniversary on 1/30/2010
- Made it to his 9th birthday on 6/1/2010
- Survived 2 dog fights, even though he lost part of his ear
- Had time to grow back all of the hair lost from the FHO surgery (probably thanks to K9 Omega supplements he was taking)
And most importantly, Miracle Milo and his family had 7 ½ extra months filled with the joy of each others’ company.
Milo is now at the Bridge, but his legacy lives on. “We want others to know that there is hope with cancer,” says Beth. “Milo was a brave fighter and he defied many odds. By sharing Milo’s story, we hope that others can learn from our experience.” And part of that experience is realizing that nothing is impossible. Every dog diagnosed with cancer has the potential to beat the odds too.
Rest in peace Milo
6/1/2001 to 7/27/2010
Marvelous, Intelligent, Lovable, Only dog for us
Beth & Tom
If you would like to help other dogs like Milo who are battling cancer, to give them the opportunity to receive the lifesaving treatments they deserve, please consider making a donation in his honor to the Bear Hope Fund, which helps other labs with cancer, at www.labradorharbor.org/bearhopefund.html.
5 Lessons Learned from Milo’s Journey
- Don’t get discouraged if you find that you don’t meet low income guidelines for certain funding resources. There are many ways to fundraise on your own and you may be surprised at how many people are willing to help. Sometimes, all you have to do is ask.
- Get pet insurance when your dog is young! It can be a critical resource when faced with major surgery or a serious illness like cancer.
- Talk with other pet owners and look for online support groups to connect with others who may be able to help.
- If you find a supplement that you like, talk to the company and tell them how it has helped your dog. Some companies will even provide a free bottle of a supplement if they can use your testimonial on their website or in marketing materials.
- Plan ahead and make your dog’s final arrangements so you don’t need to worry about making these critical decisions while in the middle of your grief. If you don’t know where to start, ask your vet. They can usually recommend companies who can handle cremation or burial as well as companies that provide memorials and urns. They may even be able to help you obtain a discount on these items as a client of theirs.