In today's high-tech world, we as a society can be very analytical and statistical. Because we have such a wealth of knowledge right at our fingertips, sometimes it's just too hard to overlook the cold, hard facts.
Although all of the information has basically made "going with your gut," a dying expression, sometimes we as human beings are forced to do just that. There comes a time when the odds are stacked against us, and the only way to possibly overcome is by trusting your instinct and going against the grain.
Here at North Shore Animal League America, unfortunately it's not uncommon that we come across animals who are injured, sick or facing some type of adversity. Therefore, when it happens we make it our priority to exhaust every resource in order to provide hope for both the animals and their human families. So, when one of our shelter pets was suddenly diagnosed with cancer last year, there was no question that she was in the perfect place to beat the odds, even if she was given just months to live.
Sophie, a beautiful Mastiff/Shepherd mix, arrived at the Animal League by way of local municipal shelter when she was just a year old. She grew into a vibrant, healthy 75-pound dog, who would love you forever once she took a liking to you. One of the first people to develop a strong bond with Sophie was long-time volunteer Debbie Rightmyer. Debbie said Sophie is a very good judge of character, so when the brindle-colored Mutt-i-gree let her guard down and warmed up to her, she felt like she was just inducted into a select club.
The bond formed between these two not only created a special dynamic between human and animal, it contributed to saving Sophie's life. Because Debbie got to know Sophie so well, she was able to notice a few subtle changes in her that sparked some concern. She and other Animal League staffers, who had gotten to know the dog well during her time here, watched and worried as Sophie's appetite drastically decreased, her weight dropped, and she became more and more lethargic and reclusive. This wasn't the Sophie that everyone had come to know, so piecing together her perplexing condition became a top priority. The ailing pooch underwent a barrage of examinations, blood tests, and ultrasounds. It was obvious that something was wrong, but what it was and what was causing it remained a mystery. It wasn't until doctors performed a biopsy that they found the root of the problem.
The results of the procedure revealed that Sophie had T-Cell Lymphoma, a form of cancer with a higher propensity to effect certain breeds of dogs, one of which happens to be Mastiffs. To make the blow of the diagnosis even tougher to handle, doctors estimated that Sophie had just 4-6 months to live.
"We were preparing to say goodbye in all honesty," said Debbie. "When you hear a diagnosis like lymphoma and that she has only a short time to live its devastating. The odds of her making it through this were slim to none, so every night I would go spend time with her, feed her, and just let her know she's loved."
After the severity of the diagnosis had set in, it was time to decipher a plan of attack to give Sophie a fighting chance. She would also be placed in the Animal League's Foster Care Program, which would at the very least ensure that she would be in a loving home for however much time she had left. The responsibility of being a foster parent is not easy, but fostering a dying animal is a job only a strong, selfless, warm-hearted individual could tackle. Animal League Team Leader, Josephine Brugueras, decided she would be the one to foster Sophie.
"When I first met Sophie I was a little hesitant because she's a big dog and is known to be somewhat people selective, but it didn't take long for us to connect," said Josephine, who got to know Sophie very well when she would transport her to medical appointments at the Animal Medical Center in New York City. "Once we found out about her diagnosis, and I was sure she'd get along with my two dogs at home, Luca and Baci, it was an easy decision. Whether she had four weeks to live or four months I wasn't going to let her spend her final days in the shelter."
Jo, as she's known around the Animal League, decided she'd take over the responsibility of caring for Sophie, but she refused to let her diagnosis be a death sentence. With the backing of the entire Animal League staff, Jo took her ailing friend back to the AMC and found Sophie a veterinary oncologist. Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, Maria Camps started her on a low-dose chemotherapy treatment, as well as a medication to regulate her liver. After consulting with all of the doctors involved, Jo also reached out to Dr. Jiu Jia Wen of the Hampton Veterinarian Hospital, who is well-known for combining holistic care with conventional medicine. Jo said there was no limitations on the lengths she'd go to give Sophie a chance to beat this wretched disease.
For six months Jo supported Sophie through an arduous routine of countless doctor visits and daily medication schedules, all while holding out hope that her new-found friend would miraculously pull through. Being careful not to be too optimistic only to be let down if treatments didn't work, Jo said she was amazed at how Sophie's body responded. Her appetite came back and she immediately began to gain back the weight she lost. Her energy levels kicked back into gear, and she began acting like the old Sophie again. Then, in what can only be considered a medical miracle, Animal League Veterinarian, Dr. Briana Mirchel, who played a big part in Sophie's diagnosis and treatment, told Jo the news she never thought she'd hear. Sophie's condition had dramatically improved over the past half a year and she was in "clinical remission!"
Today, Sophie is as healthy as ever and back to her usual rambunctious and playful self. She travels back and forth to the Animal League with Jo for shifts at the shelter, and has quickly become a celebrity in her own right, even if she still is a bit selective about who she decides to let into her inner circle. Jo said that without the unwavering support from her "Animal League family," the doctors, and people like Debbie, who still maintains a close relationship with Sophie, this miracle remission diagnosis would have never been possible.
"All you can do is smile and be thankful when a miracle like this happens," said Jo. "Without the support of all of the doctors and everyone at the Animal League, I'm certain things wouldn't have turned out this way. All of love and support
of everyone is really a powerful thing."
With the odds completely stacked against her, this young dog proved that with a strong support system, the backing of a brilliant medical team, and a lot of mental and physical fortitude, there's no such thing as an impossible feat. From incurable to incredible, Sophie is living proof that there's always hope.
Written by James Fitzpatrick, Staff Writer