In Memoriam: Checkers

Old Yeller Alert

You may remember Checkers from my post on chemotherapy.  He was the poster boy and his success inspired a number of pet-owners to treat their buddy’s cancer instead of just throwing in the towel.  Today, Checkers finally threw in the towel.

I first met Checkers in August of 1998.  He was a rambunctious Cocker Spaniel.  Even though he was nine years old, there was a lot of the puppy in him still.  He didn’t look or act old.  In June of 1999, he developed some lumps under his neck.  Further examination revealed that most of his lymph nodes were swollen.  He didn’t feel good, and he certainly wasn’t acting like a happy puppy.  Cytology exam revealed lymphoma — lymph node cancer.

At that time, the University of Missouri’s College of Veterinary Medicine teaching hospital was undertaking a new study on the treatment of this disease and Checkers was eligible to participate.  He went to Mizzou for some evaluations and testing, but most of his chemotherapy was done here at Kennett Veterinary Clinic.  After his very first treatment, the cancers shrank dramatically and he never looked back.  He received treatments and repeat evaluations through May of 1999. He took some of his meds at home and received I.V. treatments at the clinic about every three weeks.

He had been in clinical remission (meaning, he looked and felt good) within weeks of starting treatment.  At ten  years of age, after a year of chemotherapy, he still looked good and we stopped the chemo.  When he was twelve, he was back at the University for evaluation.  His folks asked the specialists there how much longer they might hope for. "What’s the bench-mark?"  The doctors just pointed down at Checkers.  "He’s the benchmark."  The benchmark after two years of survival, he went on to beat the odds for another five years.  When Checkers was sixteen, six years after his initial diagnosis, he walked in a cancer walkathon with human cancer survivors. 

Not many dogs live to be seventeen, even if they haven’t had cancer like Checkers.  In his seventeenth year he began to have more of the problems we associate with aging, but was still feisty, and a joy to his owners.   He had a lot of trouble with arthritis and had to take some pain medication.  Ear infections are the bane of Cocker Spaniels and he had more trouble with them.  We began to see him fairly frequently with his geriatric problems.  He turned seventeen in May and still had a pretty good quality of life, amazingly enough.

This summer, he began to be a little more cantankerous, and he developed some neurological problems that made him stumble a lot.  Then, in early October, we found a new mass in his abdomen.  There were a lot of days when we didn’t really feel he was comfortable.  Finally, the day came when he just couldn’t get up.

As we prepared to let that rambunctious puppy leave his worn-out body, his daddy said, "If I could make him a puppy again, I’d sell everything I have and start over."  As veterinarians, we think we know how attached people are to their pets.  Sometimes, we don’t know the half of it.   

My staff and I and Checkers’ family all knew this day would come.  That didn’t make it any easier.  The one thing we didn’t have to deal with was the "what if" that comes when you haven’t given things your best shot.  One doesn’t often have the privilege to experience such a total committment from the pet-owner that is also met with such great success.

He was something, all right.  Now I expect that he’s picking up a new puppy body and getting ready to go again.  You can’t keep a good man down, and he was a good one.

2 thoughts on “In Memoriam: Checkers

  1. Steve Mays says:

    Dr. M. – A really nice story. Sad, but nice. Thanks for posting. I saw the Old Yeller alert but could stop reading. (Sniff)

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