Wednesday, December 11, 2013

What can we learn from Bubbles the mastiff and her amazing rescue team?

Seamus the Boston terrier in his bed

Before you start reading this piece, head to the cupboard and pick up a 5-pound bag of flour and balance it on the top of your head. Now imagine doubling that weight, and moving it to the side of your face. That's about the size of a tumor that was found on a rescue mastiff named Bubbles.

She had the good fortune of being rescued by an organization that's known for taking in "hopeless" cases and providing the therapies others might never consider. (Read this blog entry about a dachshund with a severe back injury to see what I am talking about.) Rather than euthanizing Bubbles for her tumor, the administrators of this rescue chose to get her surgery. The updates (which you can see here) are nothing short of inspiring.

I've been through this sort of thing before, as the photo I've chosen for this blog entry clearly demonstrates (I've also written about that journey here). I know that helping dogs to recover from a disfiguring surgery that impacts the way they eat and play can be difficult and a little heartbreaking. As a result, I have so much admiration for the work this group is doing on behalf of a dog that clearly needs help.

Typically, coverage of cases like this follows a predictable pattern in which the dog is considered patient and a role model, and the rescue group is considered angelic. That might be true here, but I think there are also more important lessons we can learn from this case.

Firstly, it's important to remember that tumors like this can grow incredibly quickly. When Seamus had his mouth tumor, it grew at about a rate of an inch a week. I have no idea how long Bubbles was left with her tumor, but I feel fairly confident that she hadn't been living with the bump for years and years. She clearly deserved better, but the comments I've seen that suggest that the owner neglected her for a long period might be stretching the truth. There's no need to exaggerate when the truth of the tumor is powerful enough.

In fact, I think some of that exaggeration could actually be harmful. The fact is that many owners with dogs who have tumors choose not to operate, and within months, their dogs might look like this. These owners might have all sorts of reasons for steering clear of the operating room, and financial considerations might play a primary role, but I also think it's rare for owners to find success stories like this.

When your dog has cancer, you're worried and wondering, and there's very little information available about how major surgeries progress and how a dog does after surgery. When trying to research the procedure Seamus had, I hit an absolute brick wall. I could find out typical length of life after surgery and I could read reports in which surgeons suggested that the results were "cosmetically tolerable," but that didn't really mean much to me. I just wanted to know if my dog would live, and if he would be happy. I would have loved to see just one role model dog, just so I could know that I was making the right decision.

Now, if I hadn't done surgery, it might be too easy to blame me as neglectful, ill-informed and hateful. But wouldn't it be more helpful to suggest that people who don't do surgery just don't see how it could help?

That's what makes this rescue so extraordinary for me. This group is proving that even severe tumors are worth working on. With each little update they post, they prove that the surgery was worth it, for this dog. People who are dealing with their own disfiguring tumors in their dogs might be inspired by this story, and they might be willing to take action. By doing the surgery, the organization could be saving the lives of hundreds of thousands of dogs.

So if you're a blogger or you're somehow active on social media (aren't we all?), I urge you to share the Bubbles message. Many people out there might need to hear it.

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