Before his accident Tucker could “jump four feet straight up, spin, and fly through the air to catch a ball,” says his mom Rhonda Reed. “He could also climb trees. He could run right up the trunk, and sit in the crotch of the tree ten feet up.”

Two years ago, on a rare snowy day in Eugene, Reed let Tucker out to enjoy the experience. He slipped on the ice and fell, but typical for him, he just bounced back up and joined his canine siblings in play.

The next day Tucker was limping, so Reed took him to her veterinarian who gave him pain medication and a steroid injection for inflammation. Unfortunately, over the weekend, Tucker got worse, but a trip to the emergency clinic for x-rays was inconclusive. By Monday, Tucker was completely paralyzed in both hind legs and in a lot of pain.

Reed frantically called several veterinary hospitals looking for help. Finally, she was referred to the Lois Bates Acheson Veterinary Teaching Hospital (VTH) at Oregon State University. With two board-certified orthopedic surgeons and a large orthopedic team, the VTH treats hundreds of dogs with disc injuries every year, so the staff answering phones know how important it is to act quickly in cases of paralysis. In Tucker’s case, they described his symptoms to Dr. Isaac Cortez, an orthopedic surgery resident, and he arranged to bring Tucker into the hospital immediately. There, an MRI confirmed Dr. Cortez’s suspicion of herniated discs that were extruding into the spinal canal and compressing Tucker’s spine.

The success of any disc surgery is dependent, in part, on relieving spinal compression quickly. Dr. Cortez and orthopedic surgeon Dr. Jennifer Warnock took Tucker into surgery that afternoon. They performed an extensive procedure, removing the protective roof of the spinal canal to access and remove bulging disc material between four vertebrae.

Soon after waking up, Tucker showed one small sign of improvement: he was able to wag his tail, but he still had a long road ahead to regain movement in his legs. Sara Short, a Certified Rehabilitation Technician began laser therapy on Tucker while he was still in ICU. “It is unusual for us to have a case with this many disc injuries,” she said, “so we wanted to promote healing and decrease inflammation right away.”

The surgery was a success, but because a significant portion of his spine had been removed, Tucker needed extra help to build muscle and keep it stable. In addition to the usual post-surgery care instructions, Reed had a long list of daily exercises to do with Tucker, including range of motion exercises three times a day, and swaying and bouncing exercises to help him find his hind legs in space.

With Reed’s dedication and hard work, Tucker slowly began to move his back legs. By his two-month recheck, he was starting to walk pain free, and able to start underwater treadmill therapy, but that proved to be an unexpected challenge.

Before Reed adopted him, Tucker had a tough life. She first met him when he was taken to the Lane County Animal Shelter (LCAS) as  young stray. She was a volunteer helping the trainer work on his behavior issues, which including biting. He was a smart dog who learned fast and seemed to be ready for adoption, so he was soon transferred to another shelter, but that did not go well. He ended up back at LCAS, and was put on the euthanasia list. That’s when Reed stepped in and saved poor Tucker. She decided to take him home as a foster dog, and work some more on improving his behavior.

“That‘s when we discovered his love of playing ball,” says Reed, “We found that he would become your best friend in minutes if you brought out a ball.” Well, most of the time; he was still picky about which humans he liked. For example, when Tucker went into the rehab room for his first underwater treadmill session, he displayed aggression toward Sara Short, the technician, and the session was cancelled. “We had some hurdles to get over,” says Short. “We had to build a trusting relationship so I could handle him safely.” Patience and persistence on her part paid off, and eventually Tucker came to love his visits to the treadmill room. The two are now good buddies. “He loves the rehab sessions,” says Reed. “I’ve seen a huge improvement in his social skills with the people he has met at OSU.”

It’s been two years since his surgery and Tucker is still visiting OSU for regular rehab sessions. “By continuing underwater treadmill, he maintains his stamina, muscle strength, and motor function to support an active senior lifestyle,” says Short. “It also helps minimize arthritis in his back and prevents further injury.”

Tucker still chases the ball, but without the flying feats of acrobatics. “We throw the ball low to the ground and he runs to catch it,” says Reed. “No more climbing trees, but he and his best friend Zoe still chase each other in circles around the yard. Tucker is very happy.”

From hummingbirds to bears, there is often something interesting (and a bit gory) on the steel tables in the necropsy laboratory.

 

Stacie Nellor handed a stainless steel bowl up to the first person in the front row of the viewing gallery. In the bowl was a feline abdomen that contained a large tumor. The specimen was passed among a group of two dozen students while Nellor explained the source of the cat’s abdominal bleeding: a rare disease called Factor XI Deficiency.

Nellor is a fourth-year veterinary student working in the necropsy lab where, among other things, she performs animal autopsies (called necropsies) under the supervision of a pathologist. Nellor saved the cat’s remains to present at the Wednesday morning necropsy rounds. The rounds are open to any student or staff of the Carlson College of Veterinary Medicine, and sometimes visitors on guided tours attend as well.

The necropsy lab is one of the busiest services at the Oregon Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory (OVDL). In addition to educating students, pathologists perform necropsies for veterinarians, pet owners, and farmers, and work closely with many government agencies from Oregon Public Health to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Dr. Rob Bildfell is an OSU professor, a board-certified pathologist, and supervisor of the necropsy service. In his twenty years at the lab, he has seen a wide range of interesting cases involving many different species, and a lot of those came from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW).

From big bears to tiny hummingbirds, ODFW is interested in knowing why animals have died. “Typically they send us species that are of interest to their clientele, like deer, elk, and ducks,” says Bildfell.  “Or they may be concerned about disease transmission when an animal has had contact with humans, like a wild rabbit that a Good Samaritan has tried to help.”

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A small lab at OSU is a critical component of the state’s complex system that protects the public from rabies.

 

Wendy Black has been testing brain tissue, looking for rabies infection, for twenty-six years. She and fellow technicians process about 80 samples every week. They work for the Oregon Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory (OVDL), the only lab in the state that does rabies testing.

The laboratory space for rabies testing resides in a seventy-year-old building on the western edge of the OSU campus. The faded, old linoleum on the floors is in stark contrast to state-of-the-art equipment set up throughout the building. Most of the rooms contain automated processers conducting sophisticated diagnostic testing, but the rabies lab follows a Center for Disease Control (CDC) protocol that has been the standard for decades, and it’s all done by hand.

When a dead bat comes into the OVDL, the first thing Wendy does is remove its brain. “We separate the cerebellum and brain stem; that’s where the concentration of rabies will be found.”

Wendy prepares a slice of brain tissue by fixing it to a slide then treating it with two different kinds of rabies antibodies. “Essentially, we have two different agents looking for the same thing,” she says. This is one of many steps they take to ensure accurate diagnosis.

The slide sits for thirty minutes, letting the animal tissue and antibodies incubate together, then Wendy uses a microscope to view the result. She looks at forty different tiny sections, searching for a grouping of bright green spots called ‘green apple granules’, the evidence of rabies. Her colleague duplicates the process with the same brain tissue to make sure they are not missing a low-level infection. There is absolutely no automation involved; it’s just people working efficiently, and time is a factor. “From the time of receipt to the time of reporting, we can usually get it done in 2-3 hours,” says Wendy. “We want no more than a 24-hour turn around, for peace of mind of the clients.”

Most rabies testing at the OVDL is done on dead bats (only about 30% is done on larger animals) and most of those bats come from the general public.  When a slide tests positive for rabies, the OVDL contacts the state veterinarian at the Oregon Health Authority, who notifies the county where the animal resided. He may also question the person who found the animal to determine if anyone was exposed and needs treatment, a process that involves many weeks of shots.

When a slide tests negative for rabies, Wendy quickly contacts the person who submitted the bat. “I like to call them personally with the negative result,” she says. “They might be worried about exposure to their pets and family, and it is nice to hear the sigh of relief in their voice.”

In cases where a dog or cat brings home a dead bat, or when a veterinarian suspects a pet’s neurological symptoms may be due to rabies, there is only one sad, stressful way to diagnose the disease: euthanize the animal and remove its brain. However, the CDC has recently developed a promising, new rabies test that uses tiny DNA samples instead of brain tissue. “It will be very sensitive,” says Wendy, “And the neat thing is they can use it on different kinds of samples, like saliva, so the animal would not have to be euthanized.”

The Carlson College of Veterinary Medicine hosts a Zoo, Wildlife, and Exotics (ZWE) conference every other spring. Organized by students, it features a variety of topics including exotic animal emergency medicine, wildlife diseases, aquatic and zoo animal medicine, and exotic animal handling.

This year the event included a wildlife necropsy wet lab, a clinical pathology case studies lab, a capture and immobilization lab, and an avian phlebotomy lab. The participants came from all over the northwest, and all aspects of veterinary medicine, including wildlife enthusiasts and pre-veterinary undergraduates, to veterinary technicians, veterinarians and researchers.

The event was packed full of learning experiences that are not available elsewhere. “I learned how to shoot a blow dart at a fake elephant butt, and I learned that beavers have orange teeth because of a high iron content (which makes them stronger),” says Eilea Delgadillo (Class of 2021). “I learned that giraffes aren’t very smart, and that their skin is stretched so tightly over their legs that keeping a sutured wound closed for more than a few days is nearly impossible.”

Wildlife dissections were supervised by Professor Dr. Ron Bildfell in the necropsy room of the Oregon Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory. “We had the wonderful opportunity to necropsy two California Sea Lions, a stellar sea lion, a harbor seal, and elephant seal pup, a dolphin, a river otter, a cougar, a racoon, and a bobcat,” says student Lesley Cohen (Class of 2021). “We also had the opportunity to participate in sample collection for the Marine Mammal Stranding Network.”

It takes a big team and many hours of work to create a symposium rich in relevant content. The ZWE club includes student officers Kait Esson (co-president), Eilea Delgadillo (co-president), Lesley Cohen (secretary), Laura Eldridge (treasurer), and Robyn Cates (historian). “The officers who hosted the symposium learned valuable skills throughout the planning process and facilitation of the event,” says Cohen. “In addition to gaining leadership experience, they participated in financial analysis, risk analysis, graphic design, sponsorship seeking, communication with professionals in the field, scheduling, hospitality, and much more.”

Student volunteers pitched in and helped as well, including Katherine Onofryton, Marci Witczak, Sabrina Dean, McKinley Smith, Linda Yang and Genny Cobarrubias. “This event would not have been possible without the help of our volunteers, sponsors, guest lecturers, and faculty members,” says Cohen. “Thank you!”

 

Wilbur is a happy, affectionate Golden Retriever mix who never walks anywhere, he trots. His favorite activities include running with mom at the track, taking a sniffing adventure with his sister Pork Chop, and keeping an eye peeled for the neighborhood cat. Wilbur is now living his best life thanks to the skilled doctors and staff at the Lois Bates Acheson Veterinary Teaching Hospital.

When Wilbur was just a puppy, he was diagnosed with an abnormal growth of cartilage in his shoulder, and referred to OSU for surgery. Dr. Jennifer Warnock, a professor and orthopedic surgeon, successfully removed the diseased cartilage and Wilbur’s shoulder got better. At the same time, Dr. Warnock discovered that Wilbur had hip dysplasia, a joint deformity common in some dog breeds. She recommended non-invasive treatments to strengthen his hips and minimize pain.

Over the next eight years, Wilbur’s mom, Debbie Franke, took good care of him, including regular physical therapy, and anti-inflammatory drugs, but eventually his hip dysplasia got worse. “His trot was painful, more like a bunny hop,” says Franke. This summer, she brought Wilbur back to OSU for a total replacement of his right hip.

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Suitcase recovery station in the free clinic in Falconiana, Costa Rica.

When protests against the Ortega dictatorship in Nicaragua turned violent in April, OSU members of the International Veterinary Student Association met with Dean Tornquist to discuss whether to go forward with the annual service trip to Nicaragua. The group decided it was not safe and, with much regret, the trip was cancelled; but veterinary students would not be where they are without grit and determination, and Kelly Riper (Class of 2020) decided not to give up yet. She enlisted the help of Assistant Professor Brianna Beechler to try to find an alternate location.

Dr. Beechler has done a lot of public health research in third world countries; she used her contacts in Costa Rica to search for a community that did not have access to veterinary care, and could house a portable clinic and thirty volunteers. In June, she and Costa Rican veterinarian Dr. Andres Rodriguez found two tiny villages near Palo Verde National Park that fit those parameters. Riper began planning the trip, but immediately realized she had a big problem: “It was right after finals week and everyone had scattered across the country,” she says. “They had either gone home, or were working for the summer.”

Eventually Riper managed to round up seventeen OSU veterinary students, a large animal surgeon, three students from Tuskegee University, and two Oregon veterinarians. It was just barely enough to staff a clinic.

For ten years, the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine has been holding free clinics in the same location in Nicaragua, so they had a well-defined plan for logistics, and a book of instructions for the next year’s group of volunteers. This time Riper and her team were flying blind.

“We weren’t able to scope out the site, or meet any of the people, so we didn’t know what to expect. We didn’t know if we were going to see ten animals or 400,” she says. “It was also really challenging to take over planning so late in the game, especially since I had not gone before. I was trying to make sure that all the pieces that normally exist would be there this year too.”

Another hurdle for Riper: Most of the volunteers had plane tickets for Nicaragua that had to be changed, and many of the airlines did not fly to an airport near Palo Verde National Park. She was able to solve that problem too. “We rented two 12-passenger vans and drove them all the way across the country – a four-hour drive,” says Riper. “I was really proud of our students for stepping up to drive on poor roads in a foreign country.”

And you thought your college roommate was bad.

Once they arrived at their destination, the accommodations were more primitive than in Nicaragua, and had existing ‘tenants’. “We had three rooms with five bunk-beds each,” says Riper. “On our first night, we had to clear out all the bugs, scorpions and tarantulas. Some of us really had to face our fear of bugs in a hurry.”

The OSU group held three days of free clinics in two different villages. “They were so small, you can’t even find them on Google maps,” says Riper. “They gave us the elementary school classrooms that they use every day; they moved the kids to the cafeteria while we were there.”

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Tazz is a red kangaroo who lives with his family of dogs, people and two other kangaroos. He was bought at an auction in Missouri by Christine Dobratz when he was seven months old, and although he is now four feet tall, he is a lap roo at heart. He and his kangaroo pals, Buddy and Cricket, are gentle and friendly, and like visit elementary schools where they get lots of attention.

The three kangaroos enter their house by hopping up a ramp. In September Tazz somehow got stuck under the ramp and could not get out. When Dobratz found and released him, his back leg was obviously dislocated and he could not hop. She rushed him to a local veterinarian, where x-rays established that there were no long bone fractures, so the vet stabilized the leg with a wrap. When Tazz did not improve, Christine contacted Dr. Mike Huber, a large animal surgeon at the OSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital. He agreed to see Tazz and offer some treatment options, so Christine drove all the way from Kelso, Washington to Corvallis for a consultation.

“Once I met the doctors at OSU,” says Christine, “I went from feeling at a total loss from not being able to help him, to a new hope for his survival.”

Dr. Huber ordered a CT scan which revealed small fractures near the ankle joint, torn ligaments, and a dislocated foot. He consulted with two orthopedic surgeons in the OSU small animal hospital, Dr. Jeffrey Biskup and Dr. Jennifer Warnock, both of whom repair bones in dogs and cats many times a week, but had never worked on a kangaroo.

The three surgeons did a lot of research, and after much discussion of options, came up with a plan: attaching an external fixator plate for initial stability of the ankle joint, and insertion of pinned crossbars between the shin bone and foot. Christine supported the plan. “I felt so relieved with three doctors involved in his care, and knowing they were the best I could get,” she said.

Although anesthesia can be challenging with exotic animals, the surgery went well and Tazz recovered without incident. “He was not a very stable patient under anesthesia,” says Dr. Warnock. “Dr. Riebold and his team did a terrifc job of keeping him alive and asleep.”

Once he was out of surgery, Dr. Huber designed and built a custom-made bandage cast. “One of the biggest challenges was keeping him quiet, and preventing him from using his very dexterous hands to destroy the bandage,” he says.

Tazz is home and moving around the house. His cast was recently removed, but Dobratz will have to keep the leg wrapped for several months. [You can see a video here.]

“This case was a great collaboration between large and small animal doctors,” says Dr. Warnock. “Tazz is such a beautiful animal; those eyelashes are a mile long!”

Osteosarcoma is typically a very aggressive bone cancer that starts in a leg bone and quickly spreads to the lungs. Early detection and treatment can add years to a pet’s life.

Canine osteosarcoma is the most commonly diagnosed bone cancer, and is often very aggressive in spreading to the lungs and other areas. Once the tumor metastasizes, dogs only live, on average, a couple of months, even with chemotherapy.

The best case scenario for saving a pet with osteosarcoma is to catch it early, before it spreads, and remove the tumor. This can add years to a dog’s life.

The current method of diagnosing canine osteosarcoma is done with a CT scan, followed by a biopsy to determine if the tumor is benign or malignant, a procedure that is invasive and costly.

Dr. Shay Bracha, a canine oncologist at the OSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital (VTH), is working on a less invasive, more effective screening for osteosarcoma.

Cancer spreads by compromising the immune system. Dr. Bracha’s research team has been investigating the role of exosomes in immunosuppression. Exosomes are tiny structures made in the body’s cells that are thought to be involved in signaling between cells.

The Bracha team exposed healthy T-cells to exosomes from malignant cancer cells and examined the impact. They found that malignant exosomes negatively inhibited the function of healthy cells, and caused early die-off and reduced normal cell increase.

Most importantly, the study also found that malignant exosomes, compared to healthy cell exosomes, have a high concentration of unique proteins. This opened the door for Bracha to develop a potential diagnostic tool. His team is now focused on using malignant exosomes as a biological marker to screen for canine osteosarcoma with a simple blood test. The hope is that this could lead to routine screening by primary care veterinarians that would reveal the presence of osteosarcoma early enough to remove the tumor before it spreads.

The oncology service at the VTH is a member of the Comparative Oncology Trials Consortium which is organized by the National Cancer Institute. This allows pet owners the option of choosing cutting-edge treatment while helping to gather important data on cancer treatment that may benefit both animals and human.

The VTH oncology service is currently enrolling patients in six clinical trials. The hospital also enrolls pets in clinical trials in cardiology, radiology, and other areas of veterinary medicine. To learn more, visit vetmed.oregonstate.edu/clinical-trials.

Joan and Terry Ferguson have a small desk in the waiting room of the Small Animal Hospital at OSU, but they don’t spend much time sitting there. Terry can often be found out in the parking lot, rain or shine, handing out parking passes and helping clients unload a sick pet. Joan dispenses dog biscuits and tips on where to eat, but more importantly, spends a lot of time sitting with clients, providing company during a long wait, or listening with a sympathetic ear; that is especially helpful when a pet is seriously ill or injured and a client is upset.

“I enjoy visiting with people,” says Joan. “I just ask, ‘What are you here for?’ and that’s all it takes . . . they let it all out. Then they say, ‘Thank you so much for listening, it really helped.’”

The Fergusons drive for more than an hour every week to volunteer at the hospital. “We are so lucky to have them,” says Client Advocate, Tammy Barr, who supervises seven hospital volunteers and manages the Grateful Client Program. The program was organized after many former clients expressed a desire to give back in return for the excellent care their pet received at the hospital.

Former clients contribute in many ways to the success of the hospital, from buying pizza for the students working overnight in the large animal hospital, to sewing blankets for ICU, to purchasing a much-needed piece of equipment, but the hospital volunteers form the heart of the program.

Like the other volunteers, Janet and Dave Perry were introduced to the VTH when they brought their dog, Connor, in for a check up. On the day of their appointment, they were met in the lobby by Joan and Terry Ferguson. “They were both so kind and chatted with us while we waited with Connor,” says Dave Perry. “Janet and I decided that if the program needed more volunteers, we should try it. We were looking for something we could do as a team . . . and we have a soft spot for animals so we felt it would be a good fit for us.”

The Client Advocate position and the Grateful Client Program have been so successful at OSU, other colleges have contacted Barr about duplicating it in their hospitals, and the OSU Large Animal Hospital recently added a Client Advocate as well. Grateful clients, Caroline Ajootian and Joan Campf, support both positions.

“Janet and I receive satisfaction in trying to make the hospital visit, for both animals and their caregivers, as easy as possible,” says Dave Perry.

Barr adds: “I try to listen and be a friend. I really care about the clients and their pets.”

Dogs bring us a great bounty of love, enthusiasm, loyalty, and laughter. Really, their only fault is that they die too soon. Like many of us, Nancy Wolske knows how tough that is.

Nancy’s dog Schooner was not just her furry child, but also a contributing member of the community. First as a guide dog, then after retirement as a Guide Dog Ambassador helping to promote the service dog mission. Schooner was also a therapy dog for Dove Lewis hospitals.

When lung cancer took Schooner at eight years old, Nancy was devastated. Soon after, her sister-in-law asked her to adopt a 3-month-old Red Setter puppy named Cara, but she was reluctant. “My mother-in-law rescued the mom, and my sister-in-law had the other puppy,” says Nancy, who finally agreed to foster the puppy for the weekend. “She arrived in our home while our hearts ached terribly, but it didn’t take but a few hours to find laughter through the tears.” The Wolke’s fell in love and wound up adopting Cara. “It was one of the best decisions, ever,” says Nancy.

Cara is now nine-years-old and Nancy describes her as “our child”. She is a very smart dog and Nancy has taught her many hand signals. She also knows all the individuals in her stuffed animal zoo, and will retrieve them by name as requested. When asked to ‘do the dishes’, Cara picks up a spoon or small dish and carries it into the kitchen. “She is very proud of this ability,” says Nancy.

Last fall, Nancy found a lump on Cara’s neck. She immediately took her to Dr. Beth Nguyen at Woodburn Pet Hospital, who ordered a needle sample; the test result indicated thyroid cancer. She referred them to the Lois Bates Acheson Veterinary Teaching Hospital (VTH) at OSU.

At the VTH, an oncology team examined Cara and ordered a CT scan which confirmed the mass on her thyroid gland. Surgery was recommended, however a blood test revealed Cara had an abnormally low platelet count. The oncology team consulted with the internal medicine team who diagnosed immune-mediated thrombocytopenia (IMTP), an auto-immune disease that attacks platelets in the blood stream and can slow blood clotting.  Unfortunately, Cara could not undergo surgery in that condition.

The internal medicine team prescribed a drug treatment plan to bring Cara’s platelet count up, and Nancy took her home. “It was very stressful to think about the cancer growing while we waited for the treatment to work,” she says. “The communication between Dr. Nguyen and OSU was frequent and timely. I cannot emphasize enough how important, and good, this component was.”

Finally, Cara was able to have the tumor removed. The surgery went well with no sign that the cancer had spread. “We were very fortunate and able to take her home earlier than expected,” says Nancy.

Cara is now six months post-surgery and back to her old self, with a good prognosis for a normal lifespan. “She is likely to do very well,” says OSU oncologist Dr. Katie Curran. “The average survival for dogs with this type of cancer, when surgery is possible, is between 2-3 years from diagnosis.” Dr. Curran adds: “It was important that Cara was brought to her veterinarian when the mass was first noted.  This allowed us to initiate treatment for Cara as soon as possible.”

Nancy is now an enthusiastic ambassador for the OSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital. “We are so grateful for the entire team there at OSU, from the amazing volunteers, the reception staff, the Saturday staff — every person there went above and beyond for us.  It genuinely eased our worries from the first moment we arrived.”

Catching cancer early is often key to a good outcome. In addition to regular veterinary check-ups, pet owners should stay aware of their dog’s condition, and keep an eye out for lumps or other changes. For more information on signs of cancer in dogs, visit http://vetspecialists.com/category/oncology/.