It’s a pet owner’s worst nightmare:  He’s not here; he’s missing

Mike and Melissa Simington began searching for their 10-month-old Boston Terrier, Ace, when they discovered he was no longer in their backyard. Hours later, the really bad new arrived: he had been struck by a car and was at the emergency vet with life-threatening injuries.

Once they saw him, Mike and Melissa didn’t want to give up. “He had his youth on his side and when I looked in his eyes, I knew he was still in there. We snuggled him as best we could, and I told Ace, ‘You fight through this, and you come home,’” Melissa says.

The Simingtons were referred to Oregon State University’s Carlson College of Veterinary Medicine for their pup’s best chance at a recovery. “We received a phone call from Ace’s OSU veterinarian that evening that he made it through surgery,” Melissa recalls. “We went to the hospital to see him.” Ace was in good spirits, and although he couldn’t move much, he rewarded everyone with kisses. The family laid on the floor with Ace curled up on their son’s blanket.

After several weeks at the hospital and rehabilitation at home, Ace was again that spunky Boston Terrier puppy he was before the accident.

Ace is happy to be back to his normal self, running around and jumping up on the couches. He has no neurological damage. But now, he doesn’t try to run out of the yard.

“I thank the hospital, the doctors, the students, and the staff every single day for what they did for Ace,” Melissa says. “They saved his life, and our family will always be grateful.”

Thanks to the Olive K. Britt endowment, Brie received the surgery needed to go to her forever home.

When critically ill shelter animals come to the OSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital (VTH), part of the cost of their housing, surgery, and care is paid by the Olive K. Britt Endowment for Emergency Medicine.

Olive Britt was an OSU alumna who earned a degree in Wildlife Sciences in 1940, and went on to become a veterinarian. When she died in 2006, her will created an endowment to provide hospital care for shelter animals, and animals whose owners could not afford critical treatment.

Dr. Kirk Miller, an OSU faculty member teaching veterinary students at the Oregon Humane Society in Portland, has sent several cats and dogs to OSU for procedures that he cannot provide. “These are young, otherwise healthy animals that are very adoptable,” he says. In fact, he says, “They rarely make it back to us. They get adopted there [Corvallis].”

Last month, that happened once again when a homeless Golden Retriever named Brie was brought to the VTH for repair of an Ectopic Ureter. In normal dogs, the ureter connects the kidneys to the bladder. Brie was born with a ureter that did not connect to her bladder. The VTH surgically repaired this defect, and the Britt fund paid part of the cost. Soon after Brie recovered from surgery, one of the students working on her case found her a forever home with a friend in Portland, Callan Christman.

“We are so grateful for all that OSU has done to make Brie healthy,” says Christman. “She is a wonderful addition to our family and we love her so much.”

The Olive K. Britt endowment earns about $7,000 a year in interest. In 2019, donors contributed another $4,360. All that money has been used to help shelter animals and pets of low-income owners. The many, many generous donors who have contributed to the Britt fund over the years have enabled the VTH to save the lives of hundreds of beloved pets and pets-to-be.

If you would like to make a gift, large or small, to the Olive K. Britt endowment, visit the OSU Foundation website.

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.”

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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.