Oregon State College of Veterinary MedicineWhat do you do when your back forty is covered in blackberries? You can spray herbicides (expensive and not environmentally friendly), you can hire a crew to chop them down (expensive and temporary), or you can get a goat.

Goats love to eat, and they really love the nasty stuff: blackberries, ivy, scotch broom. They’ll even eat poison oak.

That’s how Debbie Bales became a goat fan. “We bought a place with a pasture that was overrun with blackberries,” she says. “Someone wisely suggested we get a goat or two.”  Their first goat, Sweetie Pie, was a Boer, a breed known for their distinctive white body and red head, large size, and docile personality; perfect for a family pet that will do some yard work.

Sweetie Pie gave birth to Kahlua, and soon after, Bales bought Chewy and Bambi. They now have seven goats, half from what Bales refers to as the ‘sweetie’ line. “Sweetie, Kahlua, and her two daughters all exhibit the same affectionate, loving personality,” she says. “It is very comparable to a dog that likes to cuddle.”

Kahlua, whose nickname is Loo Loo, is especially friendly. “She is always the first to approach people and will stand with her head resting on your leg, begging for some petting.  She loves scratches on her top shoulders and she returns the favor by putting her nose in my face very gently, to let me know she likes me back.”

Kahlua’s close bond with Bales helped them both through a recent health crisis: Kahlua was diagnosed with breast cancer.

In July of this year, Bales noticed Kahlua’s left udder was swollen. “It was unusual as she was not bred and her baby is grown,” she says. Upon examination, Bales found a hard mass filled with clear fluid, indicative of mastitis, so she started Kahlua on medication and sent a fluid sample to the state diagnostic laboratory. The results came back identified as a staph infection. “I was told how resistant and hard to treat staph is, and her options were to remove one side of the udder or cull her.  Well, culling was not an option for sure,” she says.

Two rounds of antibiotics later, with no improvement, Bales decided to call her local vet. He suggested she send a tissue sample this time. “It’s a good thing we did send in that tissue sample, as this was diagnosed as mammary carcinoma,” says Bales. “That was Wednesday, September 18th and I had her into OSU [Veterinary Teaching Hospital] that Friday.  The rest is surgery history.”

Kahlua had a complete mastectomy, including her lymph nodes. During her recovery, she was lucky to have fourth-year student Elsbeth Centola on her care-giving team. Centola grew up around goats and enjoys working with them, and Kahlua’s case was extra special because Centola’s mother is also a breast cancer survivor. In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Centola decorated Kahlua’s flanks with pink ribbons created out of bandage wrap.

“My favorite part of the whole thing,” says Bales, “was picking her up post-surgery and seeing the nice bandage with the pink, breast cancer ribbon. That was so sweet. I still have those ribbon pieces by the way.”

Bales posted photos of Kahlua wearing her breast cancer awareness ribbons on her Facebook page, and she wants other pet owners to learn something from her experience. “I cannot stress enough the importance of looking at, and putting your hands on your animals regularly,” she says. “If I had not walked into the stall, like I do every morning to say ‘hi’, and looked them all over at feeding, I would not have noticed her udder.  I would not have started treatment and called the vet, and most likely would not have caught it before it spread.”

Do animals know when they have dodged a bullet? Do they realize their owner has saved their life?  Bales believes they do. “She thanks me every day for saving her. She looks at me and says ‘thank you’ with some nose rubs on my face.”

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