Jasper is a very popular visitor in the hospitals and care homes around Portland. A therapy dog for most of his life, Jasper has learned how to work a room and, like any performer, he has a knack for finding the most appreciative members of the audience. “He’s very intuitive,” says his owner, Ilene Agosto. “I let him go where he wants and choose who to greet.”
As a Great Pyrenees weighing 120 pounds, Jasper is not a typical lap dog, but he’s happy to oblige if someone wants to snuggle. On a recent visit to an Alzheimer’s facility, Jasper immediately recognized a kindred spirit: He went over to the biggest man in the room and got acquainted. Then, much to the man’s delight, Jasper backed up and gently sat on his lap. ”It was love at first sight,” says Agosto.
Although the best skills he brings to his job are a gentle nature and friendly attitude, Jasper is most famous for his hats. He has dozens, including Jamaican dreadlocks, a propeller beanie and, of course, a nurses hat. All the staff at his regular stops look forward to seeing what he will wear next. “If I forget his hat, I have to stop and buy one,” laughs Agosto.
In May, Jasper was diagnosed with osteosarcoma (bone cancer) in his left fore limb. Canine osteosarcoma is an aggressive cancer and, untreated, dogs usually die within two months of diagnosis. “The gold standard for canine osteosarcoma treatment involves amputation and chemotherapy,” says Dr. Haley Leeper, canine oncology resident at OSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital (VTH). “However, we offer palliative options for owners who elect not to pursue amputation.”
Because Jasper is so big, and his cancer is in a front leg, Agosto chose to treat him for pain and quality of life only. “Dogs carry 60% of their weight in their forelimbs,” says Dr. Leeper. “A forelimb amputation puts stress on the remaining front leg which can lead to osteoarthritis and other joint disorders.”
Dr. Leeper, and canine oncologist Dr. Shay Bracha, are treating Jasper with pain medication, chemotherapy and Zoledronate, a bisphosphonate that improves bone density and prevents fracture. Now into his seventh month of treatment, Jasper is tolerating the chemotherapy and doing well, with no weight loss and no lameness in his front leg. Jasper continues to make therapy visits, and is living a normal dog life with his pal Moxie.
Jasper’s last visit to OSU for chemotherapy is coming up so Tammy Barr, the VTH client advocate, got him a special going away present: An orange cap with Benny the Beaver on the front and his name embroidered on the side. “He’s such a special dog,” she says. “He loves to get hugs from clients in our lobby, and he puts a smile on everyone’s face, even those that are so worried about their own pet. I thought he needed an OSU hat so his other friends would know that he goes to OSU and is a Beaver Believer!”