JJ works three days a week at Samaritan Evergreen Hospice. Her job description is unusual: Roll around on the floor, hand out hugs, and generate smiles. Trained as a registered therapy dog, and with seven years of experience under her collar, she is a valuable member of the staff.

Tracy Calhoun is a hospice nurse and JJ’s mom. Over the years, she has trained five therapy dogs, but JJ is special. “When we walk in to work, if someone is crying, instead of following me, she immediately peels off and put her arms around them.” In fact, JJ is off-leash all day, and decides for herself who needs comforting when.

Samaritan Evergreen Hospice provides comfort care and aggressive pain management for patients who are at the end of life. The people who work there have special training in patient care, but they also care about the families. That is where JJ is invaluable. “Very often there are not words we can say to make it better,” says Calhoun. “When someone is very emotional, spending time with JJ is much more soothing. They don’t have to talk, or assure someone they are saying the right thing. It’s just comforting.”

JJ is also an important part of a ritual of respect the hospice provides for all patients. “We have something called a ‘walk out’,” says Calhoun. “When someone dies, the staff and volunteers line the hallway as the patient leaves on a gurney. JJ taught herself to wait outside the room, then walk beside the gurney as it is wheeled to the front door. All our patients come in the front door and leave by the front door.”

JJ not only comforts patients and families, she gives staff and volunteers a much-needed respite from the demands of their jobs. “She has a big impact as a co-worker,” says Calhoun. “People can take a timeout and play with her, but there is also something about having a dog hanging out that takes the stress level down. Even if she is just being silly, rolling around on her back with a toy. It makes people smile.”

Last year, JJ was diagnosed with an aggressive form of lymphoma. Without treatment, she had a prognosis of 1-2 months. In January, Calhoun brought her to the OSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital. “I wanted all options for treatment, and the vet I was seeing encouraged me to look into OSU where they have the latest research.”

OSU has given everyone at Samaritan Evergreen Hospice an extra eight months with JJ so far. Although she has been receiving chemotherapy, JJ has remained active and happily working the whole time. “It hasn’t slowed her down at all,” says Calhoun. “There were a couple of times when she got chemo in the morning, then went to work in the afternoon. People were amazed.”

JJ will come to the end of her life soon, and will leave behind big paws to fill. “There is no way I can replicate another JJ,” says Calhoun. “She is the most intuitive dog I have ever had.”



Did you get it all? That is a critical question often asked after tumor removal surgery. At the OSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital (VTH), Dr. Milan Milovancev is addressing that question in his research on canine cancer.

Dr. Milovancev is a soft tissue surgeon who operates on hundreds of dogs with cancer every year. He also conducts research and clinical trials that focus on finding the optimal amount of tissue to remove, and the best way to tell if a tumor surgery was successful.

“I am dedicated to improving the quality of life for cancer patients by working to maximize chances of removing all the cancer during one surgery, while preserving as much healthy tissue as possible,” he says. This includes studying how tumors grow, how to plan tumor surgery, and how to best test for residual cancer cells after surgery. “Accurately determining whether or not a surgical procedure has successfully achieved local tumor control [removal of all cancer cells] is paramount,” he says, “Incorrect diagnostics in this regard may result in needless additional surgery, radiation therapy, or chemotherapy.” It also impacts whether a cancer will return.

The VTH is staffed with board-certified, veterinary specialists so Dr. Milovancev can collaborate with colleagues in oncology, pathology and radiology to design and implement these tumor margin studies. He can also invite clients whose dogs have cancer to participate in clinical trials that yield valuable data about the studies.

Doobie is a recent patient of Dr. Milovancev and that makes him a very lucky dog. Doobie’s mom, Molly Swenson, was referred to OSU by her local veterinarian because Doobie had a large growth on his nostril. Tests revealed it to be a malignant skin cancer tumor. “Surgery to remove a tumor in this location can be difficult due to the proximity to important anatomical structures,” says Dr. Milovancev. Size was also a factor; Doobie is a nine-pound Chihuahua.

Dr. Milovancev removed Doobie’s tumor and reconstructed his nasal passageways in two separate procedures, using information gained in previous and ongoing tumor margin studies. “While Doobie wasn’t part of a study himself, he benefited from the patients who have participated in these studies over the past few years,” says Dr. Milovancev. “The microscopic analysis of his tumor, and the surgical margins we removed showed that we got it all and the tumor has a relatively low chance of growing back.”

Doobie is six months post-surgery and doing great. His now-permanent grin is appropriate because his mom reports that he is a ‘happy, little dog’. Although Doobie can breathe normally, he sometimes blows bubbles out of one nostril. “I asked him if I could call him Bubbles and he nipped at me,” says Swenson, “so Doobie it will, unfortunately, remain.”

Dr. Briana Beechler (R), Assistant Professor in the Department of Biomedical Science, helps treat a rabbit at the free clinic in Nicaragua.

Although Ometepe island is a tropical jewel in the middle of Lake Nicaragua, it is largely undeveloped and very poor. Most people on the island rely on animals for food, work and transportation, but veterinary care is sparse and the animals often suffer from disease and malnutrition. That is why every summer for ten years in a row, a dedicated group of OSU-led volunteers have set up a free veterinary clinic on Ometepe.

It started with a group of three OSU veterinary students. In 2007, Briana Beechler, Austin Bell, and Sara Neilson participated in a non-OSU service trip to Costa Rica and Nicaragua. It was a good learning experience, but the trio came back with plenty of ideas on how to make it better. “We decided to start a student-led service brigade to Nicaragua,” says Beechler. “In our vision, we wanted to improve animal welfare and public health by providing educational seminars, educating local students and providing veterinary care. This required setting up a site that we returned to year after year.” Ometepe was chosen and the next year they began to execute their vision.

“We sent a myriad of letters and placed many calls,” says Beechler. Eventually she was referred to Alvaro Molina who owns the Hacienda Merida, a hostel on Ometepe. He had been looking for a way to solve the problem with stray dogs and poorly fed animals on the island, which he felt reduced tourism. “With him we set up the first brigade. He helped us arrange import permits and donated an area in his hostel for the clinic. He and his employees did all the advertising and connecting with the local folks.”

On that first “trial year” trip, the brigade consisted of veterinarian Rhea Hanselmann and seven students. The next year, Beechler returned to Ometepe as a first year veterinarian, and was joined by OSU veterinary professor Hernan Montilla, who has volunteered on Ometepe every year since. “He expanded the rural and large animal portions of the trip,” says Beechler. “His commitment has helped the success of the trip greatly.”

Initially, the service trip was supported primarily by students, with some supplies donated by local clinics and a few companies. “It was a lot of hard work by our participants to talk to people they know and get donations,” says Beechler. Now, the student chapter of the International Veterinary Students Association organizes several fund-raising initiatives, but students still hustle up donations and pay their own travel costs.

With an interest in one-health medicine and zoonotic disease, Beechler’s focus on Ometepe was working with local doctors, veterinarians and public health officers to improve human health. “The one-health movement says that animal, human and environmental health are inextricably linked,” she says. “For instance, one of the most common parasites in small animals in Nicaragua is hookworm, which can be spread to humans when infective larvae in the soil penetrate the skin. This is easily prevented by wearing shoes, yet very few children do.”

From 2009-2016, Beechler was working on her Ph.D. in South Africa, and doing post-doc work in Africa, but still helped with Ometepe long distance. Now she is an assistant professor in the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine and conducts research that focuses on animal physiology and disease as it relates to conservation or public health. This has allowed her to come full circle and join the IVSA volunteers in Nicaragua once again. “I want to get reinvolved with my new skills gained in South Africa and try to expand the public health portion of the trip,” she says. To that end, she brought along Bethany Hagen, an OSU graduate student in public health. Hagen conducted surveys of Ometepe community members, doctors and public health officers, and they hope to use the results to create a more one-health-focused link to the people.

They also met with a new veterinarian on the island. “We discussed ways in which we could work together to improve veterinary care and public health in Merida and surrounding areas,” says Beechler. “We decided on two courses of action: assisting him with training support, and creating a lab/office space so that one-health research can be conducted.”

As a founding ‘mother’ of the OSU service trip to Ometepe, Beechler really enjoyed being back on the island. “What I find most rewarding about the trip is seeing the same community members over and over again, and knowing that they trust us. One person informed us that he had been coming to our clinic for ten years with the same dog for annual care. This demonstrates how good a job the students do at working with the local people, building trust. That trust allows us to develop health-related projects.”

“I also really enjoy watching the students learn and develop into veterinarians. The trip does an excellent job of making our veterinary students feel empowered, and develop clinical skills and learn to work with clients. You can see on day one that many are nervous, that doing physical exams and making treatment plans is hard for them. But by day three or four they are much more confident. This growth is very rewarding to see.”