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The Light of Our Lives

The Light of Our Lives
by Dr. Teresa Koogler
Frederick County Veterinarian; Founder of the Kate Koogler Canine Cancer Fund, Inc.

As a veterinarian I have had to deliver the diagnosis of cancer too many times, feeling helpless as I relayed details about treatment options and statistics for survival times. When my husband Robin and I were faced with those same decisions, I cannot explain the overwhelming powerlessness we felt, determined to do what we could for our best friend but being horrified at the prospect of putting her through surgery and chemotherapy only to lose her to this despicable disease.
Kate was the light of our lives - a truly 'once in a lifetime' friend. We wanted every day of her life to be happy and fulfilling for her. She loved to go hiking or playing in the creek, chasing rocks skipped across the water. She was the 'hood ornament' on our boat as she chased passing jet skiers, occasionally falling overboard with a smile on her face. As a small animal practitioner, I was fortunate to be able to take her to work with me most days where she loved to greet her many friends. When the Harley Davidson(r) bug bit us in 1998 we couldn't bear to leave her behind as we went out riding and no one was more upset than she was. So we bought a trailer to pull behind Robin's motorcycle so that she could go for a motorcycle ride and enjoy yet another recreational activity. She would get so excited when Robin pulled the trailer out of the garage and wait with great anticipation as we readied everything for her to be lifted into the top.
Riding behind the two of them on my motorcycle I had the extreme pleasure of being able to see the reactions of everyone who saw them and realized what they had seen. It was incredible how often she got noticed. The smile that she brought to everyone who saw her was priceless. Inevitably a car would pass us on a two-lane road and I'd see the brake lights come on as the car dropped back with everyone in the car looking at her. She was in her glory, smiling and looking at the faces smiling back at her. Even people in their yards would catch a glimpse and take a double take as the smile came across their face. Sometimes as we were riding I'd see her little head turn around looking to find me for a reassuring gesture to let her know she was doing OK. She was our whole world.
When she was diagnosed with chondrosarcoma, a form of bone cancer of her shoulder blade at the age of 10, the knowledge that she was old for a Rottweiler was of little comfort. We have never regretted the decision to amputate her leg because we knew with all our hearts that she would have wanted every chance to be with us for as long as she could and amputation along with chemotherapy were ways we could assure we did everything we could to fight for her. And with our love and support we knew we could all get through the physical hardships together. She adapted extremely well, learning quickly to walk and run, taking in stride the added effort getting around involved.
Sadly, we lost her on September 16, 2002 just 7 months after the diagnosis. We always knew from early on that we were blessed by each day we spent with her and we will miss her for the rest of our lives.
Losing my very best friend has given me an indescribable determination to change the future of canine bone cancer.
Osteosarcoma is the most common type of primary bone cancer in dogs accounting for up to 85% of tumors that originate in the skeletal system. It is estimated that at least 6,000 new cases, and perhaps even more than 10,000, are diagnosed in dogs each year in the United States. Over 90% of dogs with bone cancer are large breeds. For example, it is estimated that the relative risk to develop this disease in giant breeds such as Scottish Deerhounds and Great Danes may be as much as 200-times higher than in small and toy breeds. Among dogs at high risk, we also include Rottweilers, Great Pyrenees, Greyhounds, Mastiffs, and others. The disease usually becomes evident during middle age (~7-10 yr), although bone cancer can affect dogs under 1 year of age. Factors that affect growth rate, such as diets that promote rapid growth in puppies, also appear to influence risk. The tumors are very aggressive and metastatic, so it is a fair assumption that at the time of diagnosis the disease will have already spread beyond the primary site. For this reason, the standard-of-care for bone cancer includes surgery to remove the primary tumor, followed by adjuvant chemotherapy to attack the cells that have left the site. In dogs, approximately 50% survive one year with standard-of-care, less than 30% survive 2 years, and less than 10% reach 3 years. We feel that new therapies designed to exploit the genetic and biochemical abnormalities of the tumors will help us improve the outcome of dogs with this disease.
Since 2002 The Kate Fund has donated $50,000.00 to cancer research. Our proceeds have been split between CSU Animal Cancer Center and AMC Cancer Research Center (Dr. Jaime Modiano) where researchers are studying already existing naturally occurring cases of canine bone cancer to determine why certain breeds of dogs are affected. The study 'The Genetics of Canine Cancer' with Dr. Jaime Modiano has since been moved from AMC to the University of Minnesota and the 2008 Kate Fund proceeds will help fund those studies along with AKC Canine Health Foundation. There researchers examine how heritable factors influence cancer risk and tumor behavior as part of a collaboration with the Breen lab at North Carolina State University. This work also is ongoing, with the first series of results being prepared for publication. The data suggests that genetic backgrounds (defined by breed) influence what the tumor looks like and by extension how it may behave. In addition, they have found previously unrecognized differences between aggressive tumors and indolent tumors that may lead to new approaches to predict behavior at diagnosis, and perhaps also to the discovery of new targets that may improve outcomes. Among the next steps will be to use these approaches to analyze the data from the Fas ligand clinical trial so they can predict which cases might benefit most from this approach.
In the area of cancer immunotherapy, they have developed a number of models that allow us to test the feasibility of using the immune system to fight cancer. They recently showed that gene therapy could be used safely and had potential to increase disease-free survival or remission times in naturally occurring melanoma of pet dogs. The premise is the use of Fas ligand, a potent gene that causes cell suicide, to enhance the immune response to tumors. The gene is delivered into the tumor in such a way that it is expressed at much higher levels that would be achievable under any normal circumstance. The effect is local and includes direct killing of tumor cells and recruitment of inflammatory cells (white blood cells) to the tumor. The tumor death and inflammation sets up an environment for lymphocytes (specifically T cells) to recognize the tumor as "foreign" and move to the rest of the body where they can kill tumor cells that have spread beyond the primary site, delaying or preventing the appearance of metastatic tumors. The therapy is meant to be used in conjunction with standard of care (surgery + chemotherapy) and not to replace standard of care. In addition to support from the Kate Fund, the ongoing study was funded by the National Cancer Institute, the State of Colorado, and the AKC Canine Health Foundation.
It is our sincere and genuine hope that by answering these questions, we can help treat and prevent other owners from being faced with similar decisions like amputation before losing the ones they love. Additionally, understanding and managing these cancers in dogs can help treat cancer in humans. Human bone cancer is almost exactly the same as bone cancer in dogs. In fact the standard of care for human bone cancer patients is a surgical procedure called limb spare which was developed by veterinarians and used on dogs prior to its application to human medicine.
Our main fundraiser is a motorcycle ride. We decided a ride in Kate's honor was a great way to pay tribute to her and hopefully find a way to prevent others from being affected by this horrible disease. The 6th Annual Kate Koogler Canine Cancer Ride is scheduled for Saturday October 4, 2008. MOTORCYCLES ARE NOT REQUIRED - Non riders are invited to arrive at Pen Mar Park at 1 PM for lunch and presentation. Motorcycle riders will meet at the Cozy Restaurant, 103 Frederick Road, Thurmont at 10 AM and will leave at 11 AM for a beautiful ride over the scenic back roads of Frederick, Carroll and Washington counties ending at Pen Mar Park near Cascade. This is a rain or shine event and pre registration is recommended. Businesses can be a corporate sponsor and get great advertising on the back of the ride shirt and in all our press releases. The $35.00 registration fee will include a Kate Ride T-shirt, catered lunch at the park and a raffle ticket for a chance to win a weekend getaway. Participants are asked to obtain pledges and turn in donations at the park. Prizes will be awarded to the three people with the most money raised in donations. Other great raffle prizes will also be available. For more info visit our web site at

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