All pets are special in their owners’ eyes. But Aurora (Rory for short), a golden retriever, had what her owner Deb Parashak called a “special kind of aura.” Like her namesake, the Aurora Borealis, Rory had a talent for connecting with people and making them feel good. She was a working dog, who was happiest when she was helping the community through her work as a highly-trained search and rescue K9, and lifting spirits as a therapy dog.
When Deb suspected Rory had cancer, she sought out a veterinarian who would honor Rory’s natural need to work during treatment. She found the perfect fit with Philip Treuil, DVM, MS, DACVR at VCA Capital Area Veterinary Specialists (CAVS) in Austin, TX.
Deb noticed that Rory had a natural instinct for tracking scents when she was two and a half years old. A year after starting training, Rory was certified in live search and rescue. It wasn’t long before the gifted golden was also certified in human remains and water searches.
“Once she got the idea of the game – because it is a game for the dogs when we do this work – she just excelled,” says Deb. “She had several finds in water from drownings around the state and she just excelled at her job. It gave her purpose and she loved it.”
One day, when Rory was an accomplished 13 year-old, Deb noticed that one of her legs was swollen and hard. She wasted no time in taking Rory to see her primary vet. A biopsy confirmed Deb’s fears – Rory had mast cell cancer.
Rory began chemotherapy right away, but she did not tolerate it well at first. Concerned that her quality of life was going to be negatively impacted, Deb asked for a change in approach. Medication was decreased to a smaller dose that was slowly increased over time. The change in Rory was immediate – she was back to her old, happy self, and she was able to resume working.
So when it came time to begin the radiation portion of Rory’s treatment, Deb was adamant that her quality of life would be maintained. She was pleased to find that Dr. Treuil, medical director and radiation oncologist at VCA CAVS, not only understood her concerns, but was as committed as she was to ensuring Rory could continue to be active.
“She and I came up with the game plan from the beginning that we were going to focus on quality of life,” says Dr. Treuil. “Our goal was purely to make Rory feel better so that she could continue to do what she loved.”
Deb was not only thrilled with the quality of care Rory received, she was impressed with the compassion and warmth with which Dr. Treuil and the VCA CAVS staff treated Rory.
“They treated her like she was their own,” remembers Deb. “They'd come out and play with her to set her at ease when we got there, then she’d be happy, wagging her tail on the way out.”
With treatment, Deb was able to enjoy an additional 11 and a half happy months with Rory. And just as important, Rory was able to spend that time doing what she loved – helping others. Throughout her treatment, Rory continued to train, participating in building and vehicle searches, and spreading joy through therapy visits to nursing homes.
“Dogs like Rory are difficult to train and to get to that point,” says Dr. Treuil. “Once she was already there and providing a valuable service, it was important that we try to help her and allow her to continue to do what she's good at and what she loves for as long as possible.”
Before Rory passed away, she helped to train two younger sisters, who are now carrying on her legacy. Skylar began training with Rory as a puppy and is now a certified search and rescue K9. Youngest sister Rayne will be certified this spring.
“As trainers, we try to find dogs and make sure they're trained to the highest standard that we can,” says Deb. “Rory had a very special gift and she has set the bar extremely high.”
Deb is thankful for the extra time she had with Rory, and that Dr. Treuil and the VCA CAVS staff were as committed to making her final months as normal as possible.
“It was another year that I had with her, with my soul dog,” says Deb. “And she was happy to the very end. I couldn't have asked for a better environment or a better doctor.”
February is National Cancer Prevention Awareness Month. Your VCA veterinarian is your partner in cancer prevention for your pets. We’re committed to helping you keep your pets healthy through routine care and early detection.
New therapies make pet cancers very treatable, with the goal of improving and extending quality of life. Pets tend to tolerate cancer treatment better than humans, with few or no side effects.
We invite you to visit the website of your closest specialty hospital. You can read about the specialists and teams of people who are always there for you and your pet should the need arise. You will find doctor and team member bios, helpful descriptions of the specialty departments at each hospital and a wealth of information related to the conditions and diseases our specialists treat.
“With treatment, Deb was able to enjoy an additional 11 and a half happy months with Rory. And just as important, Rory was able to spend that time doing what she loved – helping others. ”