AMES, Iowa-- An old dog with cancer and a young girl with determination communicate and train together so well that they’ve won awards for dog obedience, showmanship and the science of mast cell tumors in dogs.
Claire Reinhard, a 13-year-old 4-H’er from Gladbrook in Tama County, and Fritz, her 12 1/2-year-old Shelty, won first place in 4-H pre-novice dog obedience and first place in 4-H junior dog showmanship at the Tama County Fair in July.
Claire also earned a purple rosette and the right to exhibit at the Iowa State Fair for a 4-H animal science exhibit inspired by Fritz. And therein lies the story. Although purple ribbons and trophies indicate the high level of care and training Fritz receives at the Reinhard household, a deep menace grows within their much loved dog.
The morning after Fritz and Claire won their ribbons and trophies, Fritz went under the knife for his third surgery in 2007.
The Reinhards had discovered a bump growing under Fritz’s beautifully coated skin in January and took him to see Dr. Rick Cooper, a veterinarian from Tama. Dr. Cooper said that when he opened Fritz the first time, he found a tumor so involved that he couldn’t guarantee a clean bill of health for Fritz after the tumor’s removal.
Fritz joined the Reinhard family when Claire was 15 months old, so the two have grown up together. That’s why “Mast Cell Tumors in Dogs” headlined Claire’s Iowa State Fair exhibit, which received a blue ribbon from judges with Iowa State University (ISU) Extension 4-H Youth Development. In the exhibit, she shared a wealth of information about the disease threatening her dog’s life.
“I learned that tumors should not be ignored; get them checked at the vet right away,” Claire advised through her exhibit. She went on to explain that “mast cells are found throughout the body and help an animal respond to inflammation and allergies. They are part of the immune system and contain histamines, heparine and other enzymes. Tumors (MCTs) form when mast cells grow out of control. They usually are in the skin or underlying tissue.
“They can cause internal problems such as vomiting, ulcers, blood in the feces, abnormal blood clotting and weight loss,” she explained. “Because there is no known cause of MCTs, there is no recommended way to prevent them.”
Another mean thing about MCTs is that as many as 50 percent of surgically removed tumors come back to the same spot from which they were removed. And so it has been for Fritz, who underwent his second surgery in March.
Claire’s mother, Lisa Reinhard, said that, even though Claire was working with Fritz for the July dog show, she was willing to forego showing Fritz at fair so that he could have his third surgery in June, but he had a seizure, forcing a delay until July.
Tumors taken from Fritz were sent to the Veterinary College at ISU in Ames. Dr. Cooper, a graduate of the college, is working with Dr. Leslie Fox, an ISU veterinary oncologist, to chart a course of treatment for Fritz.
Severe tumors may require a combination of therapy such as treatment with chemotherapy or radiation therapy, according to ISU veterinary oncologists. In deciding Fritz’s therapy, the Reinhards considered his life expectancy (15 years for a Shelty), the likelihood of continued surgeries without chemotherapy, the cost of treatment and their love for Fritz. They opted for chemotherapy.
“Fritz will receive Lomustine once every three weeks for 12 weeks,” Lisa said. He had his first treatment Aug. 22 and appeared to successfully handle the first dosage.
Looking on the bright side, Claire said, “Dogs that are tumor-free after six months are considered unlikely to develop more tumors." She already plans to study the care of aging pets for her next 4-H project, believing that Fritz will pull through and enjoy his old age.
In addition to attending all the appointments with Dr. Cooper, Claire also used other sources of information, including “Canine Mast Cell Tumors” at www.kateconnick.com, Mast Cell Tumors by Patricia Long at www.jersey.net and www.pededucation.com. Dr. Cooper also shared information with them from the 2007 publication, “Clinical Veterinary Advisor--Dogs and Cats.”