Kellie Rogers saw no reason to be alarmed when she noticed a trickle of blood coming from the nose of her 12-year-old black Labrador, Josie, last November.
She assumed Josie scratched her nose on a sharp stick as she rummaged through brush in a park near their home in Spokane.
Less than two months later, however, Rogers learned it was a sign of a fatal disease in Josie’s muzzle. This trickle of blood was caused by squamous cell carcinoma, one of the most common tumors that can develop in the nose of dogs.
“My world kind of ended when I was told she had cancer,” Rogers said. “I can’t imagine my life without her and her sister Sophie.”
In January, Rogers, Josie and Sophie, Josie’s littermate, traveled south of Washington State University’s University Veterinary Hospital in Pullman for an appointment with the oncology resident, Dr. Caroline Hohlman. Rogers didn’t expect a miracle, but she hoped to save more time with Josie.
Hohlman, however, hoped she could offer more. Squamous cell carcinoma does not always metastasize and, depending on its location, it can often be successfully treated with surgery.
“Fortunately, the cancer was far enough along in his muzzle that we thought we could get a good result with the surgery,” Hohlman said. “We don’t say the word very often, but with this type of cancer and in some cases, surgery can be curative.
There was a catch: the procedure involved removing a significant portion of Josie’s upper muzzle. Little Animal Surgeons Drs. Tina Owen and Brittany Hyde had lengthy discussions with Rogers to make sure she realized how different Josie would be after the surgery.
“No matter how well you prepare an owner, there’s that kind of shock when he sees his dog for the first time without his nose,” Owen said. “You take a Labrador retriever that will basically look like a bulldog.”
Rogers only cared about one thing: Josie’s health.
“I didn’t care what she looked like,” Rogers said. “I just didn’t want to lose her.”
Rogers dropped off Josie for her surgery on a cold day in mid-February. Although Owen and Hyde say the procedure was among the most complex they’ve ever performed, it appears to have been a success. No cancer has been detected in Josie since.
The first part of the surgery involved removing about half of Josie’s upper muzzle from her nose to behind her canines. The second part, the rebuild, was more difficult as they basically created a new muzzle for Josie. In total, Josie spent over two weeks at WSU and became very popular with her goalkeepers.
“She’s really sweet and friendly, a really easygoing dog,” Hyde said. “I have videos of the day she got home. It was so emotional for all of us because she was such a difficult case, and when she finally got to leave, everyone was so excited for her.
Back home, Josie, who Rogers says now looks like a pug, recovered from her procedure and adjusted well to not having part of her muzzle.
Rogers is grateful to the many people who cared for Josie, such as veterinarian student Ryley Carman and surgical technician Chris Dumas. She is also grateful to donors to the WSU’s Good Samaritan Fund, created by WSU veterinary students to help animals whose owners cannot afford the necessary care. While the funds only paid a small portion of the costs, it made a big difference.
“I’ve always known that the vet program is exceptional at WSU, but I could never have imagined how much has been done for it,” Rogers said. “It makes me cry for joy.”