Our dogs were imported from South Africa where The Xhosa Tribe is located. In Xhosa, the word “Ukukhanya” refers to the first ray of light that shines forth from a dark thunderhead.
Why we are here:
True stories seem to be what we humans remember and learn from most. This is my story.
During my first year in veterinary school, I sat through many lectures where we discussed breeds of dogs in relation to their prevalence of obtaining certain diseases. German Shepherds were at the top of the list for hemangiosarcomas, Dobermans for dilated cardiomyopathy… It appeared that all the great rugged breeds were no longer great or rugged due, in part, to poor breeding practices. I wanted a tough, loyal, protective and easy to care for companion that was relatively FREE of genetically transmitted diseases. A clinician suggested I look into Ridgebacks since they were a new, non-popularized breed that fit my requirements.
I looked into the breed and purchased my first dog Kelso. Being in vet school my dog was allowed to accompany me everywhere. He attended every lecture, lab, and study session. He ran with me hiked, studied and slept with me. He ate all my apartment furniture. Kelso was my best friend, loyal companion, protector and a soul I was completely in love with. Everyone knew Kelso. One year, during finals week in a lecture hall he was not allowed to enter, he barked so much while the final exam was given that I was dismissed and asked to take my test outside with the dog so he would give everyone some peace! Yes, everyone knew Kelso.
After graduation, he accompanied me to work, entertaining the staff and keeping the patients in line. One afternoon he sauntered into the hospital and vomited at my feet. Not unusual for a Ridgeback, but this vomit contained blood. He was only 4 years old so I thought that the problem would be minor. Confident, I scheduled endoscopy for the following day.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease is what the biopsy report read.
The treatment was relatively straight forward using Prednisone as one of the three drugs in the regime. A week into treatment my dog was significantly worse. I called a specialist. She was not concerned. Two days later my dog was a breath away from needing a transfusion. He had had a serious reaction to his Prednisone and had nearly bled to death.
I called a good friend and gastrointestinal guru in Rancho Santa Fe. I was in tears and told him not to treat me like a vet. “I need to be an emotional mom now,” I cried. “I can not objectively evaluate my dog. I will do whatever it takes no matter what the cost is, just get Kelso back to health.” Cooley and calmly my egg headed specialist friend laid out a complicated regime. He also added that the biopsy was not conclusive. Kelso could have cancer in which case response to treatment was poor and he’d be dead in 6 months. I couldn’t believe my ears. My dog was only 4 years old.
I cooked for him nightly. I popped a plethora of pills down him including vitamins, and herbs. He wouldn’t gain an ounce of weight, but he insisted on running with me daily. I was desperate. I was a veterinarian with every known resource available to her. Specialists from around the world were consulted…
In the midst of all this I noticed a small mass growing on his nail bed. The biopsy read Malignant Melanoma. He was the wrong age and breed for this cancer but he had it. Reluctantly, I had another surgeon remove his toe since this was the only treatment for this cancer. Meanwhile, I prayed that some other treatment would restore him. It was 6 months since his initial diagnosis and he was still alive.
Finally, after 7 months I could not stand not knowing what was wrong with my best friend. I was forced to take my skinny weak boy into surgery. A close friend performed the exploratory while I paced nervously outside. His news was grim, he discovered another type of cancer in Kelso’s pancreas. I was living a hell on earth.
Seven days after his exploratory Kelso went for a walk with me. He then jumped into my jeep to go to the store with me as he had done so many times before. I was in the store only minutes when I suddenly felt very sad, tremendously sad. I thought it was all the news that had hit me recently. But, when I returned to the car I found my beloved companion slumped over the front seat. He was gone.
The days following his death are a blur. I mourned his death for two solid years. I had experienced my personal hell while on earth. I was still here however, and wanted to transform all the love I had for my dog into something greater. Kelso had given me so much. I wanted to ensure that the experiences I endured and that he endured would not have to be recreated again. My dog had been struck with two different types of cancer at the age of 4, pretty unheard of. I started to ask why which brought me to genetics.
I have been involved with the Genetic Disease Control Institute for Animals ever since Kelso’s death. And, since Kelso’s death, I have vowed to do all I can to preserve the health of the breed I love so much. All I do is in the spirit of love.
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