Defying the odds: One dog’s amazing cancer journey

VetSouth Winton’s small animal clinical lead, Liz Flatt, helped her incredible dog Ruger beat cancer through her participation in an experimental research study with Massey University.

The week of his opening debut in West Otago Theatrical Society's production of Annie, Ruger, a 5-year-old Rottweiler, was diagnosed with the most aggressive bone cancer. 

Rather than "breaking a leg," Ruger lost a leg that week.  

Amputation is the first course of action when it comes to bone cancer in the limbs; serving as both pain relief and an elimination of the primary lesion. The ability for animals to adjust is inspirational. Within three days after his surgery, Ruger was dragging the nurses around on his toilet breaks.  

Often the next course of action is chemotherapy. While veterinary medicine uses the same chemotherapy drugs as their human counterparts, vets utilise them in a manner that aims for quality of life. Ruger underwent chemotherapy and handled it very well with little to no adverse reactions.  

However, even with amputation, chemotherapy, and no evidence of the cancer spreading, Ruger's anticipated survival time was only three months.  

Ruger was then offered a third course of action- an experimental research project led by Keren Dittmer at Massey University.  

The study involved manipulating the renin-angiotensin system to treat cancer and monitoring for side effects. The aim of this study was to assess the safety (and to set the stage) for conducting a larger-scale trial to assess the efficacy of this treatment for cancer in dogs. 

The paper was published on 17 June 2024, three years and three days after Ruger's diagnosis.  

Ruger, now eight years old, is still alive and well; chasing tennis balls and thriving as a tripod!  

While he may never have graced the stage, he has lived an accomplished life.  

Ruger was trained as a medical service dog for his owner Dr. Elizabeth Flatt, was an honorary mascot of St. George's University, has lived in three different countries (USA, Grenada, and NZ), and understands commands in four languages.  

Ruger's most recent trick is relearning how to "shake" with only one forelimb.  

An absolute anomaly, Ruger has defied the odds. Wherever Ruger's final resting place becomes, this well-travelled and resilient pooch will live on through research and continue to impact a greater purpose. 

(photo credits to Natwick)


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