Why is the crowd watching a man get his head shaved at a dog show?
The story starts with that man, Scot Northern, and his 3-and-a-half-year-old champion Whippet, Rosa, one of the top owner-handled show Whippets in the country.
Many of us enjoyed seeing her newest pictures or hearing of her latest wins by way of Facebook — she was still young, and we all knew she was destined for great things.
Nobody expected the Facebook post on June 3:
On Monday, Rosa was diagnosed with a mucosal mast cell tumor. Cancer. The 2-inch long, 1-inch wide tumor is on the inside of her upper left lip by her canine and extends through the lip in the form of small bumps on the outside of her lip near her nose. A month ago, at a show, she pulled away when I attempted to groom that portion of her muzzle. I thought she was just being a diva …
Then, at our next show over Memorial Day, she did the same thing, and I checked her mouth to see if she had something in her tooth. That’s when I noticed the growth as well as three pinhead-sized pale bumps near her nose, which were lacking pigment. I took her into my vet when we got home (the bumps had now doubled in number), a biopsy was performed, and the lab results came back this past Monday with the terrible news … I am simply numb.
After a second opinion from a surgeon and an oncologist, Rosa was scheduled for surgery to remove the tumor inside her lip as well as a large portion of her lip. The surgeon believed she would be able to reconstruct Rosa’s lip by pulling forward the remainder of the existing lip, but that was dependent on how much needed to be removed.
They performed the surgery on June 18, after waiting for steroids to shrink the tumor beforehand. It turned out that the tumor extended closer to her nose than was anticipated so the surgeon was only able to get a 1-mm margin instead of the preferred 3-mm margin.
“The alternative was to take her nose, which was not recommended due to quality-of-life issues,” says Northern. Stretching the lip forward as they did was a risk, as doing so could tear or cut off the blood supply, which would result in her losing her whole lip — or even her life.
On June 24, another Facebook post came:
Wish I had better news. Last night around 10 p.m., I noticed some pus buildup around the front of her nose. Not liking the look or smell of it, I contacted the vet’s office that did the surgery (they are also the emergency vet for the area). I took her in, and the vet on call felt that necrosis was developing. Essentially, this is the area that had to be stitched the tightest …
With around-the-clock care, Rosa’s lip made it! Her stitches were removed on July 2. The skin was pulled forward. Unfortunately, the risk was that the remaining blood vessels would lose circulation, thus causing that skin to die and fall apart.
Prior to the surgery, I understood this as a risk and that if it happened, there would be little we could do until the rest of the surgery area healed. We got home around midnight, and I was given the instructions to monitor it, and if it got worse, to call back. The vet on call took a ton of pictures to share with the original surgeon when she came back in the office.
This morning, when I checked the site, the affected area had doubled in size and was now bloody or at least very red in color. I took Rosa back to the vet where she was examined by the surgeon. The surgeon confirmed: It is necrosis. The only good thing is that the necrosis has not gone all the way through the lip. All I can do is monitor the site and hope it does not spread to the rest of her lip/face.
Going forward, there are no good options. The only thing we can do is let it attempt to heal as an open wound. If that healing does not occur, then the remaining option would be another surgery; the extent of the necrosis would determine the severity of the surgery. (Rosa is currently on two kinds of pain meds and antibiotics.) On the positive, Rosa is her normal bouncy, loving, wanting-to-give hugs self. One would never know anything was wrong. She has yet to even let out a whimper of pain.
On July 8, Northern updated Rosa’s fans again:
After three weeks of being hand-fed, not being able to go outside without being on a leash, and not being able to play with a toy, Rosa went back to the surgeon for her recheck. Rosa no longer has to wear the cone. The surgeon is very pleased with how the site has healed, and the necrosis has stopped spreading. The surgeon even said that their office has declared Rosa their favorite Whippet due to her “calm and loving demeanor.” (Due to the extent of the surgery, she will most likely always have a permanent toothy grin.) We still have a long road ahead and will meet with the oncologist on Monday for our options going forward, but today… today has been a great day.
And again on July 14:
Chemo time. Rosa’s first treatment. Once a week for the next four weeks, then every other week for another month. Full bloodwork panels each week, full exam, everything that can be done. The last breed ribbon we won from the end of May has been my bookmark ever since she was diagnosed with cancer, just a couple of days after winning it. Feels like a lifetime ago, a different life all together. Gone are the days of trying to remain in the Top 10. I no longer care what specials will be where, what the group lineup looks like, and whether we have a chance at a Group One or a Best in Show. Our only thought now is beating the cancer … that will be our greatest win together.
Then on July 17 came the challenge: “Want to see me SHAVE MY HEAD?!?!?”
Northern started a Team Rosa campaign to raise money not for Rosa’s bills, but to fight cancer — and he vowed that if he raised $5,000, he would shave his head at the AWC Supported Entry Show in Amana, Iowa, in August. Every dollar contributed went to the Morris Animal Foundation cancer research fund.
It seemed a safe bet, but he didn’t count on the support from the dog show community, or maybe they just wanted to see him bald! The American Whippet Club alone donated $1,000, but most donations were small, maybe $25, but from lots of people. In no time, the $5,000 was raised, and Northern knew his head of hair’s days were numbered.
Then the total reached $6,000. The fund kept growing, to $9000. Eddie Dzuik, head of the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals and one of the first contributors to the Rosa fund, vowed to shave his head if a $10,000 goal was met.
By the day of the show, Aug. 30, more than 170 donors, including the Russian Whippet Club, Greater Twin Cities Whippet Club, Santa Barbara Kennel Club, and individuals from all over the world had raised $11,146! And it was time for a shave.
Rosa is still not out of the woods. It remains to be seen if her cancer might return. But her influence has done more to help dogs than any show wins could have. One out of three dogs will have cancer in their lifetime. Half of them will die of it. We hope Rosa will not be one of them. And thanks to her and her owner — and to those who donate toward cancer research — we hope to beat those odds for all dogs!
Read more Dogster Heroes:
About the author: Caroline Coile is the author of 34 dog books, including the top-selling Barron’s Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds. She has written for various publications and is currently a columnist for AKC Family Dog. She shares her home with three naughty Salukis and one Jack Russell Terrier. Soldier’s Best Friend Is on Active Duty, Pairing Veterans With Service Dogs