AP Photos: High-end cancer treatment for pets

AP News
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Posted: Dec 02, 2015 1:38 AM
AP Photos: High-end cancer treatment for pets

NEW YORK (AP) — Lulu had been given a mere three months to live when the shih tzu-poodle mix was diagnosed with lymphoma.

That was four years ago.

Thanks to about $30,000 in treatments at New York's Animal Medical Center and its new Cancer Institute, the dog recently marked a 14th birthday.

"Look, I don't have kids to put through college, so I can put my dog through chemo," said co-owner Deirdre Aherne of Manhattan. "Lulu is a member of the family."

Experts say there has been a boom in recent years in high-end animal clinics using technologically advanced equipment and medicines that are as good as those in many human hospitals. And it's led to a vigorous ethical debate whether such treatments, costing as much as tens of thousands of dollars per patient, should really go toward keeping pets alive.

"Just because we can, doesn't always mean we should," said Brooke Britton, oncologist at BluePearl Veterinary Partners in Manhattan. "I'm a firm believer of stopping before a time when we've believed we've reached a limit of what we believe we can reasonably do to extend a pet's quality of life and life span."

The Animal Medical Center's Cancer Institute opened in October with a 22-member team that treats about 120 animals each week. Machines include a CT imaging scanner and linear radiation accelerator, which were built for humans and require animals to be anesthetized so they lie perfectly still.

In a treatment room with a shimmering view of the East River, a veterinary team was trying to prolong the life of Lola, a 9-year-old Havanese battling pancreatic cancer. She released a shrill whimper as a needle entered her haunch to deliver another dose of chemotherapy.

"OK, Lola, OK, lovey, OK honey," whispered chief oncologist Nicole Leibman.

Lola's owner, Dominique Milbank, a Manhattan resident, waited in a quiet, private room, impatient and worried until she got the news: The six-month-long course of chemo has been successful. Her dog's cancer is in remission.

"It's the best news you could give me!" Milbank said.

Dr. Kristy Richards, a professor at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine who studies lymphoma in both animals and people, said the debate over such animal treatments should note that there is often a benefit to humans that goes beyond the emotional.

"The research we do in veterinary clinics feeds over into our knowledge of how to treat humans," said Richards, also an oncologist at Manhattan's Weill Cornell Medical College who treats human lymphoma patients. "The fancy-dancy medical things we do for dogs help us treat humans."