Andy, a Golden Retriever with soulful eyes and a gregarious personality captured Sue Bechtel’s heart from the moment in 2008 when she brought him home from the Golden Retriever Rescue Resource, Inc. (GRRR).
Andy was not Sue’s first rescue, nor her first Golden Retriever. She knew Goldens were prone to certain diseases, including hip dysplasia, thyroid and skin problems and cancer, so when he developed a limp in the summer of 2009, she called the vet to schedule an appointment.
“They thought he may have some arthritis,” said Sue, who lives outside of Whitehouse. “Though we thought he was a middle-aged dog, he may have been older – with rescues, it’s often hard for them to know for sure, so arthritis seemed a possibility.”
Though the vet prescribed medication to ease Andy’s symptoms, his condition deteriorated. “He’d be walking along and he would lose strength in his leg and he’d go down,” Sue said.
|Sue Bechtel's beloved Golden Retriever, who died just months ater being diagnosed with
cancer, was the inspiration for "Andy's Army", an organization that raises funds to
support canine cancer research.
Concerned, her vet suggested Sue take Andy to have an MRI. The testing, which she had done at a specialty facility in Michigan, showed there was a tumor in one of the vertebrae in Andy’s neck. “The tumor was compressing his spinal column and affecting the nerves in his leg, which was why he was having difficulty walking,” Sue said.
“The diagnosis of cancer was shocking, devastating,” Sue said. “I said, ‘We rescued him once and we’ll make every effort we can to try to rescue him from cancer, too.’”
Andy underwent surgery to remove the osteosarcoma. The veterinary oncologist, also based in Michigan, worked with Sue’s local vet to coordinate chemotherapy treatments.
“We opted to forgo radiation, which would have required Andy to stay for extended periods at either Michigan State or Ohio State,” she said.
In the end, Andy succumbed to the cancer. “He didn’t have a long life after the surgery, but for a few months, he had a pretty normal life,” she said. “He could walk and run – he could even tree squirrels.
“It’s very hard thing to go through,” she said. “The tests just to get a diagnosis are very expensive. Treatment is also costly and often doesn’t offer too much promise. It’s a real dilemma for many pet owners who want to do all they can for their sick dogs, but can’t afford even basic testing.
“After Andy died, I did some research about canine cancer,” Sue said. “His plight was far from unique as canine cancer remains the leading cause of death among all older dogs and is prevalent among many breeds of dogs including Golden Retrievers.”
As many people struck by tragic loss do, Sue looked for a way for something positive to come out of Andy’s death. In 2011, she started “Andy’s Army,” an organization aimed at promoting wellness and awareness about cancer in dogs, while also raising funds for research efforts.
In 2011, the first Andy’s Army 5K and 1-Mile Walk was held, netting about $1,000, which was donated to veterinary research programs at Michigan State, Ohio State and Colorado State.
The following year, the fundraiser raised $3,600 which went to the Golden Retriever Foundation, to be directed to cancer studies and research funds.
Word and support spread for the effort, and last year’s event raised $4,500.
“Though we’re committed to funding research, as we go along, we’re going to look into how we might help people in the community whose dogs get cancer,” Sue said.
Sue, with fellow volunteer Patti Reitz, are planning a Garage Sale to benefit Andy’s Army Canine Cancer Project June 12 and 13 from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. at 1528 Woodville Rd., Millbury. A preview day will be held Wednesday, June 11 from 5-8 p.m. Donations are being sought for the sale. To arrange for pick-up of donations, call 419-875-5272.
Because May is Pet Cancer Awareness Month, Sue urges pet owners to become familiar with the 10 symptoms of canine cancer, developed by the American Veterinary Medical Association:
1. An abnormal swelling that persists or continues to grow.
2. Sores that do not heal.
3. Weight loss.
4. Bleeding or discharge from any body opening.
5. Offensive odor.
6. Difficulty eating or swallowing.
7. Hesitation to exercise or loss of stamina.
8. Persistent lameness or stiffness.
9. Difficulty breathing, urination or defecation.
10. Loss of appetite.
“Many of the symptoms of canine cancer are subtle – and they’re often attributed to a dog just getting older,” Sue said.
For more information about Andy’s Army, visit www.Andys-Army.org or follow the organization on Facebook.