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Pet Parent Goes to Extreme Measures to Save Cancer-Stricken Dog

By Christy True
published: January 15, 2024 - updated: January 17, 2024 • 5 min. read
Jasper, a toy Australian shepherd.

Diagnosis: Oral cancer
Cost: $25,566 Healthy Paws reimbursed: $19,953
Coverage options:  80 percent reimbursement | $250 deductible

Most people would do almost anything for their pet’s health and safety. Ashley, pet parent to Jasper, a 2-year-old toy Australian Shepherd, took that devotion to a new level when Jasper developed growths in his mouth. She consulted with numerous veterinarians, traveled to two states, spent more than a week in a hotel in each, and advocated fiercely for Jasper’s care.

Ashley has a toy Australian Shepherd named Pearly, who had puppies. Ashley was not planning to keep any of the balls of fur, but Jasper (puppy #4) won her over when he came out kicking and punching in his embryonic sac.

Jasper, a toy Australian shepherd and pet parent Ashley.
Pet parent Ashley with her dogs Pearly and Jasper.

As he grew, Jasper continued to charm her – following her everywhere, nuzzling her neck, and expressing himself with an adorable head tilt and a wiggly butt. Jasper will sit outside all day, running around the 11 acres where they live in Southern Oregon. 

“I knew deep down from the second he was born how special of a dog he is, and that he was literally born a fighter (the good kind!). I kept coming back to that memory during his sickness and treatments and I think it’s what helped me never lose faith. Jasper was born to fight and survive whatever life wants to throw his way,” she said.

White spots appear in the mouth

The first sign of trouble was when Ashley noticed both her dogs – Jasper and Pearly – had white spots in their mouths. She took them to the vet and learned that it was an oral papilloma virus, a benign tumor that usually goes away on its own in a few weeks.

Soon, Pearly’s white spots disappeared, but Jasper’s did not and developed into growths that kept getting bigger. Jasper was having trouble eating and was losing weight rapidly. Ashley sought opinions from several local veterinarians near her home and worked with one to perform laser removal on the growths and start him on immunity-boosting drugs. 

Jasper seemed to recover for a while and was eating better. However, a few months later, the growths returned, and he stopped eating. He had lost five pounds from his small frame.

Jasper, a toy Australian shepherd.
Jasper developed squamous cell carcinoma tumors in his mouth, making eating difficult.

“We consulted with multiple vets, tried all known forms of treatment, and traveled to see a specialist. It kept getting worse. A large tumor the size of a golf ball had grown on his mouth. Nobody had (or still does) knows why this happened to a healthy puppy,” she said.

Ashley had done her own research and learned that papilloma viruses can advance to squamous cell carcinoma tumors.

She went back to her vet, who recommended that she travel to the UC Davis Veterinary Medicine clinic in Davis, Calif. as soon as possible. The clinic is one of the top-ranked vet schools in the country and has an advanced oncology clinic, treating cancer with both traditional and innovative approaches.

Ashley went home, found a sitter for Pearly, packed her bags, and hit the road with Jasper for the six-hour drive to Davis, all in one day. She checked into a hotel and waited several days for Jasper to be examined and tested.

Jasper was ultimately diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma, as Ashley had feared.

“I sat in the parking lot in tears not sure if I would ever see him again. And then we waited for his biopsy. Then we waited longer for the results and for more tests. And for an answer. Once we got the diagnosis, our options were to say goodbye or pray he was a surgery candidate,” she said.

The next three weeks were an emotional rollercoaster as they ran more tests, which all returned as normal. He appeared to be a good candidate for surgery –  a mandibulectomy or removal of the lower jaw. Ashley decided to schedule the surgery for a month later.

But then she got more bad news. After dropping Jasper off for his surgery, the clinic called to say that the cancer had spread and the surgery may not be successful. Ashley decided to take the risk with surgery to save her pup’s life. Jasper would be part of a clinical trial at the teaching hospital.

The surgery was successful in removing the tumors and the additional spot of cancer they had found. Two days later, Ashley was able to pick Jasper up. Even though he was missing his entire lower left jaw, to her amazement, he trotted right up to her and snuggled in her lap.

Protect your pet

A difficult recovery and another setback

Jasper, a toy Australian shepherd.
Jasper, a week after surgery to remove part of his jaw.

Recovery was not easy, as it meant feeding him through a tube for a few weeks, administering a lot of medications and always watching him. But just one month later, Jasper had gained weight, was playing fetch, and had learned how to eat and drink with his compromised jaw.

When she took Jasper for a follow-up vet visit, she got more bad news – a new growth. Ashley tried to reschedule a visit at UC Davis but learned it would take several weeks to treat him. Ashley didn’t want to wait that long, and a veterinary technician friend who worked at the Colorado Animal Specialty and Emergency clinic in Boulder, Colorado suggested she consult with their staff. She did a two-hour virtual visit with the oncologists there. They asked if she could bring Jasper in the following week. So, Ashley and Jasper traveled to Colorado – this time by plane – and checked into a hotel.

“Patience, perseverance, advocacy, bravery, faith, love, and unrelenting hope. And science. These things saved my dog’s life,”

— pet parent Ashley

After doing more tests, the clinic staff suggested five days of radiation to treat the new growth.

Jasper underwent radiation and handled it well. At the end of the week, they did a biopsy, and to their surprise, it showed the new growth to be benign. Ashley returned home and a month later, had him retested. There was no sign of cancer, and his bloodwork was normal. Jasper was out of the woods again.

Ashley attributes Jasper’s survival to her determination and willingness to do what it took to help him. And Jasper’s fighting spirit. Having pet insurance allowed her to make decisions to treat him aggressively; she could not have afforded all his care on her own.

“Patience, perseverance, advocacy, bravery, faith, love, and unrelenting hope. And science. These things saved my dog’s life,” she said.

How Jasper is doing now

Jasper looks a little different with a portion of his jaw missing, but it’s not all that noticeable and his tongue now hangs out of his mouth cutely on one side.

Jasper, a toy Australian shepherd with a cone

While he has some arthritis in his jaw and is a messy eater and drinker, Jasper is no longer in pain, and he’s back to fetching and playing as before. Jasper has a hip injury from romping in the woods a bit too hard with his littermate when he was a puppy and will have surgery to address his injury when he’s fully cleared of cancer.

How pet insurance helped

Fortunately, Ashley signed up for pet insurance when she first decided to keep Jasper. She researched companies and chose Healthy Paws because of its positive reviews, policy options and affordable premiums.  Jasper is the third dog Ashley has insured with Healthy Paws.

She has also found the customer service to be exceptional.

“I have had a wonderful experience every time I call. They answer quickly and are always helpful and nice. They have shown a lot of compassion, which humanizes this very painful process,” she said. 

Ashley made a video chronicling Jasper’s journey to health.

The claim scenarios described here are intended to show the types of situations that may result in claims. These scenarios should not be compared to any other claim. Whether or to what extent a particular loss is covered depends on the facts and circumstances of the loss, the terms and conditions of the policy as issued, and applicable law.

Insured persons providing testimonials in this report have not received compensation for their statements.

Christy True and Tomas
By Christy True

Christy has been writing about pets for Healthy Paws for 28 dog years. She previously worked in journalism, hence her penchant for writing about offbeat animal studies and the latest viral pet trends. She has been owned by several dogs and volunteers with a local dog rescue. Outside of work, she can usually be found sliding down a mountain near her home in Bend, Ore.

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