Shortly after Alice, our beloved Border Collie, passed away, we found out that the type of cancer Alice had succumbed to –hemangiosarcoma – in fact, it is one of the most aggressive and incurable types of canine cancer. The survival chances beyond one year are less than 10% and survival times are very dependent on size of the tumor.
In hindsight, had we known more about the disease, the likelihood that Alice would have survived her cancer longer would had been much greater as early detection is crucial. We simply lacked basic knowledge about the illness, its symptoms and available detection methods like ultra-sound. It was a devastating insight for us and even harder to take knowing that with our AWARENESS, the outcome could have been so different. We were filled with gnawing guilt and deepest sorrow.
We received literally hundreds of reactions to Alice’s death and condolence letters from all over the world. Dog owners from all corners of the world told me THEIR dog’s heart-breaking hemangiosarcoma story. I was - to say the least - surprised and appalled at the same time: There were so many other dog owners who had to go through the same destiny with their beloved dogs, and who had to face this fatal diagnosis equally ignorant and unprepared as me. This can’t be right! I was outraged!
So I decided I had to do something helpful and set up the Alice-Ribbon-Project, in memory of our beloved Border Collie Alice, and to give her premature death a sense: Help others!
The aim of the present Alice-Ribbon guidelines and toolkit is not to draw an over-pessimistic picture but to help to increase canine cancer awareness among dog owners all over the world, to inform them about prevention, periodic follow-ups at the vet, screening, symptoms and treatments in order to help dogs to survive this cruel disease.
Having had to learn the hard way when we were confronted with grave decisions to be taken about Alice’s end-of-life care, I also wish to present a number of resources, and list and comment on the different options in this field to allow our best friends and protégés to have quality of life during the final stage of their lives.
I hope to help ensure that our dogs get the best possible care – before the illness, during and when entering the final life stage. I would like to provide dog owners with the depth of information necessary to be able to work as a fully integrated member of the medical healthcare team to offer the best-quality medical care for our dogs.
Conversations about fatal diagnosis, grief and end-of-life care with emotionally and technically overwhelmed dog owners are certainly not easy tasks for veterinary and healthcare staff; client communication skills might not be on the agenda of the university curriculum – not yet. There are many interesting resources available online for healthcare professionals to improve communication skills and thus make them and their clients more comfortable in these very sensitive situations. On the Alice-Ribbon homepage professionals will find a toolkit by AAHA (American Animal Hospital Association). Interesting not only for professionals!
Only together (healthcare team and dog owners)
we can make a difference for our dogs!
After the fatal diagnosis, I felt completely at loss, helpless, ignorant. The only way to fast gather information was the internet. But I didn’t feel safe: The problem with finding information online is that many resources are either outdated or not credible, or even contradictory. This is why I decided to set up an information pool, a compendium of all aspects around canine cancer, examined and appraised by experts, so we can rely on it.
Although the World Wide Web is a great resource – including this site -, it should never replace the information you receive from your veterinarian.
I’m not a veterinarian, nor do I have any medical background whatsoever. Therefore, I have teamed up with the Animal Oncology and Imaging (AOI) Center Hünenberg Switzerland in order to make sure that the information I have gathered and present on this homepage is medically sound and justifiable. I’d specially like to thank Dr. B. Kaser-Hotz and Dr. I. Flickinger for their assistance and guidance, without which the realisation of this homepage would not have been feasible.
Wherever I cite interesting information found on the net I’ll provide the link, for the reader to engage in more in-depth study.
First and foremost, we recommend that all pet owners consult their veterinarian. The information contained herein is meant to be a resource and an aid to further research, to provide enough information to help you to ask the right questions – but it is not exhaustive. Nor does it constitute an endorsement or recommendation of the AOI Center Hünenberg. Please do your own due judgment in researching these sources and making the best choice for your pet(s).
I remember the day we first brought you home as if it was yesterday – can hardly believe it is over 9 years ago already. You entered our life like a shooting star. Nothing would ever be as before: you changed our lives - for the better.
You had the sweetest eyes and most charming smile: you were simply the most beautiful puppy. You were at first a very shy and rather anxious dog. But we protected you with our love, from the very first instant. You stole our hearts. Soon you became a self-confident and proud dog.
From the very first moment on, we were inseparable. You accompanied us wherever we went: even to my classes at the university in Lugano. I will never forget how proudly you walked up the stairs, straight to my classroom. You were my university assistant and the star among the students.
You loved us unconditionally - the way we were, despite our shortcomings and lack of dog experience.
You came to my life when it was at its darkest and you helped me to go through some very difficult moments. I would not have made it without you. You were my assistant dog.
You were a unique dog, an “once-in-a-lifetime-dog”, a "once-in-a-million-dog", people say. We were soul-mates and we experienced uncountable adventures together: Thanks to your success in the discipline canine freestyle, we travelled the world, won innumerable international trophies; articles of you were published in uncountable magazines and newspapers, film and TV reportages were produced. You were a number ONE, a sportsworld star. We had so much fun together and learnt so much from each other.
You were the most wonderful – and strict - adoptive mother and guiding star to Lisa and Mona and taught them to become the best dogs one can hope for. They learnt so much from you. How much fun you had together with YOUR pack MonALisa (Mona + Alice + Lisa).
All my thoughts, every fibre of my being, every single beat of my heart, all my joys and worries were dedicated to you. You were my life, my Alice in Wonderland.
Then, suddenly, unexpectedly, out of the blue, you became very sick, and destiny decided that it was time for you to leave. You were only 9 ½ years old, much too young to become a falling star! We were dumbstruck! You gave us 3 weeks to say goodbye.
Now you’re gone….
We were your protectors throughout life, but we couldn’t protect you against cancer. We are infinitely thankful for the time you gave us to share your company, for all the beautiful and unforgettable moments, but we wanted more!! We wanted to grow old together with you, see your smiling face each and every morning, wanted to play more often your favourite frisbee with you, swim in more lakes with you, have more snowball-fights, let you dig more holes in the garden, give you more kisses, hike more the mountains which you loved so much, eat more hotdogs together at the Djurgårdsbrunnbro-kiosk in Stockholm, and so much more. Our hearts were broken.
You will always stay our friend, our daughter, our sister, our partner, our STAR. Your smiling face is engraved into our hearts, your unconditional love fills our hearts, for ever!! But how will we survive "for ever" without you at our side?
You loved us unconditionally – the way we were, despite our shortcomings and lack of dog experience.
In addition to being the most wonderful family dog, you became a wonder-dog in the sport of canine freestyle, and this although we only started training when you were already 3 ½ years old.
And it all started by a fluke. You were not an easy personality, and everyday obedience was not your cup of tea. We went from one dog training course to the other, but nothing seemed to work. We decided to take part in an obedience class, but alas, the course was fully booked already. There was only a place available in a course called dog dance – “heaven knows what that is”, I thought, ”but I’ll give it a go”. And – wonders still happen! – you loved it, and so did I! Your extraordinary talent was noticed straight from the beginning. We started practicing this sport, combined with clicker training, as a fun activity – and how much fun it was!
With your stunning talent and passion for our training sessions, dear Alice, you have for ever revolutionized the sport of dog dance – HTM and canine freestyle alike. You left an important legacy to this canine sport. You have proven that with a high degree of technical difficulty and precision, and with a handler who emphasizes and enhances the dog's movements (instead of being the main character, and the dog only a prop...), this wonderful canine discipline can enter the field of high-level sports. With your skills - the fruit of natural talent but also of our long training – you have shown that dog dance can be more than just a fun activity and cute pastime, and more than just a series of spectacular tricks performed with background music.
Although dogs can't dance, I think we were able to show that with a carefully planned artistic choreography based on musical interpretation, the dog-handler team can produce beautiful, stunning and passionate choreographies with high technical difficulty and still interesting and exciting to watch for the public. Thank you again, dear Alice, to have infected so many dog-lovers with the virus of this passionate sport.
You made the power of love visible in all the rings we performed in.
Alice and I were inseparable from the very beginning: few were the moments we did not spend together. We travelled together, she came to assist me at work at the university (my students just loved her and she showed how proud she was to assist me during my classes), we trained canine freestyle together won almost every prize that could be won in our sport at the international level. Among numerous prizes, she won the European Championship 2012, was the World Vice-Champion in 2014 and the World Champion in 2016. We climbed innumerable mountains in Switzerland, made uncountable excursions, played in the snow, swam in alpine lakes …. you name it.
When my life was at its darkest, she was at my side. When my life was at its best, she shared it with me. She was my north and south, my east and west. Every thought and action in my life was dedicated to her.
The protection of her health was paramount to us. Since she was a sports dog at the highest international level, I took all imaginable precautions to avoid injuries: our training was built using warm-ups, cardio-vascular exercises and cooling-down phases. I regularly had her checked at the physiotherapist and vet. No vaccination was left out and regular blood tests were done, every test giving the very best results – she was top-level fit. Her diet was optimal: we gave her biologically appropriate raw foods (BARF) and all the necessary supplements. I regularly groomed her: her fur shone like a mirror. She was loved, cherished and cared for, 24 hours a day. Alice seemed so much younger than her age, fit and happy.
We were all indescribably happy together – me, my husband, Alice and her 2 adoptive sisters Mona and Lisa.
Only sometimes – when we were particularly happy together, the whole pack, Kazuto and I – an inexplicable fear overcame me that “so much happiness can’t last forever”…..
And it didn’t
Then – out of the blue – the thunderbolt hit. The summer of 2017 had been particularly hot, and Alice seemed very tired at the beginning of August. I blamed it on the heat and let her just stay quietly in the cool garden. Then one day I noticed that her tongue was white, as often happens when you suffer from influenza. I phoned the vet and he reassured me and said it was certainly due to the heat, and recommended just to leave her alone, let her stay quietly. And so I did. However, the next day she wouldn’t eat, but she showed now sign of weakness: she was so strong. And yet, her gums were white now as well. I went immediately to see the vet….. and within minutes she was diagnosed with cancer of the spleen (hemangiosarcoma) in the final stage, the spleen having already been ruptured. A death sentence! She was internally bleeding to death. The vet suggested that we should start to think about euthanasia. I was dumbstruck!! Heaven shut its gate. An avalanche – noisy, cold, dark and numbing –buried us, locked us in, dragged us into the Abyss. This can’t be true: Denial!
We were lost, unable to think clearly, to understand the dimensions of what we had been told. How could this be possible? We had so much fun with her only a couple of days before! She was healthy, fit and active like a young dog. She was such a strong dog!
But we were not given time to think. We had to drive her to a specialized veterinary clinic, immediately, to have her operated on. Her spleen had to be removed surgically and her internal bleeding stopped. My 2nd adult Border Collie Lisa had to donate blood, there and then!!
We were just reacting, blindly trusting and following the instructions and explanations given by the healthcare team. Every explanation given by the very sympathetic veterinarian was received as if through a thick fog, the unfamiliar medical terminology just beating down on us. This was unknown terrain, terra incognita: because of our ignorance, we could not even ask the right questions. I didn’t even know of the existence of an organ called “spleen”, let alone its function, or that hemangiosarcoma is the most common cancer of the spleen in the dog.
We were quite surprised, however, to see how quickly Alice recovered after the surgery!! She seemed like new-born, happy, active, light-footed: where did she get all this strength from? I thought we must be experiencing a false diagnosis, actors on the wrong film set... We were so happy to see her so alert, eager to start her active life again, as far as her operation scar would allow her to. And we were starting to bargain with destiny: “If Alice survives this nightmare, we promise to do this or that…..”.
As soon as the scar had healed, 2 weeks after the surgery, we were sent on a chemotherapy programme, which gave us a lot of hope: She would be healed and live for many years to come!! However, the next blow came when we were told that chemotherapy with dogs aims not at healing but at prolonging life expectancy and improving quality of life the remaining months of life. In other words, she was irrevocably condemned …. We felt cheated by life: Anger!
However, we knew it was the end, although Alice was still full of life and strength. So we just wanted to make the last months memorable, for her and for us. We decided not to give in to depression. We didn’t have time to feel sorry for ourselves, feel guilty because of Alice. We had to make our last days together very special. So we accepted our fate and started to set up a bucket list. The Alice-bucket-list, with activities she liked to do most. The list was long and for a little over one week we were able to do quite a lot of it together with Alice, fun activities we knew she would love: And she loved it, every minute together with HER pack. It was just amazing to see how happy she was, fit, active, full of life: She was so strong!
However, the cancer didn’t grant her the promised months, we were never able to finish the list... There were still so many entries we wanted to tick off together with her, among those: “Grow old together”.
We were told that Alice might feel a bit sick just after the chemotherapy. She had not shown any side effects at all after the 1st injection, but 10 days later, she started to bleed heavily from her bladder – however, she was still fit and ate with appetite. We went to the vet again, and were told she only had a couple of days or perhaps a week to live. The little remaining hope was taken from us: Depression and resignation!
A couple of days later, on 2nd September, she just collapsed and would not get on her feet anymore: her strength had left her. We lay her on our bed, next to us, where she slept quietly. She still showed willingness to live, but her body would not carry her anymore.
The next day I laid her on the cool grass in the garden, and she loved it – and even started to chase flies 😉. But she couldn’t get on her feet any more. She wouldn’t eat or drink. It was the end.
We felt thankful for the last days we had been able to spend together.
In the night of 4 September 2017 she passed away naturally, at her home, in the arms of my husband.