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By Angie Ruiz
It was love at first sight when I met the Rottweiler that I would ultimately adopt. He was 9 months old and 90 lbs! He was surrendered by a family who could no longer keep him and I volunteered to pick him up and drive him to the Rottweiler Rescue of Los Angeles. During the two-hour drive back to Los Angeles I looked in the rearview mirror and saw the most beautiful face staring back at me with great sadness in his eyes. At that moment, I made the decision to rescue him myself. His name was Samson.
My husband and I welcomed Samson into our home with open arms. In many ways he was our first baby before we had children of our own. Smart and hilarious, he constantly entertained us with his goofy antics. I am smiling as I write this thinking of those times. We grew to love him and the Rottweiler breed in general. He inspired me to make my first feature documentary, Black Beauty Breed, a film that profiled the Rottweiler.
During that time, I learned that Rottweilers and other large breeds were prone to Osteosarcoma which is a type of bone cancer. It affects one in every eight Rottweilers. Sadly, my Samson became one of the statistics. He was 9 years old when he was diagnosed. We were devastated by the news. Like many people, we scrambled to try and save his life. I just didn’t know much about Osteosarcoma and I wish I had made more informed decisions. A well known veterinarian suggested amputation of his left leg because the tumor was quite pronounced and was affecting his cortical bone. We were told that the amputation could stop the cancer from spreading to other parts of his body. We decided to move forward with the amputation. The surgery was performed by a veterinary orthopedic surgeon. Samson’s recovery seemed to be going great for the first month post surgery. However, we soon learned that the cancer had in fact spread to another part of his body. Our hearts were shattered. We knew it was time to say goodbye. It was one of the saddest moments of our lives. Truthfully, we never got over it.
Looking back on the experience, we learned quite a bit and I’d like to share a few of our hard-learned lessons so that other dog-families, going through a similar scenario, will be better equipped to handle tough decisions ahead.
1. Amputation isn’t always the answer. Looking back I wish I never moved forward with the amputation. Samson was 9 years old and the bone cancer tumor was advanced enough to spread through his body even after amputation. Had he been a younger dog 4-6 years old and the tumor was smaller he probably would have lived a few more years after the amputation. The lesson I learned was–do not amputate if your dog is older and the tumor is advanced. Make your dogs life as comfortable as possible and give them lots of love and cuddles during the last few days or months of their lives.
2. Get a second opinion. I was referred to a well known veterinary oncologist and I assumed amputation was my only option. I know it is hard to get several opinions in a race to save a dog’s life, but I really wish I would have talked to other veterinary oncologists before I moved forward with the amputation.
3. Check your dog weekly for any signs of a tumor or discomfort. I do this regularly with my current Rottie. I wish I had done this more often with Samson. I lay my dog down and pet him all over—almost like a massage. I feel the length of his legs, arms, stomach, back, sides, neck and head. I check his mouth regularly as well. Even a small bump should be checked out by a veterinarian. I probably could have caught the tumor earlier had I done this regularly with Samson.
After many days filled with grief and sorrow following Samson’s passing, I decided to make a documentary about the experience in an effort to help others make more informed decisions than the ones I made. Making the film was cathartic for me in many ways. I know how important dogs are to the people who have them. The film, Forever Faithful, documents our journey through canine cancer and features the unique stories of several dogs. More importantly, it features breakthrough canine cancer treatments like immunotherapy and stereotactic radiation therapy. I hope the film helps educate others about canine cancer and the treatments available. I also hope the film lets people know they are not alone in grieving for their beloved animal.
About Angie Ruiz: Angie Ruiz is a documentary filmmaker and actress based in Los Angeles, Calif. Her first documentary, Black Beauty Breed, profiled the Rottweiler highlighting their intelligence and history as a working dog. She fell in love with the breed after rescuing a Rottweiler in 2007 and created the film to give the Rottweiler a fair and more balanced portrayal in the media. The film screened in multiple cities worldwide and garnered domestic and international distribution. Black Beauty Breed has played an active role in redefining the Rottweiler’s image in the media; accurate terms such as “working dog” and “intelligent” are now more commonly used when describing the breed. During the filming of Black Beauty Breed, Ruiz learned that the Rottweiler and other large breed dogs are prone to bone cancer and was deeply affected when her own dog was diagnosed with osteosarcoma. She created Forever Faithful to help raise canine cancer awareness and support canine cancer research initiatives. Forever Faithful and Black Beauty Breed are now streaming on iTunes.