Three years ago, Tom received the news that every pet owner dreads - his beloved dog, Barney, had cancer. They'd been together since Barney was a tiny, six week old pup, so Tom was devastated.
"My vet told me it was a grade three mast cell tumour, one of the most aggressive tumours a dog could have, and it was inoperable. There was nothing they could do. He only had a matter of months.”
Desperate to do anything he could, Tom took Barney to the University of Sydney Veterinary Teaching Hospital. To better understand Barney's condition, they suggested a CT scan.
I couldn't think about anything else but Barney. The thought of losing him was devastating.
When the results came back, it was good news. The cancer was contained and hadn’t spread. It wasn’t going to be an easy road, but surgery was an option for Barney.
Because of the complexities of the case - the type of tumour, its location, and how aggressive it was - the treatment Barney needed couldn't be done at a general practice. It needed a specialist team, and it was going to be expensive.
“I was told what it might cost, and it was totally out of my reach,” says Tom.
The decision to go ahead was no longer about Tom wanting to save Barney, but if he could afford to. Having spent his savings on vet bills and the CT scan, Tom was heartbroken to realise had no way to cover the costs of the surgery.
He prepared himself to say goodbye. "I wasn't thinking about anything else but Barney. The thought of losing him was devastating.”
Just when Tom thought all hope was lost, Barney's vets suggested the Animals in Need fund. Launched by the Sydney School of Veterinary Science in 2012, the donor-supported fund helps the University’s teaching hospitals treat animals whose owners cannot afford to pay for their care.
Dr Jason Hoon, along with Dr Laurencie Brunel and Dr Katrina Cheng, was on Barney's veterinary team at the University Teaching Hospital, "As vets, you always want to do what's best for the patient," he says. "But obviously, finances play a huge role."
For Tom, the Animals in Need fund was the difference between going ahead with the surgery or not. “I was given that little bit of hope, and I immediately switched to fight mode. I needed to fight for Barney." It didn’t cover all the costs, but it was enough to ensure Barney had his surgery. "There was no way I could’ve afforded the treatment without it.”
The successful surgery was followed by six months of chemotherapy.
For Dr Hoon, Barney isn’t a case he will forget in a hurry. "He was one of my first patients when I started at the University, and it’s not a procedure that is done on a routine basis. We had to remove the tumour, as well as do quite a fair bit of complex reconstruction work to re-route Barney's urinary tract.”
"The unique benefit here at the teaching hospital, is we have a multidisciplinary centre. Multiple specialists are involved in the surgery and medicine departments as well as imaging and anesthesia. We're able to all come together to provide the right treatment and the right aftercare."
Three years on, Barney is healthy and cancer-free. He continues to visit the University Veterinary Teaching Hospital for his annual check-ups and is also now part of a unique vaccine trial. Led by a team of researchers at the University, the trial uses specific samples of Barney's tumour to create a vaccine for the patients.
Tom couldn’t be happier. “I look at him every day and thank my lucky stars he’s still here.”
To learn more about this story or to support the vital work of the Animals in Need fund, please contact Judith O'Hagan. Phone: +61 2 8627 4490. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.