By Sandy Quadros Bowles
Much like people tend to do, 11-year-old Lab mix Jasper had a steady morning routine.
His owner Kim Rogers would let him outside, where he would romp into the woods to “do his business.’’ Then he would come back home to eat.
One terrifying August morning, Jasper did neither.
Instead, the dog made it only as far as the stairs, where he laid down. And he refused to eat his breakfast, which she described as “the first meal he’s ever skipped.’’
Immediately recognizing a significant problem, Rogers called a local veterinarian, who advised her to check Jasper’s gums. When she reported their abnormally pale color, she was told to bring Jasper in immediately.
Tests showed Jasper had a large mass on his spleen, with what the veterinarian determined to be a 90 percent chance of cancer. Rogers was given three options: Put Jasper down immediately, approve surgery for him at the local veterinary office, or take him to a larger facility.
She opted for the third choice and selected Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. But taking Jasper there required more than a simple car ride.
The Rogers family lives on Martha’s Vineyard. To find help for their ailing dog, they took a 45-minute boat ride to the mainland, then drove 90 minutes to the North Grafton campus.
There Jasper was diagnosed with blood in his abdominal cavity, related to a mass in his spleen that was diagnosed by ultrasound, according to Tufts veterinarian Dr. Jessica Baron.
Spleen masses typically occur in older dogs, Dr. Baron said. Signs of the problem may include weakness, sudden collapse, abdominal distension, and, as Jasper exhibited, lethargy and lack of appetite.
Jasper was bleeding to death internally and lost more than 50 percent of his blood supply, Rogers said. Without immediate care, “he wouldn’t have made it through the night,’’ she said.
Jasper was admitted for surgery to remove his spleen. The surgery would stop the bleeding and determine the nature of the mass, according to Dr. Baron.
The Rogers family left Jasper behind for surgery with a sense of calm and hope, Rogers said. “I left at peace when I left,’’ she said. “I knew they would do the best they could do for him. He was in good hands.’’
She also appreciated the open dialogue with the veterinary staff. Surgeons assured her that she would be the one to determine Jasper’s fate, even if they had to call her in the middle of the operation. “They kept us updated through the process,’’ she said.
They had reason to worry about making tough decisions. Two-thirds of bleeding spleen masses is malignant, with the most common diagnosis of hemangiosarcoma, a tumor of the blood vessels.
That diagnosis could have left Jasper with one to three months to live, or about double that timeframe with treatments, Rogers said.
To the enormous relief of the Rogers family, Jasper beat the odds. His mass was benign.
He also healed “amazingly well’’ from the surgery, anesthesia and blood transfusion, Rogers said. After 24 hours, Jasper was walking and standing on his own and transferred out of the ICU, Dr. Baron said. He remained in the hospital for a few more days, with steady improvement each day, she said.
Jasper wasn’t eating, but veterinarians said that sometimes happen when dogs are in an unfamiliar setting.
Sure enough, this problem resolved itself the minute Jasper was placed in the family car to begin the ride home. He immediately began poking through grocery bags that included treats the Rogers family brought for him. “He got his appetite back as soon as he saw us,’’ Rogers said with a laugh.
About two weeks after the surgery, Jasper was back to his normal self. Nearly every day, despite the changeable New England weather, Jasper gets a walk on the beach. He even took regular swims before the water got too cold.
This serene setting provides a welcome contrast to the anxiety Jasper and his family experienced months earlier.
“He’s doing great,’’ Rogers said. “We feel very blessed.’’