When Dawn Bauer learned that a dog owner had dropped a Siberian husky with a suspicious mass at the Miami-Dade Animal Services shelter, she and her group of volunteers sprang into action.
"We knew we had to get there quickly because when these shelters become overcrowded, owner-surrendered dogs are among the first to be put down. They know no one is looking for them," she said.
Waleah, 7, escaped euthanasia, but she was still in peril. A tumor "the size of a NERF football," according to Bauer, turned out to be mammary cancer.
"Waleah's owners may have given up on her, but I wasn't about to do the same," said Bauer, who helped found Husky Haven of Florida, a small Clearwater-based nonprofit that rescues stray, surrendered and endangered huskies from around the state. "We want to give her a fighting chance for a long life and find her a forever home."
With some fundraising efforts, Bauer was able to pay $700 for Waleah's surgery to remove the tumor. Chemotherapy will cost an additional $1,500.
For help, Bauer turned to the Magic Bullet Fund, a New York nonprofit organization that helps pay for cancer treatment for canines. To date, the organization has assisted more than 240 dogs.
The fund was founded in 2004 by Laurie Kaplan, who waged her own war on canine cancer with her dog, Bullet. The Siberian husky died at 14 of old age, having lived more than four years in remission.
Knowing how much cancer treatments cost, and that not all families can pay for them, Kaplan set up the nonprofit organization in Bullet's honor.
Kaplan, a medical animal writer by trade, penned a book about canine cancer treatment called Help Your Dog Fight Cancer. Proceeds from the book benefit the fund.
She said canine cancer is epidemic.
"It's similar to the rate of cancer in humans. About half of all dogs will have some form of cancer in their lifetime," she said. "At least 8,000 dogs are diagnosed with cancer every day."
Companies are helping out too. Recently, the Petco Foundation donated two $50,000 grants to her organization. Additional money is raised on the website, themagic bulletfund.org, where Waleah and other dogs in need of treatment are featured. Owners are required to help raise money as well.
As of this printing, Waleah has received more than $700 in donations, enabling her to start her chemotherapy treatment at BluePearl Veterinary Partners in Tampa.
Dogs are accepted into the program based on the owner's financial need, age of the pet and positive outlook for treatment.
Dr. Jen Coyle, a veterinary oncologist overseeing Waleah's chemotherapy treatment, said she is optimistic about the husky's future.
"The only negative prognostic indicator was the size of the tumor; we don't like to see them that big. But with the chemotherapy, we're hoping to stop or slow any remaining microscopic disease," Coyle said. "We're trying to take all the precautionary measures we can in hopes she'll have a good outcome."
The fund pays the treatment clinics directly. In addition, Kaplan and her volunteers communicate with veterinarians and other medical professionals, provide guidance for the family and advocate for the dog.
"This case is especially attractive to me because I love to help dogs who are in a shelter or in a rescue situation," Kaplan said. "It will be great if we can help a dog with a cancer that is treatable or curable find a forever home."
Right now, Waleah is being fostered by Crystal Luecke of St. Petersburg. You might say she's found a new "leash" on life.
"At first she was very shy and timid," Luecke said. "Her head was down a lot. Now, she's opening up tremendously. She's sweet and gentle and loves to go for walks."
Luecke said she wouldn't be surprised if Waleah was once a show dog.
"She prances when she walks."
Terri Bryce Reeves can be reached at [email protected]