Colorado rescue dog Maggie battles cancer
March 13, 2018
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. — Visitors should excuse Maggie if she lets out a little, soft bark as they walk through the doors of the Mountain Medical Injury and Pain Professionals clinic is downtown Steamboat Springs.
"She has been our pain support dog for years," said Nancy Beste, who opened the new clinic at 320 Oak St. last month after building a strong following in her Lakewood office, which opened several years ago. "We feel like she breaks the ice with patients. She calms them down, and with the kind of business I have, sometimes the people in the waiting room have to be there for a while, Maggie entertains them. She is here to distract them from their personal pains."
The 70-pound Norwegian elkhound-Chihuahua mix has spent most of her life helping others deal with pain, but now it's Maggie that is dealing with chronic pain, which started shortly after Maggie and her owners, Nancy and Jasen Beste, moved to Steamboat. Nancy noticed Maggie's discomfort during a hike up Spring Creek Trail.
"We thought that she had stepped into the snow and sprained her ankle," Nancy said. "We waited for about a week, but it just got worse and worse. She couldn't bear any weight on it. I felt it, and it was just hot. I took her to the veterinarian, and they knew right away, I could tell."
After looking at the X-ray, the veterinarian diagnosed the 10-year-old canine with osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer that makes it impossible, and very painful, for Maggie to put weight on her left leg.
"With osteosarcoma, if you do nothing, it's a month to six weeks," Nancy Beste said. "So we made an appointment right away to go to two different dog oncologists."
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The doctors told the Bestes that Maggie should have her left leg amputated and then go through four sessions of chemotherapy – one session every three weeks. It's not what the dog's owners wanted to hear, but for Nancy, the alternative was better than leaving Maggie in pain.
"People just look at us and say you are spending what?" she said. "We could have chosen to euthanize her, but I just couldn't do that to my co-worker, my best friend, my dog."
Amputation is the most common surgical treatment for dogs with osteosarcoma. Bigger dogs can more easily adjust to having three legs and resume a relatively normal life. The amputation also provides relief from the pain and can extend a dog's life by 12 to 18 months.
Veterinarians will also take a biopsy to confirm that the cancer is osteosarcoma. If it is, Maggie's case will become part of a clinical trial at Colorado State University that is exploring the use of immunotherapy in dogs with this type of cancer. If that works, Maggie's life expectancy could also be extended.
"This is cutting edge, and we are going to do it for Maggie, " Jasen said. "It's expensive, and everybody we talk to says it's not worth it. But we are going to do it because we love her, and she's got a good spirit. We are also doing it for all dogs, because if this works, other dogs will get this treatment in the future."
Maggie's surgery and treatment means that the family will spend a lot of time traveling between Steamboat Springs and the CSU College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences in Fort Collins, Colorado. It also means Maggie may not be in the new clinic as much.
Nancy is optimistic that Maggie, who was adopted from the Denver Rescue League as a puppy, can continue to be a part of Nancy's practice as it grows in Steamboat Springs.
"She comes in and goes around the waiting room and puts her nose up to all the people looking for a little attention," Nancy said.
Somewhere in those big caring eyes and compassionate expression, Maggie has her own story, and Nancy is sure that story is one of the reasons Maggie has so much empathy for the people who come to the clinic.
"She was rescued from New Mexico and an Indian Reservation. She was part of a litter of puppies where the mother was used for target practice, so they pulled her away from there," Nancy said. "When we first met her, she would sit on Jasen's lap, and she was fine. But if we tried to take her out or put her in the car, she would not go. She would hide under the furniture. She would only let me pet her at first and then she warmed up to Jasen. She was really scared when we got her, but she isn't now."
After becoming a part of the Beste family, Maggie became more social, and Nancy never hesitated to bring her into the clinic. She said Maggie offered patients an outlet that took them away from the pain they were feeling.
When Nancy opened her new office in Steamboat, she expected Maggie to be part of it. Today, Maggie still barks when strangers walk through the door — something she never did before, but Nancy doesn't expect that to last.
To help her dog feel more comfortable with new people, Nancy has attached a large plastic cup filled with dog treats outside the office door with a note encouraging visitors to offer Maggie a treat as they enter. She is hopeful that the barks will go away along with Maggie's pain.