In the spring of 2019, Karen Kernaghan noticed that her dog’s nose was bleeding. “That was the start of it,” says Karen. She took “Kiki Blu,” a 6-year-old border collie mix, to her local veterinarian Dr. Jefferson Manens of Vancouver, British Columbia. He put Kiki under anesthesia and took a biopsy of tissue in her nose. The results came back benign.
Dr. Manens still suspected something was wrong, so he phoned WSU veterinary oncologist Dr. Janean Fidel. Based on his description, Dr. Fidel agreed. He took another biopsy, this time with a special needle. Kiki had cancer.
Karen had no plans to get a dog after her beloved dog died in 2011. But six years ago when a friend of Karen’s heard about a dog who needed a home, he called Karen. “I was not getting a dog,” says Karen. “But she knew I love border collie mixes.”
In farm country on the outskirts of Vancouver, BC, district officials had been chasing a stray for weeks before they finally caught her. “They didn’t know where she came from,” says Karen. The animal shelter tried to find the dogs owners, but no one claimed her. “They were going to have to put her down because she wouldn’t socialize or eat,” says Karen.
Karen drove out to see her and they tried to coax her out of the kennel. “She was shaking,” says Karen. Once she got her out of the kennel, they walked together for two hours. After that, she said to herself that they just can’t put this dog down. Karen decided to adopt her.
When she took her to the veterinarian, they told Karen that she was a border collie, but that her eyes are husky. And they didn’t think she was even one year old yet. Karen named her Kiki, which means child in Hawaiian. She added Blu because her husky eyes are so blue. When she is good, she calls her Kiki Blu Sky.
“She was so scared at first that I hand fed her,” she says. Karen took her to the beach and taught her how to swim; they went to doggie daycare to meet other dogs, and they started hiking together. “She was very easy to socialize,” she says. “She is so smart, so bright, and very alert.”
Once the nose cancer diagnosis came back, Dr. Manens said radiation therapy would be the best cancer treatment for Kiki. But in British Columbia there isn’t a place that offers radiation treatment for pets. “He told me I could go over the border to Washington State University,” says Karen. “He said WSU has been doing it for a long time and has a good success rate.”
WSU oncologist Dr. Fidel wanted to start radiation treatments immediately and told Karen that Kiki would need 18 treatments. “I thought I was going to be gone a week,” says Karen. It ended up being four weeks. “I came here to extend her life, so I was staying.”
Kiki’s diagnosis was nasal adenocarcinoma, which is the most common nasal tumor in dogs. Radiation therapy can not only help shrink the tumor, but it can also help alleviate many of the symptoms associated with this type of cancer.
I never knew people like this existed in an animal hospital. I felt like I was a very important client. And that is how they treated everyone.– Karen Kernaghan, Kiki’s owner
“Nose bleeds are a common symptom because of how much blood supply is in the nose,” says Kasey Burton, a WSU oncology technician. When the nasal passages are irritated from a tumor, she explains, they tend to bleed. And for many patients, radiation can help that symptom improve after just a few treatments.
“They explained everything so well, but they never gave me false hope,” says Karen. “I felt in my heart I was doing the right thing, and it was the right thing. I’m not sure how it will turn out, but because she is strong and healthy, I felt there was a good chance it would go well.”
And having pet insurance made it easier to afford. “She is the first dog I ever insured,” says Karen. “I vowed to myself that I would never get another dog unless I could commit to insurance because then you are able to do these things.”
Karen and Kiki left their home on the north shore of Vancouver and arrived in Pullman on August 13. Having grown up in the prairies of Manitoba, Canada, Karen felt right at home in Pullman. “Everyone locally told me, ‘you are in the right place,’” she says. “And it was definitely the right place to be. I met a lot of great people.”
I have told every person I know that if they need help, they should go to WSU.– Karen Kernaghan, Kiki’s owner
At the hotel where she stayed, the staff would offer to watch Kiki if Karen wanted to go out at night or eat her breakfast in the dining room. One night, a caravan of buses pulled up to the hotel. It was the WSU football team. One of the players came up to her and asked if he could pet Kiki. “Then they all lined up to pet her,” she says. The next day they had a 58–7 win over New Mexico State. “I told Kiki, ‘I think you gave these guys luck.’”
At the WSU veterinary hospital—from the staff at the front desk, to the veterinary technicians, to the veterinarians—Karen says she knew she was in the best hands. “I never knew people like this existed in an animal hospital. I felt like I was a very important client,” she says. “And that is how they treated everyone. I have told every person I know that if they need help, they should go to WSU.”