It’s CougsGive: Support cancer care for pets like Oakley

In most cases, a soft tissue sarcoma—one of the most common forms of skin cancer in dogs—is often treatable with removal followed by radiation therapy.

But for a dog like Oakley, who has only three legs, when a cancerous mass was found on his right and last front leg, it was life threatening.

Fortunately, Oakley and his owner, Rachel Schneider, a fourth-year veterinary student at Washington State University, had access to one of just two facilities in the Pacific Northwest capable of providing radiation treatment to animals – WSU’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital.

Today is CougsGive, and WSU’s oncologists are hoping to raise enough money to purchase a new linear accelerator, or LINAC, which will allow for even more accurate and safer treatments for animal patients with cancer. With the new machine, radiation can be better directed to the tumor while protecting surrounding healthy tissues, and because the dose rate can be better moderated, it will reduce treatment time for pets like Oakley.

News of Oakley’s cancer was difficult for Schneider, a veterinary student strapped for cash and well invested in the mixed-breed dog she rescued eight years prior.

Schneider adopted 5-month-old Oakley while she was participating in a volunteer animal surgery clinic in Central America.

“At about four weeks he was hit by a car and there was major trauma to his elbow and forearm, and so he lived with a leg that he couldn’t use for nearly four months,” she said. “When he got to us there wasn’t much that could be done to repair his leg, so we amputated the leg at the humerus.”

Scrubbing in using rainwater via an old margarine bucket, Schneider assisted with the surgery, which was a success. But following the procedure, Oakley’s owner never showed.

“I later found out that culturally if your animal is deformed or missing a limb it is a curse to your family,” Schneider said. “(Oakley) would have been put on the streets, but he is too friendly, he would likely be eaten by another street dog.”

So, when she boarded the flight home to Edmonton, Canada, the decision was easy – she took Oakley with her.

It took eight years for Oakley to have his next medical problem – that cancerous lump on his right front leg.

A surgery was performed to remove the mass, followed by five radiation treatments in 10 days to rid any cancerous cells that may have been leftover. 

Prior to the surgery, Oakley had been confirmed to be a slow metabolizer of anesthetics. This created another challenge – an increased risk of complications or even death.

“As a student, and having no income, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do, plus anesthesia was a big risk for him,” Schneider said.

Schneider moved forward with the surgery, but she didn’t have to stress about finances for long. Unbeknownst to her, a friend she developed at WSU had posted about Oakley online. Within six days, Oakley’s $2,200 in remaining medical costs were covered all the way through a six-month checkup.

“The next day I got a call from reception saying there was some confusion if the system was working properly because every online payment was going to Oakley,” Schneider said. “Students, faculty, even my past clients donated. They said, ‘you saved my dog, I want to help you save yours.’”

And so, they did.

“It was totally unexpected,” Schneider said. “I’m so grateful for WSU; I completed my first three years of veterinary school at St. Matthew’s, and I’ve been here less than a year, but the students, faculty, and staff treat me as if I’ve been here for the entire ride.”