After having surgery to repair her face, chemotherapy for an unusual cancer, and medical treatment to resolve heartworm disease, Kabang finally returned home to Zamboanga City, Philippines. These are significant odds to face for any dog, especially for a pooch hailing from another country where veterinarians often lack the same access to the high level of veterinary care available in the U.S.
We first heard of Kabang’s inspirational tale of overcoming adversity in late 2012. In December 2011, while living in Zamboanga City, Kabang suffered severe injuries after motorcycle wheel spokes lacerated her face.
The unfortunate circumstance leading to Kabang’s notoriety led to worldwide praise of her efforts as a hero dog. Reportedly, two young girls (the daughter and niece of Kabang’s owner) were about to be hit by a motorcycle. Kabang intervened, taking the motorcycle’s blow to her face, severing her muzzle (including her nose) and upper jaw (maxilla).
One of the girls Kabang saved in the motorcycle incident, Dina Bunggall, said “She [Kabang] is not just my friend, she is like a part of our family. I am very thankful to her, because without her, maybe I will not be alive today." Kabang underwent treatment in the Philippines, but was left with severe facial deformities, scarring, and ongoing infection.
Kabang’s story spread and $27,000 in donations from over 20 countries helped fund her travel and veterinary care. In October 2012 she was transported from the Philippines to Sacramento, CA for evaluation and treatment at the William R. Pritchard Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital at the University of California, Davis.
In preparation for surgery to correct Kabang’s facial trauma, she underwent routine laboratory testing, which revealed heartworm disease. Heartworm is a parasitic organism spread from the bite of an infected mosquito, an insect prevalent in warm and humid climates. Kabang’s heartworm disease needed to be resolved before she could safely be anesthetized for her facial surgery. She was treated by a series of arsenic-based injections.
Additionally, an internal medicine specialist diagnosed Kabang with an unusual cancer in her vagina called a Transmissible Venereal Tumor (TVT). In third world and less developed countries, packs of dogs often live on the streets and are typically not spayed or neutered. Sexual contact occurring during mating provides the vehicle for cancer cells to spread from one dog to another and for the eventual development of TVTs. Nodules can grow on the penis, prepuce (sheath covering the penis), vulva, and vagina.
Kabang underwent chemotherapy to treat her TVT. "There is no evidence of any remaining tumor," said Gina Davis, Kabang’s primary care veterinarian at UC Davis. “As far as we know she has been cured of the transmissible venereal tumor." Davis also noted Kabang’s positive attitude as a “very friendly” and “happy little dog.”
TVTs and heartworm are preventable diseases, which can rage out of control in regions lacking preventative veterinary medical resources. Both of Kabang’s ailments originated in the Philippines. Heartworm can be prevented through oral or topical medications. Spaying and neutering our companion and feral canines and felines is an important part of disease and population control both at home and abroad.
Once her TVT and heartworm disease were managed, Kabang underwent surgery to improve the health and function of her face by using skin grafts from her cheeks, forehead, and neck.
Ultimately, Katanga returned to her native country with improved facial function and without her reproductive organs. Unfortunately, her struggles are not yet over. Due to Kabang’s owner having personal problems, her care has been relinquished to Anton Lim, the veterinarian who facilitated her transport to the U.S.
Please help increase awareness of diseases affecting animals in areas of the world lacking sufficient access to medical care by sharing Kabang’s story.
Feel free to wish Kabang well through the Care for Kabang Facebook page.
Dr. Patrick Mahaney