by Helen Anne Travis
When Dr. Kathryn Kaufman, veterinary surgeon at BluePearl Veterinary Partners in Blaine, Minnesota, first met Meesha, the eight-year-old pit bull was happy, outgoing, and in love with being the center of attention.
She rolled over gleefully for tummy rubs, jumped on anyone who would give her the time of day, and never let her human friends out of her sight.
All this despite the fact that Meesha had an eight-pound tumor on the side of her head.
“She had coped with it for so long, she had learned how to find balance,” said Dr. Kaufman, who believed the tumor had been growing steadily for at least eight months.
But as happy-go-lucky as she was, Meesha tired easily. Her neck could only support the weight of the basketball-sized tumor for short periods at a time. Doctors could tell she was limiting herself by staying away from the other dogs that wanted to play. She would lay her head on her paws and watch the others as they ran around.
The doctors had seen tumors this big in dogs before, but never on the side of the face. In addition to wearing her out, the tumor was also likely affecting Meesha’s hearing and vision—it was large enough to block her ear canal and stretch out the thin skin around her eye.
Earlier in the year, Meesha’s original owners found that they were unable to afford her medical care and surrendered her to Rescued Pets Are Wonderful.
“I knew when I saw her that we would be the perfect group for her,” said Liz Gigler, founder of Rescued Pets Are Wonderful, a non-profit no-kill volunteer animal rescue organization that helps animals no one else will take.
“Meesha never let anything get her down,” said Gigler. “The closer she could be to you, the happier she was.”
Gigler took her to BluePearl, where doctors said they could remove the tumor, but there would be risks.
The mass ran near Meesha’s jugular and carotid artery, uncomfortably close to the nerves controlling her facial movement. Meesha’s ear may need to be removed, and there could be extensive bleeding, the surgeons said. The cost would run anywhere from $1,000 to $10,000, depending on complications or the need for reconstructive surgery.
Then there was always the chance the tumor would return.
Gigler raised some of the funds through a donation site and then scheduled the three-hour operation for a Wednesday afternoon.
She was a nervous wreck, she said.
“I have been through a lot of surgeries and procedures in the last 13 years with our animals, and nothing was as stressful and nerve-wracking as Meesha’s surgery,” said Gigler.
Fortunately, there was little need for concern. Dr. Kaufman was able to remove the tumor without impacting nearby nerves and blood vessels. She cut away some of the extra skin and used the rest to close the open wound the tumor left behind. And as an added bonus, the scar blended in perfectly with the patterns in Meesha’s coat.
After the surgery, Meesha awoke within minutes. Even pumped up on puppy morphine, she was alert and eating.
“Meesha knew it was gone the second she woke up,” Gigler said.
She was released the next day. As soon as she got home, the once easily-tired pup wanted to make up for lost time.
“Now she wants to play with everyone,” said Dr. Kaufman. “She’s so much more active.”
There’s a 50 percent chance the tumor could return, but if it doesn’t come back within a year it likely never will, said Dr. Kaufman. Meesha was also prescribed 12 months of oral chemotherapy to reduce the chances of the tumor’s regrowth. Other than that, the only special after-care she’ll need is a regular pat down of the area to make sure there are no new lumps.
Gigler thought after that it would be a cinch to find Meesha a forever home. But the pup developed a kennel cough and had to sit out her debut adoption event. She was well enough to attend a second one, but there were no takers.
Finally, almost two months to the day after her surgery, Meesha was adopted.
Gigler received an email from a woman who had been following Meesha’s story from day-one. She assumed, like Gigler, that there would be tons of applicants jostling to take the sweet girl home.
“When I told her no one applied, she knew Meesha was meant for her family,” Gigler said.
On September 5th, Liz posted a picture on Facebook of Meesha getting a belly rub from her new parents. She now has a furry brother and a human sister, who Gigler says she gets along with splendidly.
“The family that adopted her is wonderful and she will live out her years in happiness,” she said.
For more on Meesha’s story, check out Meesha’s Journey on Facebook.