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Knoxville K9 Cancer Walk: walking in memory of Ripley, the incredible pug

Nancy Dearolf of Knoxville, Tennessee, is all too familiar with canine cancer. As a longtime participant in the Knoxville K9 Cancer Walk, Nancy, along with her wife, Paula, organized Team Ripley in memory of their pug named after “Ripley’s Believe or Not,” because his story was so incredible.

It ended up being the perfect name for him,” said Nancy. “He was constantly doing amazing things no one could believe.”

Nancy and Paula first were introduced to Ripley while driving to work one morning. They were listening to a radio program that aired a story about a purebred “couch potato” pug that enjoyed walks on the beach and watching the Discovery Channel but was, sadly, scheduled to be euthanized at a local animal shelter. Nancy and Paula hurried to the shelter in hopes of adopting him before it was too late.

Nancy, a longtime pug owner, had seen a lot of pugs in her time, but nothing in her past experience prepared her for Ripley.

“Wow!! Now that’s a pug, I exclaimed loudly without thinking,” said Nancy, recounting her reaction when Ripley walked in to meet her. Ripley tipped the scales at 42 pounds, and was so heavy he could barely walk. He flopped down on the floor at Nancy’s feet, completely out of breath.

“He seemed dejected and scared. Aside from his panting, he never made a sound,” said Nancy. “My heart broke. We had to have him and we fell head-over-heels in love with him, right then and there.”

Three years and 22 pounds later, Ripley was in fine shape (even though he remained a big fan of television). He loved walking on the beach with Nancy, Paula and his canine sister, Emmie. When Nancy and Paula were transferred from Florida to Knoxville, their home town, Ripley was showered with attention from his “grandma and grandpaw” as well as from his many human nieces and nephews. As Nancy said, “life was good.”

Then, the day after Ripley walked in the 2013 Knoxville K9 Cancer Walk in honor of Emmie (who died in 2011), Nancy dropped Ripley off for a routine checkup and bath with her veterinarian and friend, Dr. Randy Lange. When Nancy went to pick Ripley up later, she received devastating news; Dr. Lange had found something troublesome in Ripley’s bloodwork. A follow-up trip to veterinary oncologist Jeff Phillips confirmed their worst fears – Ripley had lymphoma.

True to his name, Ripley responded amazingly well to his initial chemotherapy.

"He fought the good fight and he was winning. Ding! Ding! Round 1 goes to Ripley!" said Nancy.

However, three weeks later, during another routine visit the unthinkable happened; Ripley was diagnosed with a mast cell tumor, a second cancer.

 “I was furious,” said Nancy. “Life was throwing the kitchen sink at our precious little man who had already been through so much. How much more could he possibly endure? ”

Three surgeries and three weeks later, the mast cell tumor was completely removed and Ripley was back on his normal chemotherapy schedule. His lymphoma went into remission until April 13, 2015, when Ripley crossed the Rainbow Bridge, surrounded by his family and friends.

“This is why we walk. So that losing Ripley will not be in vain. We walk to raise money and awareness of this insidious, heartless, careless disease,” said Nancy. “There will be a cure and we must keep fighting until one is found. Lymphoma is just one of many forms of canine cancer that are all too common and all too deadly.

“We walk because Ripley loved doing it. We walk because we must do everything we can so that no other family must endure the pain of losing their best friend, of watching the light in their eyes slowly dim and finally burn out. We walk because we love animals and never want one to be in pain or suffering from cancer and disease. We hate cancer. We walk to stamp it out.”

You, too, can further our mission to help dogs everywhere live longer, healthier lives. Join us for the Knoxville K9 Cancer Walk on April 10.  We also invite you to learn more about our additional 2016 K9 Cancer Walks, our research, and our accomplishments. Together, we can find ways to prevent, treat and cure canine cancer.

April 5, 2016