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August 9, 2018 – Superheroes come in all shapes and sizes, including short, furry and four-legged. One such superhero is a special golden retriever named Coley who is helping lead the way in cancer research. Coley, just 4 years old, recently was diagnosed with lymphoma and is fighting the villain just like any superhero would – with courage, attitude and the help of his superhero friends, including his owner and best friend, Pete Poggetti, and his veterinarian and honorary godparent, Dr. Shannon Poole.

Coley is a hero in another way as well. He is one of more than 3,000 dogs enrolled in the Morris Animal Foundation Golden Retriever Lifetime Study. The $32 million study gathers information on more than 3,000 golden retrievers throughout their lives to identify the nutritional, environmental, lifestyle and genetic risk factors for cancer and other diseases in dogs. One of the primary goals of the study is to help us understand more about four of the most common canine cancers including mast cell tumors, hemangiosarcoma, osteosarcoma and lymphoma.

The good news for Coley is that lymphoma, one of the most common cancers in dogs, also is one of the most responsive canine cancers to chemotherapy. After he was diagnosed, Coley was immediately put on a chemotherapy regimen known as CHOP, an acronym for four different chemotherapy drugs each given at different intervals. From start to finish, Coley will receive 19 chemotherapy sessions, some administered intravenously and others in the form of a pill.

“We were lucky that we caught Coley’s cancer early,” Pete said. “We were making a routine visit to get Coley’s distemper booster in January and Dr. Poole noticed Coley’s lymph nodes were a little enlarged. Coley had just passed his extensive yearly physical a few months earlier with flying colors and no red flags. We were stunned to learn that Coley now had lymphoma.”

The first chemotherapy session went well with few side effects and the swelling of Coley’s lymph nodes went down. Then Pete waited for the test results that would help determine Coley’s prognosis; what type of lymphoma did Coley have?

Lymphoma is classified based on the type of lymphocyte (a type of white blood cell) involved in the cancer – B-cell or T-cell. Determining the lymphoma subtype has important implications for both treatment and prognosis in dogs. The majority of canine lymphoma cases are B-cell lymphomas, which has a better prognosis over the more aggressive T-cell lymphoma.

Pete was relieved when Coley’s diagnosis came back as B-cell lymphoma. Coley’s lymph nodes also were not getting any bigger and seemed to be responding to treatment. Pete knows Coley isn’t out of the woods, but his odds of survival are improved.

“Through this whole experience, Coley’s quality of life hasn’t changed. He is still his lovable self. We also are not seeing any side effects from further chemotherapy rounds except an occasional appetite quirk,” Pete said. “He acts like his old self and sometimes we forget he has cancer. I don’t even think he knows he’s sick.”

Morris Animal Foundation has been funding lymphoma research for 30 years. Our funding has helped improve chemotherapy treatments and diagnostics for early detection of cancer. Ongoing lymphoma studies are looking at chemotherapy resistance in T-cell lymphoma, genetics in B-cell lymphoma and the role of environmental pollutants, especially toxic chemicals, in overall cancer development in dogs.

The Foundation’s largest ongoing cancer study is the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study, which will help identify risk factors for cancer and other diseases in dogs.

When Coley and Pete volunteered to be citizen scientists for this project, they did not know their journey would help provide a vital piece of the canine cancer puzzle. Every detail of Coley’s lifestyle, including information about his cancer and its treatment, is meticulously recorded and will be added to the large body of data collected by the study. Health data collected on Coley and other golden retrievers will be analyzed by researchers for years to come in the hopes of identifying factors that place dogs at a higher risk of developing cancer and other major health concerns.

“Knowing that food contributes to our overall well-being, I feed Coley the best dog food that money can buy,” said Pete. “We regularly exercise together, although a little slower these days. No more 5K walks or runs. I did my best to make sure Coley had a healthy lifestyle. That makes me wonder what other factors I may have missed, that I just didn’t know about, that could have helped Coley. I believe the extensive and extremely detailed data captured in the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study will find clues to why some young dogs get cancer so other families don’t have to go on this journey with their pets.”

Superhero Coley is doing his part by donating his blood, hair, toenail and even poop samples for the cause, but he needs a little help from his superhero friends, including you. Together, we can win the battle against lymphoma and other deadly cancers so more dogs can enjoy longer, healthier lives. To support Morris Animal Foundation’s Golden Retriever Lifetime Study, now through August 26, National Dog Day, please consider making a gift to the study. Your contribution will be matched dollar for dollar, up to $50,000, by a generous, anonymous donor.