Cancer diagnosis doesn’t stop dog from participating in Relay for Life |

Cancer diagnosis doesn’t stop dog from participating in Relay for Life

South Shore resident Don Dutil is preparing for the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life this weekend at Kahle Community Center. The event takes on additional importance since his 12-year-old shepherd-terrier mix, Snapple, was diagnosed with cancer. / Dan Thrift /Tahoe Daily Tribune

Snapple has done everything right. The Australian shepherd-Jack Russell terrier mix eats healthy, exercises and lives in the clean Tahoe air. Unfortunately, luck has eluded him: He has lung cancer.

Snapple’s owner, Don Dutil, received his 12-year-old dog’s lymphoma diagnosis last Christmas after the dog quit eating and sleeping and started coughing. Lymphoma is a form of lung cancer. The competitive dock-jumping dog ended up paying an emergency visit to a veterinary clinic, where the growing tumors were detected.

“It was a terrible Christmas. I thought he had a tickle,” Dutil said, referring to the cough that he described as sounding like a cat dislodging a fur ball.

After four months of chemotherapy and holistic health measures, Snapple has been in cancer remission for three weeks. Dutil was amazed by the scenario because the dog’s life span often reaches 19 years.

“I thought he had another seven, eight years,” Dutil said.

Without chemotherapy, a veterinarian told Dutil that Snapple would live four to six weeks from last December. With the treatment, he had 12 to 14 months.

The pet’s traumatic experience has given new meaning to a still-new event. Dutil and Snapple will participate this weekend in the American Cancer Society Relay for Life, the second annual overnight walking event staged at Kahle Community Park to raise money for cancer research and treatment. Participants walk on the Kahle track through the night, with one hour of laps dedicated to canines.

Snapple has come a long way in the past year, during which Dutil walked in the first event to honor his mother Dolores Dutil, who has ovarian cancer.

Dutil’s drive to find a cure has expanded to his beloved canine.

“I told myself I was going to do all I could do to fight this,” he said.

He’s reading the book, “How to help your dog fight cancer.” Dutil also placed Snapple on a strict diet and lined up acupuncture appointments.

“I was hoping for a Lance Armstrong-type comeback,” he said.

Snapple is also an athlete, spending most of his time training off the pier of his home at the Tahoe Shores mobile home park. He’s competed as a dock jumper in several Splash Dogs events and achieved his personal best jump of 18 feet, 1 inch at the Nevada State Fair.

Snapple isn’t the only dog to be diagnosed with cancer locally or across the nation, but the cancer rate for dogs has remained basically level, his doctor explained.

“I wouldn’t say cancer is increasing,” said Dr. Catie McDonald, Snapple’s vet from Sacramento. “A lot of the cancer we’re seeing in dogs is we’re recognizing it more. And people want to do more for their pets.”

She compared the increased recognition to the days when pet owners attributed the ailment to old age.

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