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Paying it Forward

Owner Credits Beloved Dog with Saving his Life, Vows to Return the Favor

With steel blue eyes set against a deep brown coat, Art Clough always wanted a Chocolate Lab puppy. It wasn’t until later in life that he had the freedom to grant his own wish, but when a litter of puppies came up for sale in his hometown of Barre, MA, Clough seized the opportunity. To determine which of the three males he would call his own, Clough held each in his arms. The first two wiggled so much he could barely handle them. Then came the third puppy. “I cradled him in my arms—he was very mellow, very calm. He looked up in my eyes, and then he put his head down on my arm and sighed and fell asleep,” says Clough. “I knew he was mine right then.”

Named after the Alaskan national park, Denali came into Art’s life at a time he needed it most. “I had a bad concussion from a construction accident, and it ended up disabling me. I could never work as an engineer again,” says Clough. “I’ve been battling post-concussive syndrome for 11 years, but I had the constant companionship and unconditional love from Denali to get me through it.”

So, when the lab was diagnosed with a progressed case of osteosarcoma just before his 10th birthday, Clough did not hesitate to act. “Deni’s” only chance of survival was to enroll in a clinical trial, according to his primary care veterinarian. With no time to waste, Clough rushed him to Foster Hospital for Small Animals.

Clough was no stranger to cancer. In 1999, he lost his 28-year-old nephew to melanoma. And, around the same time Denali’s tribulations began, Clough’s oldest brother was diagnosed with a metastatic lung cancer that would claim his life. So, although he knew very little of clinical trials, Clough put his trust in his primary care veterinarian’s recommendation. As luck would have it, a clinical trial treating osteosarcoma with an immunotherapy was accepting new patients.

Denali was admitted into the program, and, after completing chemotherapy, began his new treatment. Throughout the process, Clough got to know the oncology and clinical trials teams. “They were wonderful, compassionate people,” he says. “Deni wasn’t just another number, they truly loved him.”

After the second treatment, Denali’s condition began to continuously improve. The sparkle returned to his eye, as did his playful, puppy personality. “It was amazing how he came back,” says Clough.

When the program was complete, Denali’s radiographs were clear. “He appeared to have been completely cured,” says Clough. “He had no other tumors, no other lesions. He was doing really, really well.” The trial was a success.

But, after months of good health, bad news would return. During one of his check-ups, Denali’s X-Rays revealed that the cancer had appeared on his other front leg. “I thought he had beat it,” says Clough. “I asked what else we could do.’”

As it turns out, another trial had just started, testing a combination of two medications. Though this trial was for soft tissue cancers, there had been a response in osteosarcoma from the two-drug approach. And so, Denali was enrolled. “It seemed to have arrested that lesion,” says Clough. “They saved him again.”

Though Denali has since passed, Clough is grateful for the extra time they had together. A shadowbox with his special companion’s collar and photos is displayed in Clough’s house, along with a superhero bandanna. “Deni is a hero,” says Clough. “He’s not only helping to save other animals, he may actually be saving one of our lives down the road.”

Clinical Trials Provide Hope

Art Clough proudly states that Denali is a hero to us all because veterinary clinical trials are an important step in discovering new treatments for diseases in both animals and humans. At Cummings Veterinary Medical Center, your pet will receive highly specialized and compassionate care from our team of experts. “I was asking them very specific, scientific questions and they answered everything,” says Clough. “They were wonderful, compassionate people. I got to know everyone that took care of Denali.”

Beyond the opportunity to play a role in medical advancements, clinical trials can provide you and your companion with precious time that may not have been otherwise possible. “Every extra day was a true blessing for us,” says Clough. “I hope Denali’s contributions to medical science will be a blessing to countless pets and people, well into the future.”

© 2017 Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University