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Study tracks goldens to ID source of breed's cancer scourge

Posted May 15, 2018 7:11 p.m. EDT
Updated July 13, 2018 1:42 p.m. EDT

— You can often find Coley, a 4-year-old Golden Retriever, tugging on a rope with his best friend Pete Poggetti in the front yard of their house in Fayetteville.

"We wanted a good bloodline, and he's got the best," said Poggetti.

The bloodline is what made Coley a perfect fit to become one of the 3,044 dogs in the Morris Animal Foundation's Golden Retriever Lifetime Study.

His recent Lymphoma diagnosis made him even more important to the research.

The study is a national effort to try to pin down what is causing 6 in 10 dogs in the breed to be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lifetimes. Poggetti enrolled Coley in the study when he was a puppy.

"We made sure that he signed up once we learned the cause was bigger than him."

Since then, Poggetti has been documenting everything Coley does. He writes down what he eats, what kind of bowl he eats out of, how often he exercises and little things like how often he eats grass. Coley also has to go to the vet more often than an average dog. He has an extensive yearly exam that involves drawing at least 56 milliliters of blood. A routine visit usually requires doctors to draw between 10 and 15 milliliters.

"We thought that we were going to help someone else's dog by doing this study," said Pete's wife, Barbara Poggetti. "We didn't know our dog was going to come down with cancer."

Coley was diagnosed with the disease in January after his veterinarian noticed inflamed lymph nodes during an exam. He is the 36th dog enrolled in the study to be diagnosed with cancer and is in the middle of 19 weeks of chemotherapy at the Veterinary Specialty Hospital in Cary.

"We want to give him the maximum dose he can tolerate while keeping him happy," said Coley's oncologist, Karri Miller.

Details of Coley's treatments are now being included in Poggetti's reports to the Morris Animal Foundation. So far, the study has not come up with any big answers to what is causing cancer. The oldest enrolled dogs are 7 years old and only one percent have been diagnosed with a form of the disease.

The hope is information collected from dogs like Coley will provide clues as the study continues.

Coley's prognosis is good, and he is expected to eventually go into remission. Poggetti said he is looking forward to the day when the doctors tell him his dog is going to be ok. He also said it's a little easier to deal with the journey knowing it may help others.

"If they can find a cause and they can find a cure than (Coley) is a hero."