Annie Sage might appear to the untrained eye like your standard, slightly walleyed Chihuahua, but the story of her winning battle with cancer is quite remarkable. The fact that Annie has two talented actor parents lends an air of “celebreality” to her tale.
Annie’s story begins in 2004 at Pet Orphans, a Van Nuys, California animal shelter. Annie and two younger Chihuahuas were surrendered by an owner who could no longer provide sufficient. Many Pet Orphans animals receive multiple adoption applications and Annie’s Chihuahua companions were adopted immediately. Annie endured three months of being overlooked for adoption, but Judy lovingly looked after her while volunteering at Pet Orphans.
Judith Helton (Judy) is an award winning actress who has been writing and performing one-woman shows since 1975. Her professional theater credits include work in resident acting companies in Baltimore, Milwaukee, Houston and San Diego. She continues to perform her historically accurate, one-woman shows based on the lives of Abigail Adams, Beatrix Potter, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Lotta Crabtree for elementary students in Southern California.
David Sage, an accomplished stage, film and screen actor is Judy’s husband. David has appeared in episodes of Seinfeld (the doctor whom Jerry’s dad accused of stealing his wallet), The Practice, Campus Cops, The West Wing, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and in a featured role in The Bird Cage (Senator Eli Jackson).
When David and Judy first met Annie, they were recovering from the tragic loss of their Papillion, Tess. Getting a new dog was not something for which they were ready. Judy bonded with Annie immediately and wondered who would adopt this sad, older, little dog. The odds were not in Annie’s favor due to her senior status, unusual appearance, and timid demeanor.
Since Judy was still grief stricken from Tess’ loss, she fostered Annie for an overnight stay.
Previously shy Annie made herself right at home. After watching TV with David and Judy, Annie disappeared to another room. She had gone into their bedroom and put herself to bed. At that moment, Judy realized Annie was the perfect dog for them. Shortly after Annie joined the family, more rescue dogs, Christopher and Louie, were added to the mix.
In November 2010, Annie was diagnosed with bladder cancer (Transitional Cell Carcinoma, or TCC). Achieving the diagnosis of TCC can be difficult as symptoms are subtle and mimic signs of a urinary tract infection. This was the case with Annie, but her symptoms were persistent enough that additional tests were performed and showed TCC.
Both Judy and David were devastated. Judy’s first instinct was to take action and fight. For David, Annie’s diagnosis brought back memories of his dad’s battle with cancer. David was pessimistic about Annie’s prognosis, but he still wanted to know the treatment options. After meeting with a veterinary oncologist, they understood that Annie still had a chance. Apparently, Annie would have minimal to no side effects from her cancer treatments. If Annie did as well as the average dog with TCC, her treatments would provide an improved quality of life.
David and Judy elected to treat Annie with the recommended combination of surgery and chemotherapy. Annie rarely showed any noticeable side effects. Since her cancer was now controlled, many of her urinary tract symptoms resolved. Almost one year later, Annie is doing well and shows no overt signs that she has cancer.
Many people with older pets might face a circumstance similar to Judy and David and come to a different conclusion. There are many factors unique to each case and not all animals have the same treatment options or prognosis. For Judy and David, the potential for a good outcome outweighed the negatives of allowing the cancer to go untreated.
When asked why they chose to treat Annie’s cancer, Judy’s lends her optimistic perspective in stating “I never had money greet me at the door with a wagging tail and a kiss”. So far, Annie’s tail has not stopped wagging.
Photo Credit: Ricardo Barrera
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Copyright of this article (2011) is owned by Dr. Patrick Mahaney, Veterinarian and Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist. Republishing any portion of this article must first be authorized by Dr. Patrick Mahaney. Requests for republishing must be approved by Dr. Patrick Mahaney and received in written format.