Gaston & Catawba

Woman and her dog join study of cancer in golden retrievers

Carla Faust Bare is a newcomer as a Morris Animal Foundation volunteer, but she has three decades of experience with golden retrievers that have brought her pronounced joy and heartbreak.

She has owned five goldens dating to 1982. The first four died of cancer.

Her current golden retriever, Edin, is cancer-free at this point – and may play a role in preventing future cancers for the breed. The dog is participating in the Morris Animal Foundation’s Golden Retriever Lifetime Study, which will involve about 3,000 dogs during the next 10-14 years. A whopping 60 percent of golden retrievers die of cancer.

“She’s enrolled in the cancer study as hero No. 1,001,” said Bare, a Mount Holly resident who discussed the study at Petco in Huntersville on Nov. 22 during an appearance with Edin. As of the last week of November, about 800 more golden retrievers living in the contiguous United States and younger than age 2 were needed for the study.

Bare said that based on what she understands from the Morris Animal Foundation, which she joined in September, “I am the first person nationwide to partner with Petco and Blue Buffalo to have an event of this type. The goal for our event is to recruit golden puppies that are eligible and raise awareness of the study.”

Because of the study’s extended timetable, “retention and continuous support is also very important. This is only the first of many events I hope to see in the Charlotte-Huntersville area.”

Her loyalty to the breed continues to transcend so many painful losses.

Her first golden retriever, which helped her deal with a painful divorce while she was living in Florida, lived to be 13 1/2. Only when the vet came to euthanize the dog at her home did Bare learn that it had bone cancer. “She lived a good, long life,” she said. “But she had mysterious symptoms over the years, like her toe bones breaking.”

By then, she had fallen in love with her husband of 23 years, David – as well as the breed. “Our second golden died at 10. We had a birthday party for her, and the very next day she collapsed on the kitchen floor.” The vet told them the dog had a cancer-related heart issue.

The third one was a rescue golden. “We had her for 10 years. She started snoring, which she didn’t usually do. I saw a little drip of blood coming out of her nose. She had an osteosarcoma (bone cancer). ... She got a one-time radiation and lived seven more months, with a great quality of life.

“The month that she died, our other golden that was 6 years old was diagnosed with Stage 4 lymphoma. We opted for chemotherapy, which was very hard on her and very hard on us. We wanted her to live as long as she could because she was only 6 (the average lifespan of a golden retriever is 10 to 12 years).

“She went into remission only briefly, and then it came back with a vengeance. We decided not to continue the chemotherapy protocol and so we euthanized her. I can’t live without a golden, so I got another one that was related to that last one.”

She hopes the details of her experiences can help heighten golden owners’ awareness. Dr. Michael Guy, national director of the study, recommends the following in addition to regular checkups: “Become familiar with your dog so you know what is ‘normal’ for your dog. Run your hands all over their body, which will tell you their general body condition and help you find any lumps or sore spots.

“Look at their teeth and gums for signs of tartar buildup or abnormal gum color. Monitor their activity level, their food intake and their water intake so that you are aware when any of these things change.”

As for why golden retrievers are so susceptible to cancer – “we suspect that part of the breed susceptibility to cancer is genetics, but the question is how important diet and the environment are when combined with the genetics of the breed,” he said.

Bare’s husband is also a lover of the breed and an enthusiastic supporter of the program.

“This is just a totally awesome program that’s one of those cradle-to-grave projects,” David said. “I think it will give amazing medical insight not only for the canine community but also for the human community.”

Carla says the breed’s gentle nature makes it a good candidate for a study that involves so much prodding and poking. “They’re just incredible pets,” she said.

“You can go on the 9-11 websites and find that golden retrievers were right there. They do search and rescue. They’re therapy dogs. They can sense epileptic seizures. And they can sense cancer.”