Canine Cancer Survivor Is Pet Therapist Helping Kids With Cancer


LOS ANGELES (December 21, 1998) -- Dani is no ordinary dog. It's not just the Santa suit or reindeer antlers that set this beagle apart -- she is a cancer survivor and an inspiration to the young patients in the Comprehensive Cancer Center at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where she's worked as a therapy dog since June 1997.

Dani began her tenure at the center when her owner, Lauri Seamark, joined the staff as a child-life specialist. Dani's gentle, easy-going personality made her the perfect dog for the job, waiting patiently as young chemotherapy patients brushed her fur, painted her toenails and dressed her in various outfits. Just four months into her new duties, however, Dani was to experience what these youngsters already knew all too well -- cancer.

In October 1997, Lauri discovered a large lump on Dani's right back leg during a bath prior to her weekly visit to the center. After consultation with her veterinarian, Lauri scheduled Dani for surgery to remove the tumor, a mastocytoma that proved to be malignant. Subsequently, Dani embarked on a year of oral chemotherapy.

Ironically, Dani's medications -- leukoran and predisone -- are the same as those prescribed for children with leukemia and produced similar side effects. Just like the youngsters she visited, Dani experienced increased hunger and weight gain. Her appointments to the vet began with the routine blood draws the children knew so well. She had to avoid the park, where she might pick up "doggie diseases."

"The children began to identify with Dani, and they asked all sorts of questions," said Lauri. "One girl asked me if Dani was scared when she had her tumor removed. I knew she was really asking for herself, to know if it was okay for her to be scared too."

With Lauri's skillful handling, Dani became a model patient for every emotion the children experienced. The dog's "feelings" of

Contact: Sandra Van
Cedars-Sinai Medical Center

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