A K-9’s Courage

Search and recovery dog Remington is now enjoying retirement thanks to the care he received from the Small Animal Hospital’s Oncology Service.

Story by Megan Myers

Racheal Crivelli hugging Remington
Rachael Crivelli and Remington

It was a training day like any other when Rachael Crivelli noticed that her dog Remington, a search and recovery canine for the Navasota Fire Department, developed a limp after slipping during an agility course obstacle.

Remington was still limping two days later, but Crivelli’s local veterinarian was unable to provide a diagnosis.

Soon after, Crivelli met Dr. Deb Zoran, a professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM), at an urban search and rescue (USAR) training event and was encouraged to take Remington to the Texas A&M Small Animal Hospital (SAH), where a team of specialists could work to discover the cause of the limp.

After several tests and visits with various SAH services, Remington was diagnosed with a malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumor, a common, but often misdiagnosed, form of cancer.

Crivelli, who had worked with the 8-year-old Labrador Retriever mix for nearly his entire life, was heartbroken by this diagnosis. But knowing how much Remington had done to serve others, she decided to do whatever it would take to get him back on his feet.

“They say a dog will let you know when it’s time to go,” Crivelli said. “Remington was letting me know he had a lot of life to live.”

A Life Of Service

Crivelli felt a call to serve and began her career as a firefighter following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

She rescued Remington when he was only 4 weeks old and soon after began training him for an important role—locating human remains, whether it be a deceased body or the smallest drop of blood, following a crisis like 9/11.

Together, they have volunteered to search for human remains at crime scenes and disaster sites across the state, even contributing to a 30-year-old cold case in South Texas.

Crivelli and Remington in a water rescue boat approaching a flooded car
Remington at work

“We have searched a burnt house that somebody was suspected to have been murdered at and Remington assisted in locating the exact room where the person died,” Crivelli said.

“We deployed during Hurricane Harvey and searched in neighborhoods for anybody who could have been deceased,” she said. “Luckily, we didn’t have to locate anybody during Hurricane Harvey.”

In addition to this work, Remington also served as a mascot for New Caney Fire Department for several years and then for Navasota Fire Department until his cancer diagnosis and subsequent retirement.

“He would go to public relations events to greet members of the public,” Crivelli said. “Having a K-9 allowed firefighters to be more approachable; people or kids who might have too much anxiety to approach firefighters normally were always more comfortable with Remington around.

“He also was a great comfort after making tough calls,” she said. “We would come back from a CPR call or a fatality wreck and it was interesting to see Remington go up to all the firefighters and let them pet him. He knew when people needed loving from a big furry teddy bear. Even on searches, he would comfort the searchers, as well as the victim’s family.

“That’s what I miss most with him being retired,” Crivelli said. “He was a comfort dog more than a search dog at times.”

Fighting For Remington

Rachael Crivelli, Dr. Brandan Wustefeld-Janssens, and Remington outside the Texas A&M Small Animal Hospital
Rachael Crivelli, Dr. Brandan Wustefeld-Janssens, and Remington

Remington’s tumor ran from the spinal canal to where the femoral nerve entered his right hind leg, causing him significant pain and requiring an intensive surgery of several hours for removal.

“This type of tumor is not very common but often misdiagnosed early on because initially, the signs are so gray,” said Dr. Brandan Wustefeld-Janssens, an assistant professor of surgical oncology. “It’s very common for these dogs to be lame for up to six months and have several rounds of X-rays, yet their veterinarians never find anything wrong. Eventually, when they come in here, they are very painful or the atrophy is so severe that it is now obvious.”

Crivelli, a cancer survivor herself, knew that Remington had more life in him and deserved the opportunity to beat his cancer.

“His job was to assist families and law enforcement with justice by helping provide answers,” she said. “He fought for those who couldn’t fight, so I had to give him a chance to fight for himself.”

Wustefeld-Janssens and a team of oncologists and neurologists removed the right side of Remington’s pelvis and his leg, opened the last three intervertebral spaces, and cut the femoral nerve as close to the spinal cord as possible.

“The cutting of the nerve is a really important step because, number one, we hope to remove the entire tumor, and, two, if there are no pain signals back to the spinal cord, these dogs feel much better,” Wustefeld-Janssens said.

After surgery, Remington recovered quickly and was soon cruising on three legs. As is typical for dogs who have undergone an amputation, he improved greatly once the source of his pain was gone.

“Dogs are incredible in that we can remove half of Remington’s pelvis and a big part of his back, and then two weeks later he’s running and jumping over small walls,” Wustefeld-Janssens said.

Supporting Our K-9 Heroes

Jason Johnson, Rachael Crivelli, and Remington in front of a Navasota fire engine
Jason Johnson, Rachael Crivelli, and Remington

Luckily, Crivelli wasn’t alone in her support for Remington. After he was diagnosed, she reached out to Project K-9 Hero, a national nonprofit organization that helps fund medical care for retired police K-9s and military working dogs.

“I purchased a bag of Sport dog food and on the back of it was a story about Project K-9 Hero,” Crivelli said. “It’s for police and military dogs, but Remington’s a search and fire dog. I thought, ‘I’ll just try,’ so I filled out their application and two hours later I got a call from the founder, Jason Johnson, who said Remington was accepted to the program.”

Project K-9 Hero covered Remington’s full surgery cost with funds raised entirely through donations. As a K-9 Hero, Remington will also receive free food and medical care for the rest of his life.

“We felt that because of his age and because of how much life he had left in him, providing the surgery was going to allow him to live a high-quality life for the next couple years, hopefully,” Johnson said. “We’re honored to serve heroes like Remington, heroes who dedicated their careers to protecting our communities.”


Remington shaved and with three legs
Remington after his surgery

With 34 deployments and six confirmed finds on his résumé, Remington has earned the right to a relaxing semi-retirement from his search and recovery career.

He now spends most of his time at home with Crivelli’s family, while continuing to greet citizens and help the Navasota Fire Department with public relations. He also is serving as a Project K-9 Hero representative to help other K-9s receive the same support he did.

“I’m grateful for Texas A&M surgeons, students, and technicians, and for Project K-9 Hero’s financial support,” Crivelli said. “I feel I made the right decision to have a very major surgery done. I don’t think he would’ve survived this surgery if we went anywhere else.

“Remington appears to be feeling better than he has in years,” Crivelli said. “He is playing ball, swimming, and just loving life.”


Note: This story originally appeared in the Spring 2020 edition of CVM Today.

For more information about the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, please visit our website at vetmed.tamu.edu or join us on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

Contact Information: Jennifer Gauntt, Director of Communications, Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences; jgauntt@cvm.tamu.edu; 979-862-4216

Combating Pet Cancer

Cancer is a scary subject, especially when a loved one has been diagnosed. Because the first reactions and decisions can make a huge impact on treatment options and outcomes, it is important to be prepared and know what questions to ask first.

Dr. Brandan Wustefeld-Janssens, an assistant professor of surgical oncology at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, uses his years of oncology experience to advise pet owners on the early steps of cancer detection and treatment.Dog

In order to get an early diagnosis, a pet with an unusual mass should be taken to a veterinarian as soon as possible. Pet owners should then be willing to do whatever is needed to ensure that a full diagnosis is made.

“Early detection and intervention can be the difference between a cure and a poor outcome, as well as the difference between a short, non-complex procedure or an expensive, extensive treatment protocol,” Wustefeld-Janssens said.

Once the mass is examined, the veterinarian will need to run tests to determine if it is cancerous and, if so, what stage of cancer is present. With fine-needle aspiration, a cheap but very effective test, a hollow needle removes cells from the mass that are then viewed under a microscope to see if the tumor is malignant or benign.

If the mass is determined to be cancerous, the pet owner can begin discussing treatment options with the veterinarian.

“Get as much information as you need to make an informed decision,” Wustefeld-Janssens said. “The most important aspect of all is finding a balance between being aggressive with treatment to increase the chances of a good outcome and maintaining a good quality of life.

“(At the Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital) We have extensive discussions with owners about treatment options and costs that may be associated with those options,” he said.

While small, low-grade tumors may be cured with a minor, low-cost surgery, other tumors may need more extensive treatment plans. Some pets will need a combination of radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery to treat cancer, and the cost can build quickly.

Wustefeld-Janssens recommends that pet owners look into pet insurance or ask about payment plans to make the cost of cancer treatment more manageable.

One of the most important things to remember after a cancer diagnosis is to not lose hope.

“Our goal is always maintenance of a good quality of life so there may be little change to the daily routine, though some pets will be on chronic medication or need minor changes to exercise (regimens),” Wustefeld-Janssens said.

“As a group, we veterinarians are committed to supporting families and their pets through a diagnosis and treatment,” he said. “We have options and there is always something we can do.”

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

Fatty tumors are nothing to fear

Happy DogFinding a mysterious growth under your dog’s skin can be a frightening experience; however, owners can find comfort in knowing that these mystery bumps are not as uncommon as they may think.

As dogs age, they can develop benign growths beneath the skin—the most common of these being lipomas, or fatty tumors.

According to Dr. Brandan Wustefeld-Janssens, an assistant professor of surgical oncology at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, lipomas arise from adipose tissue, or fat cells, and are typically found on the chest or abdomen. Some dogs can develop numerous tumors and some can grow very large.

Lipomas are soft, often moveable, and not painful to the touch. While owners may be able to detect the mass beneath their dog’s skin, touch, as a form of detection, should never be used as a diagnostic tool, according to Wustefeld-Janssens.

“If a new growth is found on your dog, making an appointment with your family veterinarian is an appropriate course of action,” he said. “Your veterinarian will likely perform a test called fine needle aspirate to get a sample of the tumor to look at under the microscope.”

This test, however, cannot differentiate between the non-invasive forms of the tumor and the infiltrative form. Infiltrative lipomas do not spread but are known for their penetration into the soft tissues.

“Differentiating between the two tumors is usually done with advanced imaging, like CT scans, or during surgery,” Wustefeld-Janssens added.

After further testing, a veterinarian will be able to diagnose the fatty tumor and assess the need for treatment. In most cases, lipomas are not an immediate cause for worry, and most don’t require surgery.

“Lipomas are mostly asymptomatic unless they are causing compression of a vital structure or become so large that they interfere with mobility. This means that the majority of lipomas do not require surgical removal and are, instead, actively monitored for a change in size,” Wustefeld-Janssens said. “Tumors that we generally treat with surgery are those that arise from deeper areas like the thigh, or if we are suspicious that they are the infiltrative type.”

Although there is very little an owner can do to prevent lipomas from forming, keeping your dog lean and healthy and scheduling yearly check-ups with a veterinarian will allow for early detection of these tumors.

With the guidance and expertise of a veterinarian, discovering a lipoma on your four-legged friend is nothing to fear.

Pet Talk is a service of the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. Stories can be viewed on the web. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

Mammary tumors in dogs

dog sticking out his/her tongueMany of us know someone affected by cancer. Unfortunately, cancer in the mammary glands (similar to breast cancer in humans) can also occur in both male and female dogs. In fact, mammary tumors are the most common type of tumor seen in intact (not spayed) female dogs.

Dr. Brandan Wustefeld-Janssens, assistant professor of surgical oncology at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM), described some of the clinical signs of mammary tumors in dogs.

“The most common clinical finding is a firm, non-painful nodule associated with the mammary chain,” Wustefeld-Janssens said. “These nodules can range from very small to very large and may grow fast. Continued growth of bigger tumors can lead to the skin overlying the tumor to become thinned, which can cause the skin to ulcerate, bleed, and become infected.”

Tumors may also be swollen, hot, and painful to the touch.

However, only about 50 percent of mammary tumors are cancerous, with a majority of these cases being carcinoma (arising from the lining of the ducts in the mammary gland), Wustefeld-Janssens said.

Luckily, you can take preventative action to help lower your pup’s risk of developing a mammary tumor.

Dr. Heather Wilson-Robles, associate professor of oncology at the CVM, said that spaying or neutering your pet before they have their first or second reproductive season is the most effective way of preventing mammary tumors in dogs. Regular checkups at the veterinarian is also a good way to protect your pet.

“Yearly physical examinations of both male and female animals should include careful palpation of the mammary chains,” Wilson-Robles said. “Any nodule should be further investigated; often, this would include some form of biopsy. We strongly recommend against a ‘wait-and-see’ approach—any mammary tumor that is growing rapidly or is swollen, hot, or painful should be seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible.”

The chances of a tumor being cancerous increases with age, so pay special attention to any abnormalities in your older pup’s mammary glands.

If your dog does develop a tumor, surgery is the standard of care for mammary tumors. In cases where there is high risk of tumors reoccurring or spreading, radiation and chemotherapy may be used for treatment.

We can’t control the development of cancer, but we can learn the signs and symptoms of the disease and report any abnormalities to a veterinarian. Additionally, pet owners can help prevent mammary tumors by considering spaying and neutering their dog.


Pet Talk is a service of the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. Stories can be viewed on the web. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.