Sparky and Sylvia Reed shared a joyful homecoming Tuesday afternoon in the parking lot of Evergreen Animal Hospital. Sparky had just ridden 360 miles from the Washington State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Pullman, where he had a lobe removed from his lung.
Both Reed, 78, and Sparky, her 12-year-old neutered male bichon, have faced lung cancer.
“Sparky and I were diagnosed within days of each other,” said Reed, who never smoked.
Reed was first diagnosed with lung cancer six years ago. Her cancer was in remission until recently, when it recurred. Now Reed’s cancer is on both her lungs and is inoperable.
A biopsy taken during Sparky’s surgery showed that his tumor was benign.
“Lung tumors aren’t uncommon, but most are more severe,” said Kelly Might, the WSU veterinarian who performed Sparky’s surgery. “Sparky was a great patient. He recovered quickly.”
Unlike in human medicine, Might said, even benign tumors are referred to as cancer by veterinarians.
Almost 12 years ago, Reed adopted 7-week-old pups Sparky and his sister, Buffy. Reed’s grandchildren named the dogs.
About six months ago, Reed and her husband, James Coughtry, also 78, noticed that Sparky had developed a chronic cough. They took Sparky to their veterinarian, Mark Burton, owner of Evergreen Animal Hospital. At first, Burton treated Sparky for bronchitis.
“It helped for a while, and then it didn’t help,” Coughtry said.
Burton X-rayed Sparky and discovered a spot on his lung, just as Reed was being diagnosed.
Burton, who graduated from WSU’s veterinary program 30 years ago, hadn’t seen many cases like Sparky’s. He arranged for Sparky to have surgery at WSU’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital, which Burton said is “one of the best places Sparky could go to have the surgery and the treatment.”
Burton called his alma mater and arranged for the surgery.
Samantha Bonebrake, Burton’s receptionist and veterinary assistant, volunteered to drive Sparky on the six-hour trip to Pullman on June 17.
At first, Sparky “was a little homesick and a little freaked out,” Bonebrake said. But then he settled on the seat beside her.
“He looked out the window, watched the rolling hills of wheat fields,” Bonebrake said. “He was mesmerized.”
Sparky’s appointment was the following day, so after the duo reached Pullman that night, Bonebrake and Sparky relaxed.
“We watched ‘Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,'” Bonebrake said.
The next day, Bonebrake drove Sparky to the veterinary hospital, where Might met with them and explained the procedure.
The recovery time was three or four days before he could return home.
Emily Burton, 19, who is following in her dad’s footsteps, is a sophomore in the animal science program at WSU. She drove to Pullman to pick up Sparky. On Tuesday, they drove back to her dad’s veterinary clinic in Hazel Dell, where Reed greeted Sparky with open arms, ready to take him home.