By Leslie Nichols

Robbie, an active Australian Shepherd, loves sheepherding. However, in the spring of 2012, Robbie lost interest in the sheep. Then, lack of interest developed into an inability to walk. Within several months, he was unable to stand without assistance.

Robbie’s vet was perplexed by his condition and recommended that he see a neurologist. Dr. Dan Hicks (WSU grad), a neurologist in Tacoma, evaluated Robbie and developed a list of possible causes for his symptoms. He recommended that Robbie make a trip to WSU Vet Teaching Hospital for a diagnostic procedure that required specialized equipment. I called the hospital, described the symptoms, and an appointment was made for the neurology department for the following week.

Upon arrival at WSU, Robbie was treated like royalty. Dr. Dan Krull gave Robbie a thorough exam and scheduled him for the procedure on the following day. On the day of the procedure, a blood test gave an indication of the source of Robbie’s disease. Dr. Krull made a preliminary diagnosis of insulinoma, a type of pancreatic cancer. An additional test confirmed the diagnosis.

We returned home and scheduled surgery for removal of the tumor. Following surgery, Robbie saw Dr. Lisa Parshley, a vet oncologist, and started chemotherapy. Robbie is an MDR1 dog, and he has a genetic predisposition to adverse drug reactions. The chemotherapy agent that has been shown to have some success in insulinoma cases is on the problem drug list for MDR1 dogs. Dr. Parshley worked with Dr. Katrina Mealey, the veterinarian at WSU who discovered the cause of the drug sensitivity, to determine a dose of the chemotherapy agent that could be tolerated by Robbie.

Robbie is now known as The Miracle Dog by his vet oncologist. At the time of diagnosis, he was close to death. Within two months of surgery, he was back to herding sheep. It’s been more than two years since diagnosis, and he is still doing what he loves! Each week, he shows off his sheepherding ability, and he continues to amaze those who know his medical history. Each day, I am grateful to WSU Vet Teaching Hospital for diagnosing Robbie and enabling him to have a great quality of life!