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Friend’s gift pays for ferret’s cancer care

By Josh Babcock, College of Veterinary Medicine | WSU

Dealing with a cancer of his own, William Long’s decision to cover a four-figure veterinary bill for radiation treatment for his friend’s 5-year-old ferret, Burkle, wasn’t much of a decision at all.

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“I have a big heart for animals, and I think of them as equal to us as humans. Plus, I have this terminal illness of melanoma and I just wanted to keep Burkle alive for a few more years longer, so if something were to happen, Burkle would still be around to keep him company,” Long said.

Burkle isn’t just any pet. The ferret is one of Thomas Shows’ closest friends. The two may now have several more years together thanks to Long’s big heart, which made surgery to remove Burkle’s cancerous tumor at Blue Pearl Pet Hospital in Lakewood, Washington and 10 radiation treatments at Washington State University’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital possible. 

“He doesn’t always sleep in my bed,” Shows said. “Sometimes he will sleep in a dresser drawer or in his bed. I don’t like to keep him in a cage. As silly as it sounds, it feels like he’s a son to me in a way.”

When a quarter-sized lump was found along Burkle’s upper spine in November during one of their regular petting sessions, Shows had a dreadful feeling something was wrong.

“I am used to petting him all over and scratching him and when you’ve known an animal that long, any abnormality stands out like a sore thumb,” he said.

Closeup of of Burkle, a ferret, wrapped in a blanket.
Burkle recovers at the WSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital.

Shows’ intuition was right.

Diagnosed by veterinarian Dr. Kristin Gill of Blue Pearl Pet Hospital, the lump happened to be a rare bone cancer known as a chondroblastic osteosarcoma.

Unlike other cancers, chondroblastic osteosarcomas grow on the bone near where cells known as chondroblasts help make up cartilage. If left untreated, the cancer can be fatal.

Cougar alumnus veterinarian at Blue Pearl Dr. Daniel Hicks (’04 DVM) assisted Gill with the surgery. With the mass was removed, radiation therapy was the only way to help ensure any remaining cancer cells were eliminated.

With only two places in the Pacific Northwest offering targeted radiation therapy to pets, Burkle and Shows were referred to the oncology service at WSU’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital.

For more than two weeks during his radiation, Burkle spent his days with the WSU exotics team, where he quickly became a department favorite.

“He was the sweetest ferret,” said Alexis Adams, exotics veterinary technician. “He was held so much while he was here that some students were actually asking if he was able to walk.”

Burkle returned home to Olympia with Shows on Dec. 29.

Only time will tell if all the cancer cells were killed, but Shows is thankful for the extended time he has already had with Burkle, who was feeling back to his normal self in little time.

“I always worry about letting other people take care of him because no one can take care of him like me, but I was really happy with the level of care he got while he was at WSU,” Shows said.

His words of advice to those who may find themselves in a similar predicament: “If you can catch the cancer early, and you have the money and they mean that much to you, take that chance. Even if it is for a year or two, I believe it’s worth it,” he said.

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