Vanilla – A Very Painful Loss

It’s been a tough week for us here at the JDHF. It is with great sadness and heavy hearts that we announce the passing of Heigl Hound of Hope Vanilla.

As you may recall, we pulled Nilla from the Lancaster Animal Care Center in May. She had a debilitating issue with her jaw called masticatory muscle myositis, which had caused her jaw to lock almost completely shut. She was also emaciated and had a crop of squamous cell carcinoma tumors covering her belly. Despite these issues, Nilla was happy, loving, and strong. When we got her, she was managing to eat and drink water, so long as her food was mushy. However, with some treatment, she gained a little bit of movement in her jaw, which allowed her to lick her
lips and even drag bones around to nibble on. She also gained about 20 pounds.

We were told that surgical removal of the squamous cell tumors would be curative, although surgery required a complicated temporary tracheostomy. Vanilla underwent surgery at the end of July for a mass removal. She recovered well. At the end of September, Vanilla underwent another surgery to amputate her tail after it was injured and did not heal. Once
again, always a trooper, she recovered well and we were hopeful that she would be on her way to a relatively normal life.

Within one week of Nilla’s tail  amputation, another tumor developed on her inner thigh. It grew remarkably fast, and quickly
became ulcerated. Nilla already had an oncologist appointment scheduled at the recommended two weeks post-op. By that time, the tumor was quite large (several inches
long and a couple inches wide), and bleeding constantly. The oncologist told us that the aggressive nature of Nilla’s cancer was not at all normal. Chemotherapy
seemed unlikely to be helpful. As for radiation, the oncologist estimated that Nilla probably would not survive much longer than the term of radiology: two to four
months. However, Nilla was started on several medications to try to shrink the tumor, curb the bleeding, decrease inflammation, and fight any infection. That was
Friday, October 21.

Nilla remained about the same for several days. She took her medications and continued to eat very well. She was developing some edema (fluid build-up) in the leg on which the tumor was located, but it was minor and did not seem to be causing discomfort.

On Wednesday, October 26, Nilla ate her breakfast as normal. By the time dinner rolled around, she wouldn’t eat dog food; she wouldn’t eat treats; she wouldn’t even take cheese. The edema on her leg had increased exponentially, causing her leg to be double its normal size, and she was clearly uncomfortable. Her foster mom started her on some I.V. fluids to try to perk her up, but they had little effect. Come Thursday morning, Nilla still refused any food. Her foster mom brought Nilla to the vet. Quick tests showed another mass in Nilla’s stomach, and fluid around her liver. Nilla was now at the point of suffering.

With her foster mom by her side, Nilla was peacefully euthanized on Thursday morning.

JDHF never shies away from the tough cases. Nilla initially didn’t even seem to be a tough case. Her masticatory muscle myositis should have been treatable. The tumors, once removed, should have been gone. Nilla should have had some time to live a relatively normal life with her foster mom, who truly loved her and was committed to keeping Nilla as long as necessary. Nilla didn’t get that chance and we are heartbroken.

Rescuing animals is not easy. If love were all it takes to heal a dog, you can bet no Heigl Hound of Hope would ever die. As we all know, sometimes love just isn’t enough.

We’d like to thank you for all your support and prayers for Vanilla. She was a truly special dog, very sweet, very loving, and very strong. Everyone who met her loved her. We are sure she’s on the other side of the Rainbow Bridge, cancer free with full movement of her jaw, chewing on some turkey jerky. She knows she was loved and we believe that love carried her peacefully to the other side.

Update: Vanilla Needs Surgery To Stop Tumors Spreading

What do you do when you see a dog in a high-kill shelter that is in desperate need of medical care and attention, but you know it’s going to cost a fortune to help them? If you’re JDHF co-founder Nancy Heigl, you don’t hesitate to pull the dog and hold out hope that it will work itself out.

Such is the case with Heigl Hound of Hope, Vanilla. We first told you about Nilla when we first pulled her at the end of May. Nilla, an adult pit bull mix, weighed only 33 pounds and was suffering from a chronic illness called masticatory muscle myositis which prevented her jaw from opening.

She also had a selection of tumors on her abdomen in various stages of degradation. One large tumor was open, while there was another large tumor and several small tumors that were still closed. At that point, they were a nuisance, and we were more concerned about Nilla’s weight and her jaw. Her jaw condition was very much guarded at the time. She could eat, but her food had to be very watery and she would push a lot of it around with her nose because her tongue barely came out of her mouth.

Nilla has been in foster care for seven weeks now. Despite all she had working against her, Nilla’s indeterminable spirit has kept her goin… that and an ample diet!

Nilla’s foster mom makes Nilla a home prepared meal of high-calorie canned dog food mixed with ground meat, rice, eggs and chicken broth pulverized in a food processor. Each meal is 4-5 cups and Nilla gobbles it all down.

She has now gained 10 pounds, and she can even stick out her tongue (sort of)!

Unfortunately, for the progress Nilla has made, her tumors have gotten progressively worse. The one open tumor has gotten larger and bleeds constantly. In addition, two smaller tumors have opened up. Nilla’s foster mom keeps male-dog diapers on Nilla to help absorb the blood. The good news is these tumors are easily removed and we’re told that removal is curative.

However, because Nilla cannot open her mouth normally, she cannot be intubated. Intubation is a routine procedure that dogs (and humans) undergo with any surgery whereby a tube is inserted down the throat to help the animal breath while under anesthesia. Because Nilla cannot open her mouth properly, traditional intubation is impossible.

The only option for Nilla’s surgery is what’s called a temporary tracheostomy. With a tracheostomy, insteadof inserting the tube down her throat through the mouth, they will have to cut a hole in her throat into which the tube would be inserted. It sounds horrible, but it’s definitely doable. But “doable” comes with a price… a pretty high price… $4,000.

Vanilla is a dog that is simply not willing to give up. And as is always the JDHF way, if the dog is willing to fight, we will fight right along with them.

But we need your help!

This surgery is necessary to improve Nilla’s quality of life, as well as prevent the tumors from spreading.

Any donation that you can make will help and would be greatly appreciated. Nilla’s surgery is scheduled for Friday, July 22, 2016, so time is of the essence!

As a special bonus, the top two donors in this fundraising campaign will get a JustOne baseball cap signed by Katherine Heigl! Just make a donation via our PayPal account between now and July 22, 2016 and note that your donation is for Vanilla. Your donation is still tax deductible.

Thank you for your ongoing support! Without the support for our generous donors, we would not be able to continue to give dogs like Nilla a second chance. Please join us in fighting along with Nilla. After all she has endured, she deserves a win!