Pet Cancer Support From Volunteer Vets and Pet Owners

November 12th 2020

Kali's Wish has been close to my hear for a number of years. I have worked as a vounteer vet with the this amazing organization and my wife is on the board of directors. As a practicing mobile veterinarian, it is important for me to serve on the Kali's Wish expert panel and to share my knowledge with those who are seeking answers or reassurances that they are making the best decisions for their companion friends.

I witness the impact a cancer diagnosis of a beloved pet has on my clients on a daily basis and I often wish that there could be more we could do to prevent cancer from happening in the first place. Awareness of the potential risk factors of various cancers is a good place to start.

Cancer I believe has become more prevalent in our companion animals and in our own species these past few decades. The more we learn about cancer and the more we know how to treat or manage certain cancers the more positive our impact will be in alleviating unnecessary pain and suffering.

- Dr Dirk Dekens

A Conversation with Kate Smitko
Executive Director of Kali's Wish

Q: Tell us the Kali Wish story and who Kali is. 

A: Kali’s Wish was started back in the early 2000s by Laura Leah English and (she) is the co-founder and CEO of Pet Planet. She lost Kali (her 7-year-old Golden Retriever) to hemangiosarcoma. She tells the story much better than me because it’s her personal story.
But she shares she was extremely lost when she lost Kali.
She really felt there was nowhere to go for support. She was searching the Internet for help and information. There is an incredible amount of guilt a guardian goes through when they lose a pet to cancer. For one, how did this happen and then there is also the piece of, how do I make sure this doesn’t happen again? She just decided at that time when she lost Kali that she was going to do something special for Kali and for herself and other pet guardians going through this.
She was going to start this foundation to offer better emotional supports for people facing this.
Click here to watch a video with Laura Leah English on the story of Kali, her heart dog, and why she founded Kali’s Wish.

Q: What is the prevalence of cancer in pets?

A: According to the Veterinary Cancer Society, vets estimate that one in four dogs will at some point in their life develop cancer and 50 percent of dogs over the age of 10 will develop cancer. Some say that number is on the rise.
What we see with Kali’s Wish is there is an increased need. The challenge is connecting with the pet guardian. I think when a pet is diagnosed with cancer, there is a stigma in our society that we just have to deal with it. So, a lot of people don’t even know there is a support foundation out there and they don’t have to face it alone.
It has become a lot harder to do to get the word out during COVID. We had an outreach program where we out at the parks meeting with pet families and obviously, we partner heavily through Pet Planet and we have vet clinics, like Montgomery Village Vet Clinic, who is a great partner with us.

Q: What help is out there for pet owners whose pets have a cancer diagnosis? 

A: The need is certainly there. The research that we have done, absolutely, it is so difficult to find help. Oncology specialists do an amazing job, but there job is clear – it is to medlcally help and treat cancer.

Q: What are some of the impacts of pet cancer on animals and their humans? 

A: When someone has the potential for a diagnosis, because the fear and anxiety starts when your pet is ill and after you receive a diagnosis. If there is even a chance your pet has cancer that is when the anxiety begins. The recommendation should obviously be to go see a specialist, but also we’d love for everyone to say ‘you should get in touch with Kali’s Wish’.

Q: If you could tell pet owners dealing with pet cancer anything, what would it be?

A: There is help and they don’t have to face it alone. Cancer is cancer, whether or not it is in your pet or in another family member, cancer is devastating.

Q: What kind of information does Kali’s Wish have for pet owners? How do veterinarians support your mission?

A: We offer a free vet service, that is not telemedicine, so we do not replace a veterinarian. However, we offer guidance and support, emotional support, especially if someone is home with a sick pet. They can write us through our website and a veterinarian will give them guidance and help – a volunteer vet.
The second one is a buddy program – so you are not facing it alone. We will connect you with a buddy and we will try to match you with someone who has had a pet with a similar type of cancer so that people can relate and have some to call and connect with.
The third is information – an information hub on our website. We do our best to keep it updated. We also say if anyone is experiencing pet cancer and we don’t have the right information on our website, write us and we will have our volunteer vets put something together.
Its connection to a network, it’s a connection to information and its connection to support so that you don’t have to feel isolated while going through this.

Q: What personal support does Kali’s Wish provide for people whose pets have been diagnosed with cancer or have passed away from cancer? How are personal supports being handled during COVID?

A: It’s been a little bit unique. We have really enhanced our online support. We’re continuing to do our best to connect with vets. We are also connecting with other brand partners, and pet shelters.
That community support is still there. COVID has created even more isolation, but pet cancer hasn’t changed. We are still there for them. Our vet “Ask the Expert” service and buddy system have always been online or over the phone so those are continuing seamlessly.

Q: How would you describe the community that has been built through Kali’s Wish?

A: Its heartwarming, the community that we have started to build. It’s also in a sense validating because it makes you realize there is a hole and a need for this. The people I have talked to that have said I wish I had known about this five years ago, or I wish I heard about this two years ago when I faced this. I think more people could really use Kali’s Wish and really benefit from it.

Q: How is Kali’s Wish work supported?

A: Kali’s Wish has amazing sponsors and partners, such as Pet Planet Health and Natural Balance. It’s our sponsors that help us continue our work in the community. We also run campaigns and Pet Planet customers, as well as our online and local community support us through out the year with donations. We appreciate all donations and partnerships that can continue the work we do to support our community!

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