Barkley: Therapy Dog, Best Friend and Cancer Survivor

Courtesy of Barkley’s mom, Kathleen, and written in April of 2018:

Barkley is a 5 year old lab/hound mix that we adopted almost three years ago from the SPCA in Richmond. Barkley quickly became a beloved member of our family.

I am a nurse working at Tucker Pavilion at CJW Medical Center. Tucker Pavilion is fortunate enough to have an incredible pet therapy program, having two full time dogs that provide therapy to our patients in therapeutic group settings. These dogs had been professionally bred and trained for being facility dogs by Canine Companions for Independence. After witnessing these dogs with our patients over the course of some time, I realized that my dog, Barkley had the perfect temperament to be a facility dog. I approached the director of the pet therapy program and learned what I would need to do to train him to be a therapy dog. I trained him on my own over the course of a year. We earned CGC certification and Alliance of Therapy Dogs certification. We became a member of Caring Canines and volunteered, getting as much experience as possible in hospitals, schools and day centers. Finally about 5 weeks ago, Barkley was ready to come on full time. So now Barkley comes to work everyday with me and one of therapists brings Barkley to groups throughout the day. The staff and the patients have fallen in love with Barkley.

This is a quote from Facebook that the director of the pet therapy program, Daniel Ronquillo posted:

“A month ago my most recent addition to my Pet Therapy Program at the hospital has been Barkley, a 5yo hound-lab mix.  Gentle, loving, and incredibly empathetic, is truly a part of the nature of Barkley’s soul.  He knows exactly how to touch the hearts of my patients.  Within several weeks of working full-time, we all were heartbroken to discover he has cancer.  Kathleen (“Kathy”), an RN I have had the privilege of working with, is companion/owner of Barkley, and worked very hard over the past year to have him trained and certified, in order to join our program.  Barkley is far too important to all of us, and we are not giving up.  Fortunately the cancer is contained to one of his back legs, which will be removed.  I know many of you knew how difficult the loss of Fraser was last year, during his fight with cancer.  My hope is that many you of will help us in raising funds for Barkley’s upcoming surgery.  Thank you so much.”

One week ago Barkley was diagnosed with a liposarcoma in the left rear leg. The prognosis is good, if the leg is amputated. The veterinarian has explained to me that it will aid the surgeons greatly in removing all of the tumor if Barkley has an MRI. The sooner the procedure is done the better the chances of a positive outcome. There is a strong chance if the entire tumor is removed that the cancer may never reoccur, and Barkley could live into old age. Just the diagnostics have cost almost $1400. […] I am working every day, 12 hours shifts, to make overtime to pay for the procedure. I started a go-fund-me page at the encouragement of my colleagues. My friends and colleagues have been unbelievably supportive. We have raised over $2000. The procedure with MRI is estimated to cost $5,500. This is why I am asking for your help. My son, John who is 15, and I will be very happy to volunteer, in any capacity at Companions in Crisis.


Barkley has a way of reaching patients suffering from any range of mental illnesses, from depression to psychosis that often times we cannot. It is a joy to watch patients light up when they see Barkley walk on the unit. Most importantly Barkley is my best friend and a beloved member of our family and I will do anything to save his life.

Barkley’s Post-Surgery Update

I just wanted to give you an update. Dr. Mercurio ended up operating on, Wednesday, 4/18 because he wanted to clear his schedule. Barkley’s was the only surgery they did that day. From prep time to extubation the procedure took about 7 to 8 hours. The mass had grown up into the pelvic area so he had to take out part of the pelvis which is called a hemipelvectomy. This surgery is rarely done. Luckily we had Dr. Mercurio, who had done these in the past at other facilities. There are very few doctors that have done this surgery in the area. It was a very difficult surgery. When he took out the tumor he marked the regions that were lying close to vital organs. The entire leg and all tissue removed was sent off to pathology. The pathology will tell us the grade of the tumor,  if the tumor was encapsulated and how clean the margins were.

That should come back in 10 days. Barkley was kept on IV fentanyl, ketamine and lidocaine, along with IV fluids and antibiotics, for the first two days. He stood the first night and walked about 40 feet the next morning. He came home from the hospital on Friday and is resting comfortably with me. I have taken the week off to care for him. He has been walking, three to four times a day. He had his JP drain out on Monday. He is tolerating food and water and appears to be in minimal discomfort. I have been monitoring his wound and insuring that he gets his meds on time. He is still on frequent pain meds, anti inflammatories, and daily antibiotics.

I want to assure you that the grant money was put to good use. Barkley could not have received better, more highly skilled, state of the art care. Dr. Mercurio and his surgical team were amazing. Everyone at VVC treated Barkley, myself and my son wonderfully. […] Again a big thank you to [Companions] in Crisis for helping make this possible.

pet cancer treatment

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