Petco Love’s support of the Virginia Tech Animal Cancer Care and Research Center (ACCRC) in Roanoke has allowed some of its patients to access cancer therapies and treatments, resulting in enhanced lives and more treatment options.

The ACCRC, a comprehensive cancer care and clinical research center, is one of the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine’s three veterinary hospitals. After the center opened in summer of 2020, Petco Love (formerly The Petco Foundation) approached the college about one of its programs. In partnership with Blue Buffalo, Petco Love invests in organizations that fight animal cancer.

Petco Love gave $75,000 to the ACCRC to apply to clients’ bills for partial, and potentially full, costs for those who cannot afford cancer treatment for their pets.

For Judith Hixson, the funds meant that her beagle, Star, could get the cancer treatment she needed. 

When Hixson first met Star, the dog had little socialization and was recuperating from pregnancy while struggling with Lyme disease. Star had to have 10 teeth removed from chewing on the bars of her crate, and she had further health setbacks when hyperthyroidism required the removal of one of her thyroid glands.

Hixson was willing to take on the challenge of adopting Star. She has an affinity for rescuing senior dogs, having taken in about 20 over the past 15 years. 

"With Star in particular, I know that she is living the best life possible. I can give her that, so that is rewarding. I know she will not be with me long. However, I know that she has been well taken care of,” Hixson said. 

Star has malignant melanoma, and though her local veterinarian removed the mass, microscopic amounts were left behind. This aggressive cancer can cause a severe decline in quality of life. 

The ACCRC’s Varian Edge radiosurgery system gives veterinarians a new line of defense in the fight against cancer. The Edge pinpoints tumors and uses a highly focused beam of radiation to treat cancer.

A beagle at the Animal Cancer Care and Research Center
Technicians at the ACCRC prepare Star for treatment of her malignant melanoma.

For Nicholas Rancilio, assistant professor of radiation oncology, it is a godsend. 

"For Star, with the location in a sensitive area in the mouth, the type of cancer treatment was a lower dose, once a day for five days, known as a fractionated treatment. However, the machine can also deliver a very high dose of radiation with a dose that falls off as sharp as a knife. So, it is essentially cancer surgery without having to cut anything," said Rancilio.

However, the cost of treatment can be a major barrier. 

Hixson said that without Petco Love, “it would have taken me much longer to get the money together for this procedure. I probably would have had to borrow some. It has got Star [to the ACCRC] quicker, which is much better for her."

At the end of the five-day treatment schedule, Rancilio gave Hixson a certificate to celebrate the completion of Star’s treatment. 

"She is a special little dog, and I am glad to have her back. And I hope Petco can offer the same assistance to many others because it helped a lot," said Hixson.

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