It’s a dog’s (new) life

By Jane Stebbins, Pilot staff writer May 14, 2013 11:52 pm

Vet technicians Adrienne Cromer, right, and Jannee Morley prepare blood and enzyme mixture that will help dogs Molly and Clover. The Pilot/Jane Stebbins
Vet technicians Adrienne Cromer, right, and Jannee Morley prepare blood and enzyme mixture that will help dogs Molly and Clover. The Pilot/Jane Stebbins
Run, jump, play! Ah, the life of dogs. But that’s what got Molly and Clover into the situation they are now: a bit arthritic, with aching hips and knees. It shows in their gait, in their expressions.  

Clover, a 9-year-old German shorthair pointer, has already had her knees operated on – three times, in total. Her owners, Amber and veterinarian John Jacobson, live in a house cut into a hillside, and Clover loves to run circles around it – and that includes her finale: taking a flying leap from the high side to the ground.

“Even on good days, she walks with a limp,” Amber said. She was starting to look like an old lady.”

Molly, a black lab owned by Carl and Robin Halbohm of Crescent City, suffers from hip dysplasia that pains her at night and makes it difficult to get up in the morning.

“We used to go to the beach all the time; we had to stop that,” Robin said. “We’d come home and she’d be all stiff. She misses the beach.”

Molly greeted everyone who came in the door at Town & Country Veterinary in Harbor Tuesday morning, her tail wagging furiously, her bright brown eyes alight, licking the proffered hand. 

Her eager demeanor belies the discomfort her hips give her.

“She’s a great dog,” Carl said. “Now we’ll have a better dog.”

The two dogs were at the clinic Tuesday morning to a undergo a life-changing surgical procedure.

The technology

The new innovative technology, an adipose-derived stem cell procedure, is going to bring a spring back into the steps – even the leaps and bounds – of these two dogs in a matter of weeks.

It will regenerate and repair lost cartilage in their hips for the long term, likely not only adding years to their lives, but quality years, at that, said Jacobson, the veterinarian performing the surgery.

“Life is more than just longevity,” he said. “You want quality, too.”

Jacobson heard of the procedure from a client who wanted it done on her dog. He attended a conference and training; two of his technicians received training Tuesday on the processing end of the technology.

Often, as dogs age, they develop arthritis, dysplasia, joint cartilage, tendon and ligament damage that slowly hampers their movements.

“They jump onto couches, the bed,” said Adrienne Cromer, who was training technicians Kara Clark and Jannee Morley on the enzyme process. “They run up and down the stairs, into and out of trucks. It’s good exercise, but their joints get all this wear and tear. After this, we hear a lot of people say, ‘I got my puppy back!’”

In the past, repairing such damage proves invasive to both the dog and the pocketbook, running up to $10,000. This procedure can cost as little as $1,800 to $2,400.

Jacobson is one of 450 veterinarians in the U.S. – and one of only two in Oregon – certified to do the procedure; the other clinic is based in Klamath Falls.

“It’s a new technology, but it’s taking off,” said Sarah Bernard, public relations director of MediVet America of Nicholasville, Ky., whose company perfected the procedure.

It’s increasingly more applicable, as well, Jacobson said, as he’s seeing more older dogs in his practice.

“Twelve used to be an old dog,” he said. “Now the big dogs are living 12 to 14 years, and 10 percent or so are living to be 15 or 16.”

The procedure

The surgery is simple: a blood draw, an incision and the removal of about a half-dollar-sized chunk of fat.

The processing, which takes about four hours, reactivates the dormant stem cells that are culled from the fat. The fat and blood drawn from the dog is mixed with natural enzymes, filtered, washed and animated to trigger explosive growth in cells.

Such surgery used to require obtaining stem cells from bone marrow, an extremely painful procedure. Once researchers learned that fat holds up to 1,000 times more stem cells than bone marrow, they were able to delete the steps required to create enough from marrow to make a significant impact.

“We’re talking hundreds of millions of cells reanimated,” Bernard said. “You see results within five, six days. In 12 days, they’re getting better, in 30 days, even better.”

The firm has conducted the procedure on thousands of dogs, and has been featured on national television shows.

And there have been side-benefits, as stem cells have reinvigorated other organs, including skin, livers, kidneys and other weakened areas. Allergies have disappeared,Most often, dogs no longer have to take the pain medications they’ve taken for years, saving their owners hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.

Currently, a study of 150 horses suffering from hoof degeneration is underway in Kentucky, where racehorses abound.

“We’ve done this on zebras, kangaroos, big felines – there’s a huge market in Saudi Arabia; camel racing is huge there,” Bernard said. “We’ve got several clients from Saudi. The sheiks and princes, they love this stuff.”

The firm has thousands of testimonials from pet owners, as well.

“The typical story is someone’s about to put their pet down and decided to try stem-cell therapy,” Bernard said. “Until now, the only alternative is to put them down because you don’t have the 10 grand to help them. But pets are part of your family. They’re there with you in good times and bad. We’re here to help.”

Jacobson cut into Clover’s belly using a laser beam, his new team stood by, ready to accept the fat he’d extract and mix it with the enzymes.

Four hours later, the mixture would be ready for reinjection into the painful hips and knees of the two dogs.

“I’m excited because from everything I’ve read and watched, there have been tremendous results,” Amber said. “Once we can see it ourselves, we can provide a testament to our clients that it’s making their lives better. We’re hoping to see some fantastic results.”

And from here?

Human application isn’t quite there yet, Bernard admitted, adding that she recently read about a girl who just received a new trachea created from her own stem cells.

“We’re not involved in that – just yet,” she said. “I don’t know what all will eventually come of this technology. But it’s exploding. Our focus is the little furry ones that put the smiles on our faces every day. Once we have that down, maybe we’ll be exploring the human aspect.”

Clover curled up in her kennel later Tuesday morning, her eyes blinking slowly. In a few hours, she’d get the injections into her knees.

And by this time next week?

It’ll be all run, jump and play – again.

“We’re hoping she doesn’t feel too great,” Amber said with a laugh, tousling Clover’s ears. “We don’t want her jumping off a cliff and tearing them (her knees) again. She’ll be bouncing all over the place now.”