Art Aikin remembers his 6-year-old chocolate Labrador retriever, Cooper, as the most unusual of the five hunting dogs he has owned.
The two spent many hours together hunting ducks and geese, and they stayed together back in town, too.
“He was trained to hunt, and he was all business until it was cocktail hour, and then he made the transition and he was very social,” he recalls.
Aikin, who lives in Chesapeake, Va., says he would take Cooper with him to the local food bank where Aikin volunteered. “Cooper loved children, and when they saw him they’d be all over him, on top of him and everywhere. And he’d just wag his tail.”
Last fall, Aikin and his wife, Gail, took a two-week trip to Italy. They left Cooper in the care of a local trainer and friend who not only boarded the dog, but put him through his training paces to keep him sharp for more hunting excursions. While the Aikins were abroad it became apparent something wasn’t right with Cooper. He seemed to be off balance, with his head tilting to the left. During his regular agility and fetching exercises he missed several targets, which was very out of character.
When the Aikins picked up Cooper, he was having difficulty walking and was vomiting. A veterinary emergency service gave him anti-nausea medication and fluids, and the Aikins were advised to take Cooper to a facility that could determine if he was suffering from a more serious condition. Art Aikin, an NC State graduate, opted to go immediately to the NC State Veterinary Hospital 185 miles away.
Cooper’s case was referred to the neurology service where he was seen by resident Lauren Green. An MRI was scheduled, but Cooper needed to stay in the hospital over the weekend until the exam could be performed on the following Monday.
That weekend a close personal connection would develop between Green and the Aikins, who stayed in a nearby hotel to await the test. When the MRI was performed, a malignant tumor was found pressing on his brain stem, causing his symptoms. The Aikins opted to simply take Cooper back home to preserve his quality of life as long as possible. Green prescribed an anti-nausea medication and prednisone, an anti-inflammatory, to ease Cooper’s symptoms.
“We thought we would only have one to two months with him,” Art Aikin says. “But he was doing so well after Christmas that we decided to go hunting one more time after New Year’s.”
And they did. Cooper was his old self, splashing through muddy fields, having a great time. He remained that way right to the end, which came on January 14.
On Feb. 22, the Aikins returned to Raleigh to present a Coat of Excellence to Green. She had treated Cooper for a short amount of time, but had made such a positive impact.
“You called every night to give us a report on Cooper,” Gail Aikin told Green during the presentation honoring Green. “It made such a big difference for us. We’ll never forget you.”
The Coat of Excellence program gives hospital clients the opportunity to honor a special faculty clinician, intern, resident or support staff member who has touched their lives and the lives of their pet. The $10,000 donation also supports the hospital as it continues to provide its extraordinary level of compassionate care to others. The gift includes a special white lab coat embroidered with the recipient’s name and the name of the donor’s pet.
The Aikins noted that everyone on the medical team and support staff that they met were not only thorough and professional, but unfailingly kind and compassionate, going the extra mile to make sure that the Aikins were informed and comforted.
As the coat was presented, Green said “I’m honored that in such a short time that we were able to help,” Green said during the presentation.
The Aikins will forever be grateful for the care they received from Green and others at NC State, and they will always be happy with their decision to give Cooper as much quality time as possible.
“He would have done the same for me,” Art Aikin says.
~Steve Volstad/ NC State Veterinary Medicine
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