Three Cs of the Soft Tissue Surgery Service: Comprehensive, Compassion and Communication

This entry is article 4 of 4 in the April 2014 issue

The Soft Tissue Surgery service at Tufts Foster Hospital for Small Animals cares for small companion animals with a variety of “soft-tissue” diseases and conditions affecting the head, neck, abdomen, chest and external parts of the body. Tufts Foster Hospital is home to one of the most comprehensive and state-of-the-art soft tissue surgery services in New England, offering compassionate care that is efficiently coordinated with a strong focus on keeping the lines of communication open with you and all involved in the care of your pet.

With multiple decades of experience our surgeons have expertise from the most basic of procedures to the most serious complex cancer surgeries. Common conditions our surgical team treats include:

• serious wounds
• upper airway and oral cavity diseases
• surgically resectable benign and malignant tumors
• surgical conditions of the internal organs within the chest and abdomen

We perform surgery in state-of-the-art surgical suites and have access to outstanding expertise and equipment for advanced diagnostic imaging, anesthesia monitoring, critical care, and pain management.

Tufts also offers minimally invasive surgery capabilities for some conditions. Tufts prides itself on carefully orchestrated, team-based care that is provided throughout your experience at the Foster Hospital. Your pet will receive the highest quality care from a team of specialists, including board certified surgeons, surgical residents, anesthesiologists, highly skilled veterinary nurses and surgical technicians, as well as other clinical specialists. Our comprehensive and integrated approach ensures the most optimal surgical outcome and the most favorable experience for you and your pet.

Once you and your pet arrive at Tufts Foster Hospital you will find all the services you need provided under one roof. Whether you are referred to soft tissue surgery directly by your family veterinarian or after a consult with our Critical Care, Internal Medicine or Oncology services, you will have access to the full range of our hospital’s capabilities.

We’ll make sure your pet gets to the right place with the appropriate services, including any X-rays, laboratory, ultrasound, MRI, pain management, etc.

During the initial consultation and diagnostic process, we’ll discuss with you why we believe a particular procedure may be necessary, what is involved and what you can expect. And you should understand that just because you’ve come for a surgery consult that does not mean you have to proceed with the surgery. We’ll discuss with you your options and the cost,  and provide advice to help you make informed decisions regarding the care of your pet.

We recognize that you do not want your pet to be hospitalized any longer than necessary. A typical hospitalization period for an average surgical procedure is 1-2 days in advance of the surgery, and 1-3 days after surgery. More minor procedures can often be performed during a single day’s visit but typically not on the day of your initial appointment. Regardless of the length of your pet’s stay, we will provide leading edge pain prevention and management before and after surgery, and will ensure that your pet’s experience is as non-stressful as it can possibly be.

As the only veterinary medical center in New England, we are committed to training the veterinarians and animal care specialists of the future. Students, interns and residents rotate through our clinical services and are integral to the veterinary care team. Also unique to this academic environment, our faculty and surgeons may be able to provide you with access to innovative therapies not available elsewhere.

At Tufts Foster Hospital, you can be assured that you will not only receive the highest quality of surgical care, but we are focused on providing a comfortable, efficient and compassionate experience for you and your loved one. This is because our staff are not only highly trained specialists in their fields, they are animal lovers as well.

A Life Saved Twice: Family Grateful to Tufts’ Surgeon

This entry is article 3 of 4 in the April 2014 issue

kota_20130717_175820 (2)Name: Dakota

Age and Breed: 11-year old Boxer-mix (part Boxer and part German Shepherd)

Medical Challenge: Cheryl knew something was wrong when she came home to find Dakota (“Kota”), her very spirited, 11-year old boxer walking around like he was lost and very uncomfortable. She also noticed that his abdomen was swollen. He subsequently vomited and seemed a little better but she didn’t want to let it go without having him checked out.

The first appointment she could get with her family veterinarian was two days later on Saturday. Upon examination, he palpated Dakota’s abdomen and found that it was distended and unusually hard. He ordered an x-ray which revealed that Dakota had a tumor in his spleen. Cheryl was advised that it could be one of two things: a highly malignant cancer called a hemangiosarcoma or a benign mass called a hematoma, essentially a blood clot. Her veterinarian felt that cancer was the most likely of the two and advised her of two alternative treatment plans. If she chose to have the spleen removed, it would give him only about 3 months if it was the very aggressive form of cancer. Without the surgery, it was likely he would die within the week from a spleen rupture. Cheryl had a special bond with Kota, a dog she had rescued and she did not want to let him go just yet. She was truly concerned and after some research decided to pursue a second opinion at Tufts. “I trusted my instincts. I know Kota and there was no way I was going to let him go without seeking any additional information to help make this decision,” says Cheryl.

Treatment: Upon arriving at Tufts on the following Wednesday, Cheryl immediately felt she made the right decision for Kota. Cheryl recalls how personalized the care was “They took care of everything from the time we walked through the door. Dr. Berg’s initial steps were to do all the necessary tests to get to the bottom of Dakota’s situation and it was refreshing to be able to speak directly with such a seasoned surgeon.” When she and her husband Roger met Dr. John Berg, Tufts’ small animal surgeon, he offered some hope. He told them that there was about a 30-40% chance the tumor could be a hematoma, and a somewhat greater chance that it was cancerous. Since hemangiosarcoma commonly metastasizes to the liver, he ordered an ultrasound to look for evidence of spread there, or to any other sites in the abdomen. He also ordered a chest x-ray to look for evidence of spread to the lungs. Advanced diagnostic testing would provide the additional information Kota’s family was seeking to help them make a surgery decision. A 30-40% chance of a benign lesion gave Cheryl and Roger a reason to be optimistic. Cheryl had done everything she could since his rescue to protect Dakota, so when Dr. Berg called back she had the weight lifted off her shoulders. The blood work and chest x-ray were normal, and the ultrasound showed no evidence of spread to the liver. These results gave Dr. Berg more confidence that a hematoma was high on the list of possibilities, and recommended surgery. Because of the comprehensive nature of the services that Tufts offers, Dakota had access to other specialty care, which was needed when he developed an arrhythmia. Upon the cardiology team’s assessment, they deemed Kota was stable enough to proceed with surgery. In just two days, the surgery was completed and Dr. Berg had removed a hematoma; a mass the size of a football which if left alone, would very likely have caused the spleen to rupture. And the best news came a couple weeks later when Dr. Berg shared with Kota’s family that the tumor was indeed a hematoma and non-cancerous.

Outcome: Because of Dr. Berg’s access to Tufts’ comprehensive and advanced diagnostic services, he was able to feel fairly certain that the mass wasn’t cancer and that Kota was an appropriate candidate for surgery before advising Kota’s family. And as a result, Cheryl and Roger knew they were making the right decision in going forward.

This all happened in September 2014 and five months later, Dakota is now back to his old spirited self. He takes the steps four at a time, jumps into their jeep and van and jumps with excitement when he sees them. She says, “I saved him twice, first as a rescue dog when he was about 10 months old, and now with Dr. Berg’s help and his lifesaving surgery. Dr. Berg and all the staff at Tufts Foster Hospital made us feel so welcome, well-advised and cared for through this whole process. We are so thankful for Dr. Berg.”

Willy’s Story

This entry is article 2 of 4 in the April 2014 issue

In the kitchen, Willy Hale is always at your feet, waiting for food. The black American shorthair feline has polydactyl paws wide enough to pick up almost anything that accidentally hits the floor.

But retired doctors Zoey and Mahlon Hale only smile at his antics. After all, Zoey says, “he’s a grand cat.” For 14 years, Willy has lounged and lazed through their lives, even occasionally scampering through the yard of their Connecticut home on warm afternoons. When he comes back inside, he always “kisses” his five-year-old feline sister Cleo hello.

Two years ago, Willy’s charmed life seemed threatened when the Hales found a growth on his chest between his front legs. They took him to their family veterinarian, who removed it. But the tumor grew back, and a biopsy showed cancer. The Hales were devastated. Willy was operated on again, but the veterinarian recommended that the Hales seek a veterinary oncologist.

“Of course we came to Tufts,” Zoey says of the Foster Hospital for Small Animals at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. “Everyone knows about Tufts, because it’s the best hospital in the area.”

Soft-tissue surgeon Dr. John Berg assessed very quickly that while this was not a rare nor uncommon case the large mass required additional surgery as soon as possible. “We removed the previous scar widely and deeply,” he says. “Fibrosarcoma is the kind of cancer that usually isn’t located next to any vital organs, so generally it isn’t fatal. But cancers like this on the surface of the body, if left untreated, can grow beyond what we can surgically remove.” There is also a 20 percent chance that fibrosarcoma can spread far from the original tumor to distant sites in the body.

The fact that the mass had been completely removed previously made this a more serious case for Dr. Berg, because, he says, “if it grew back locally, it could require a surgery that would force us to remove a part of his chest wall, sternum, or breast bone, possibly part of his ribs”—even all of those parts at once. “When cancer is at a reasonably early stage we try to treat it as aggressively as we can to avoid worst case scenarios.”

Fortunately, Willy was treated at an early stage. More than a year down the road, there is no sign of a recurrence and he’s back to waiting patiently by the fridge for his daily bite of turkey. “The odds are very strong that he will be fine,” reports Dr. Berg. Willy’s post-op treatment did not include radiation, due to Dr. Berg’s high level of confidence that they had fully removed the mass. Willy returned home with pain medication and wearing a toddler-sized T-shirt with the arms cut off, in lieu of the common, less comfortable neck cone.

Dr. Berg has been at Tufts Foster Hospital for nearly 30 years. He describes himself as a typical kid who got into college and had no idea what he wanted to do after graduation. “But I did love animals,” he says, “and there was a vet school at my university in Colorado. I’m very glad I made the decision to go.”

The appeal of the Cummings School for Berg: teaching students and residents, and the wide variety of surgeries and research that will make an impact on the lives of animals and humans. “Our case load is very high because we live in a densely populated area, which keeps things fresh,” he says. “Working in a place like this, you become very experienced because of the quantity of animals that come through the door. After thirty years, I still see new cases and tackle new medical challenges.”

Berg also appreciates veterinary medicine because he isn’t performing the same procedure over and over again, as is the case for many doctors in human medicine who become experts in a specific surgery. “This is a much smaller profession, meaning someone like me who does soft tissue surgery gets to work on every body part and sees a wide variety of odd diseases.”

The Hales are thrilled with Willy’s prognosis, not to mention the care provided by the entire care team led by Dr. Berg.

“We loved seeing all of the other patients,” Mahlon said. “Most importantly, we appreciated how timely and thorough were and how they constantly kept us in the loop. Because of all this wonderful care, we feel very grateful.”

To say thank you, the Hales have given $100,000 to establish the Willy Hale Fund. The fund will support research by faculty, house officers, and students at the Cummings School. Every student who receives Willy Hale research funding also gets a picture of the fund’s namesake, the cat named Willy, born on Leap Day, who is four going on 14—and many more years, thanks to the Cummings School.

Allergy Season

This entry is article 1 of 4 in the April 2014 issue
  1. Learn the warning signs! A pet may be having an allergic reaction if there is a sudden increase in licking, scratching, chewing, and rubbing or if there is odor inside the ears. These things will likely require veterinary attention.
  2. Pets are often allergic to the same pollens that humans are allergic to. The main difference is that many of these pollens are absorbed directly through the skin of dogs and cats. After coming indoors from a walk, take a damp washcloth or baby wipes to wipe down your pet’s coat and paws. This will help to keep allergy-inducing pollens from causing an allergic skin reaction.
  3. Warmer weather means more open windows and doors. Keep indoor allergens at bay by increasing vacuuming around the house.
  4. Dogs that like to go swimming in the warm weather may be more susceptible to skin infections, especially those with allergic skin disease. Whether they are swimming in a chlorinated pool, or in a pond or bay, it is best to hose them down afterwards.
  5. Allergy season also means the return of outdoor pests. Insect bites can make a dog or cat very itchy. Make sure your pet is maintained on a monthly flea, tick and heartworm preventative.

Boots Miraculous Story of Cheating Death Not Once but Twice!

This entry is article 2 of 3 in the January 2014 issue


Boots, a 16-year-old cat, has cheated death twice. Nine lives? Maybe. But perhaps this cat’s resiliency has more to do with a strong family bond and the depth of love from his owners.

About six years ago, that commitment was proven when Michelle McMahon-Downer came home from the hospital after delivering her second child and found Boots vomiting and acting disoriented. The family brought him to Tufts VETS in Walpole and his case was transferred to the Foster Hospital for Small Animals at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine in North Grafton. Continue reading

Keep Your Pet Warm During Cold Winter Days

This entry is article 3 of 3 in the January 2014 issue

iStock_000015580296Small-dog sweater cropPets get cold too! When the temperature drops, the best place to keep your pet is indoors to make sure he is kept warm. Wind chills can actually put your pet at risk if left outside. Pets can be sensitive to the brutal cold. In fact, pets like humans, may develop frostbite or hypothermia during extreme temperatures, it’s best to carefully limit outside activity for our family pets during extreme bouts of cold and bitter wind chills.

If your pet is exposed to winter elements for longer periods of time, its best to make sure he has adequate shelter to help protect him from the cold and bitter wind. Outfitting your pet in a warm coat is also an option to keep him safe and comfortable. Continue reading

Specialty Spotlight: Ophthalmology Service

This entry is article 1 of 3 in the January 2014 issue

From routine eye exams to corneal grafting, laceration repair and cataract removal, the Ophthalmology specialists at Tufts Foster Hospital for Small Animals are available around the clock to see patients. Led by board-certified veterinarians, the Ophthalmology team provides expert medical and surgical advice for eye diseases and injuries in small animals, exotic pets, and large animals while treating the animal as a whole. Continue reading

Foster Hospital Renovation Campaign Underway

This entry is article 1 of 6 in the December 2013 issue

Artist’s rendering of the Foster Hospital’s client and patient lobby

To better provide 21st-century care for animals and enhance services for their owners, the Cummings School has launched an initiative to renovate and expand the Henry and Lois Foster Hospital for Small Animals.  “This project is necessary so that we can continue to provide the high level of service that our clients have come to expect – the kind of care that inspire families to bring their pets to us and veterinarians to make referrals here,” says Cummings School Dean, Deborah Kochevar.

When the Foster Hospital opened its doors in 1985, veterinarians anticipated providing care to 12,000 cats, dogs and other companion animals a year.  Last year, the hospital saw 28,000 cases.  The 30-year-old building is at its capacity and renovations are needed to continue to deliver our best in patient care and client service.

Elements of the renovation will include:

  • Larger, more welcoming reception areas to help reduce stress on patients and their families while waiting to see their caregivers
  • 25% increase in the number of state-of-the-art patient exam rooms
  • New larger treatment rooms for specialty services in ophthalmology, cardiology, neurology and dermatology which will reduce client wait times for such specialized care
  • A reflection room offer hospital clients a quiet comforting space to carefully consider important decisions regarding their beloved animal’s care

A “Renewing the Healing Spaces” website shares awareness around the hospital renovations plans along with an impact video.

Over the last six months, in the early stages of the hospital renovation campaign, the school raised over $1M toward the $8M renovation goal.  In December, the campaign was given a boost by a challenge gift granted by the Amelia Peabody Charitable Fund*.  For every $2 raised or pledged between now and Dec. 31, 2014 the Amelia Peabody Charitable Fund will donate $1 for up to $2.5 million in matching funds. “The challenge permits the school to accelerate its fundraising horizon for the project, and potentially steers us toward the $8M goal a full year ahead of the previously anticipated timeline,” says Ana Alvarado, Sr. Director of Development for the Cummings School.

Those interested in learning more about the hospital renovation are encouraged to contact the Cummings Advancement Office at 508-839-7905.  Staff directory online at:

*Amelia Peabody  1890 – 1984                     
“If I ever do take up charity, I intend to do it, and not half do it.”
- Amelia Peabody, 1912

aphistory1Amelia Peabody was a very private person with a public conscience.  Over her long life, she quietly distributed her wealth for the benefit of tens of thousands, most of whom, according to her wishes, never knew her name.   In 1964, she extended her legacy of giving in perpetuity by establishing the Amelia Peabody Charitable Fund.

Brought up to be “a lady of society,” Miss Peabody did not attend college, but studied sculpture with a passion in Boston, New York and Paris.  She built a solar studio and continued sculpting her whole life.  Her work was exhibited widely, including at the New York World’s Fair (1939 and 1940), the Whitney, and the Boston Athenaeum (the last in 1975, at the age of 85).  During and after World War I and II, she worked with returning and injured veterans, teaching occupational arts and crafts. 

apfullsculp1In the early 1920s Amelia Peabody began buying farms and farmland in Dover, Massachusetts, where she devoted herself to horse riding and animal husbandry.  She bred and raised race horses, white-faced Hereford cattle, and Yorkshire pigs—all of which were recognized for their breeding and bloodlines.  In 1981, in one of the rare departures from the anonymity that characterized her giving, she founded the Amelia Peabody Pavilion, which houses a large animal clinic at the Tufts-New England Veterinary Medical Center in Grafton, Massachusetts.

Amelia Peabody also continued the medical philanthropy of her father, step-father, and uncle with generous donations to a number of institutions in the Boston area dedicated to the relief of human suffering.  A life-long love of science led Amelia Peabody to be especially supportive of ground-breaking research to prevent illness or discover new treatments.  

apopThis love of science and a remarkably prescient concern with the conservation of nature and natural resources led Amelia Peabody to one of the world’s first solar energy projects in 1948.    She funded the work of solar science and agricultural engineering pioneers in the design and construction of a solar house on property she owned adjacent to her farm.  The house was visited by literally thousands of scientists and industrialists and relied on solar energy technologies that would emerge in a more mature form in the 1970s.

In her later years, Amelia Peabody’s farm became all the more dear to her and she declared her “porch at Mill Farm” her favorite place in the world.  She continued to quietly increase her land-holdings and to fund the preservation of forests. As she grew older and was unable to ride, she relished seeing others gallop by and enjoy the land.  Shortly before her death on May 31, 1984, she looked out the window of her farm to the paddocks and forest and whispered, “Great day.”

Gifts for your pet this holiday season

This entry is article 2 of 6 in the December 2013 issue

Pets need gifts too! Here are some ideas to give your pet this holiday season to make him feel loved all year through!

  • Fetching stick
  • Personalized pet tags
  • Pet toys: plush toys and chew toys
  • Pet shampoos
  • Candy cane leash/collar
  • Pet blanket for warmth all year long
  • Pillow beds for your pet
  • Pet scarf/sweaters
  • Pet holiday bowls

Looking for a gift to give to a pet owner? Look no further, we have some ideas to make the holiday season purrfectly cheerful. Make this holiday season special for everyone with some of the top pet gifts.

  • Pet first aid kits
  • Pet -themed jewelry
  • Pet- themed wine glasses
  • Personalized pet calendar
  • Framed pet photo
  • Pet photo blanket
  • Books on training pets
  • GPS pet tracker

Client success story: Louie

This entry is article 3 of 6 in the December 2013 issue

Name: Louie

Age and breed: 9-year-old golden retriever.

Medical challenge: When Louie first came into Tufts Foster Hospital for Small Animals, he was in very bad shape. Louie had been diagnosed with adult-onset generalized demodicosis, which means he had an overgrowth of Demodex mites. His symptoms were severe hair loss, low energy, and not wanting to eat or play. Louie had been treated for demodicosis for a couple, but his owner, Bonnie from Waban, Massachusetts, felt that Louie was getting worse instead of getting better. She was considering euthanasia to end Louie’s suffering. Visiting Tufts was her only hope. Continue reading