Caring for Kooter

Life as a three-legged dog


From the salt-water seaside, to the forests and waterways of a national park in Nova Scotia, to the Blue Rodeo tour bus, nine-year-old Kooter the Golden Retriever has experienced it all.

Ashley Moffat remembers the first time she laid eyes on her eight-week-old puppy back in 2008. Her grandmother had just passed away and she had travelled back to Ontario for the funeral. She recalls the emotional moment of getting off the plane and being surrounded by sadness and grief. This is the same moment that Kooter came into her life.

“My family fell in love with him immediately. I picked him up and he fell asleep in my arms,” Ashley laughs. Kooter accompanied Ashley back to her home in Nova Scotia and he grew up enjoying hiking, canoeing and experiencing the adventures the East Coast had to offer. Named after the character from the Dukes of Hazard, Kooter’s big, wild and crazy personality has filled Ashley’s life with excitement and positivity since the day they first met in the airport.

“I love seeing Kooter live his life – it makes my life more positive and fun to experience it with him.”

In November 2016, Kooter suddenly developed a limp and a firm swelling on his carpus, which would be comparable to a human wrist. His family veterinarian, Dr. Jody Cunningham, at Port Royal Animal Hospital in Annapolis Royal, diagnosed Kooter with osteosarcoma, a cancerous tumour in the bone, and immediately referred him to the Mona Campbell Centre for Animal Cancer at the Ontario Veterinary College (OVC). Ashley and Kooter began their drive across the country together to Ontario the next day. Ashley, her partner Greg Keelor and Kooter arrived in Guelph a few days later. Dr. Brigitte Brisson, OVC small animal surgeon, confirmed Kooter’s diagnosis of osteosarcoma of the left distal radius and he was admitted on December 12. Kooter underwent left forelimb amputation surgery the following day.

Ashley and Greg appreciated receiving updates twice a day from OVC’s surgical care team. “I could tell everyone at the hospital had fallen in love with him – that made a difficult time feel so reassuring. I knew my best friend was in good hands,” Ashley says, smiling. Ashley and Greg were able to visit with Kooter on the evening of December 15. He was released the following day. 

While Ashley had been advised that it would be hard to know how Kooter would do following the surgery (some dogs have difficulty walking and may fall down often as they adjust
 to life after a leg amputation), she couldn’t believe her eyes when he walked out to the parking lot and jumped into the car all by himself – with only three legs.

Kooter slowly recovered in the weeks that followed with lots of love and affection, rest and music.

“Greg has a studio in his house and was in the middle of recording an album at the time,” Ashley says.

After about three weeks post-op when he had been cleared to get back to normal, Ashley took Kooter out for a walk on Greg’s country property. He ran almost a kilometer to the big granite boulder he regularly visited before his surgery. He jumped up on the rock with his three legs and looked out over the land. “I started crying and hugging him and we celebrated. He looked back at me as if to say thank you and that I did the right thing.” Kooter quickly started to get back to his regular self – playing with his toys, going for longer walks and going on tour with Blue Rodeo.

Ashley describes Kooter as the band’s unofficial therapy dog – and says he certainly gets a lot of attention backstage. On the last night of the tour in February, Greg brought Kooter and Ashley out on stage for the final song of the night, Lost Together.

“When Kooter – this lovable, three-legged dog hopped out on stage – the audience went wild,” Ashley reminisces. “He stuck close to me, but he loved being on stage. He stared at Greg during the whole song and then was backstage immediately afterwards, looking for the room with the food,” she laughs.

During Kooter’s post-operative chemotherapy sessions, Ashley was grateful she was able to take a short leave of absence from work so she could stay in Ontario. His last day of chemo was March 31. After his test results came back looking good, it was back to Nova Scotia for both of them. While there were adjustments to his life, Kooter quickly got back to his old routine.

“Amputation followed by chemotherapy is the mainstay of treatment
for osteosarcoma of the limbs in dogs. Like Kooter, most patients with osteosarcoma adapt very well to the loss of a limb and do so quickly,” says Dr. Brigitte Brisson. “Amputation removes the pain associated with the tumour and allows pets like Kooter to return to and maintain a very good quality of life as a three-legged dog.”

While Ashley knows his cancer will eventually spread (bone cancer commonly metastasizes to the lungs), she is grateful for the extra time she’s gained with her “best buddy”.

“I’m so thankful there is a place like OVC. Our entire experience made cancer seem like not such a 
lonely disease; there are a
lot of people facing cancer decisions with their pets. I am so happy I brought Kooter to Guelph because of the support network. I felt like we were part of the community. I hope that by sharing Kooter’s story I can help at least one person out there feel a little less lonely in their own experience.”

Ashley and Kooter. Credit: Keri Moffat. 

READ more in the fall issue of OVC Pet Trust's Best Friends Magazine, the pet magazine of the Ontario Veterinary College.