Pet Cancer Awareness Month: Honouring Murphy

November is Pet Cancer Awareness Month. Cancer is a leading cause of death in our feline and canine companions. It is estimated that one in five cats and one in four dogs will be diagnosed with cancer during their lifetime. Incredible advances have been made in the treatment of pet cancer, but education, prevention and early detection remain important factors in our pets’ health. 

A black dog standing on grassThis month, we are honouring Murphy, a dog whose incredible journey with cancer brought him from Buffalo, New York to the Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) at the University of Guelph. 

You may remember Murphy’s story: in early 2019, he developed a golf-ball sized mass on his skull. Following a biopsy, he was diagnosed with multilobular osteochondrosarcoma (MLO), a rare type of cancer that starts in the bone. His family veterinarian recommended that Murphy and his owner, Kris Depowski, travel to OVC for further evaluation at the Mona Campbell Centre for Animal Cancer. 

Given the proximity of the mass to Murphy’s brain, his owner Kris feared that his condition could worsen quickly. She opted to pursue a groundbreaking and complex surgical treatment at OVC: replacement of the affected skull with a 3D-printed titanium plate. 

Veterinary surgical oncologist and Animal Health Partners Research Chair in Veterinary Medical Innovation, Dr. Michelle Oblak, performed Murphy’s surgery in May 2019. He spent six days recovering in OVC’s Intensive Care Unit and returned home to Buffalo, where he spent the remainder of his days in Kris’s loving care. 

Sadly, Murphy passed away last year. To honour his memory and journey, Kris shared the beautiful tribute that follows. She is also establishing a scholarship in Murphy’s name to support veterinary students at OVC. 

A Tribute to Murphy 

A black dog with its tongue sticking outThe morning started as normal that November day in 2018.  My Lab/Newfoundland mix, Murphy, greeted me in his usual way with his head resting on the bed. Murphy was my big, giant bear – a lovable rescue from Tennessee who had a difficult life before coming up to New York, where I eventually adopted him. 

That morning, Murphy was his usual happy self, but something was different. I noticed a hard knot on the top of his head that seemingly appeared overnight. I wasn’t too worried initially but made an appointment with the vet to get it checked. Following a biopsy, I got the devastating call – it was a rare form of bone cancer called multilobular osteochondrosarcoma, or MLO for short. What I didn’t know then was that call would be the beginning of an extraordinary journey that took Murphy and I across international borders and into the world of pioneering and groundbreaking veterinary medicine.  

Our vet recommended we travel to OVC at the University of Guelph, about two hours from our home across the border in Buffalo. From our first meeting with the OVC team, I knew we were in the right place. That first consult was dizzying, though, as Dr. Chris explained Murphy’s limited options. His type of cancer didn’t typically respond well to chemotherapy or radiation. There was also scant research available on this rare cancer. 

A black dog laying on the carpetMurphy’s only viable option was a craniectomy, which would remove the diseased part of his skull. But we were lucky because OVC, and Dr. Michelle Oblak, just happened to be pioneering the use of 3D printing. Dr. Oblak explained to us that she would remove the diseased part of Murphy’s skull and replace it with a 3D printed titanium copy. She had only performed the surgery once before. The surgery was also very risky, but this was Murphy’s only chance, so we went ahead with the operation. 

He not only survived but thrived for three more years. 

I lost my sweet boy in September of 2022, but he defied all the odds, and I had a few more precious years with him, thanks to the amazing team at OVC. Dr. Oblak, especially, was his guardian angel. Her skill, dedication and brilliance gave Murphy a new lease on life. When talking about Murphy, I always refer to her as a rock star because that’s what she is.   

I miss Murphy every day. I miss hugging him, which I did constantly. I miss his loving soul, his quirky personality (he barked at anything with wheels – bikes, buses, cars, scooters, skateboards, you name it!). He was one-of-a-kind who was loved by everyone he met. But I take comfort in knowing that Murphy’s spirit will live on at OVC in future innovations that he played a role in advancing, and I will be forever grateful to Dr. Oblak and the entire team. 

- Kris Depowski, beloved owner of Murphy 

To read about Murphy’s incredible journey at OVC, view the original story on the OVC Pet Trust website

You and your pet can help OVC researchers further cancer research; learn more about our active OVC Clinical Trials