On Jan. 30, 2021, Leena and Rich Ruedin of Lake St. Louis, Missouri, were far from considering pet adoption. They had lost the last of their bonded pair of dogs in mid-2019, and were still mourning. However, that afternoon, Rich Ruedin came across a story on his news feed about a 14-year-old, female, black Labrador mix named Wiggles, who had been surrendered to a no-kill animal shelter in Godfrey, Illinois, in 2010. Wiggles’ owners were unable to afford her allergy medication, and it was clear that Wiggles was having other difficulties, as a tumor had been growing on her rear left leg that was approximately the size of a cantaloupe. Leena Ruedin said once she heard Wiggles’ story, she was immediately sold on adopting her.
“Wiggles had been waiting for 11 years for a forever home,” said Leena Ruedin. “Rich sent me the article and I read it that evening. The very next day we went and adopted her.”
This feel-good adoption caught the eye of some national news outlets, as CNN, People Magazine Pets and Inside Edition all had posts on their website about the Ruedins and Wiggles. Wiggles, who has her own Twitter account, even garnered a mention from actor Mark Hamill, a dog-lover who is best known for playing Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars movies.
From the day they decided to adopt, the couple knew Wiggles had some active health issues. Although shelter employees were aware of Wiggles’ tumor, their local veterinarian determined that it was benign, and opted not to remove it because of her age. Leena Ruedin was told that previous potential adopters saw the tumor and were apparently deterred, leading to Wiggles’ long shelter stay. The couple decided to take her to their own veterinarian for a physical, revealing normal bloodwork, but severe arthritis in her back legs and hips, which wasn’t helped by the mass on her leg. She also had a spot she would chew and scratch on the same leg, which had been diagnosed as caused by allergies. The veterinarian attempted to use laser treatments to treat the spot that Wiggles was chewing on, suspecting it was a large callus formed from lying on concrete for years, but this didn’t show improvement.
The Ruedins decided to seek the help of clinicians at the University of Missouri Veterinary Health Center. “Rich and I decided that we would take Wiggles to the CVM surgical oncology team to inquire about the large mass on her hind leg and the possibility of removing it,” Leena Ruedin said. “They said it could be safely done, with minimal risk.”
Megan Mickelson, DVM, DACVS-SA, ACVS Fellow, surgical oncology, an assistant professor of small animal surgical oncology, and Brittney Byer, DVM, a resident in small animal surgery, greeted the Ruedins at Mizzou and decided that the mass could be removed. While the mass wasn’t dangerous on its own, it weighed 3½ pounds, and was causing Wiggles a great deal of discomfort. “It was because of the pure size of the mass, and the way it was impacting her ability to walk and get around with comfort, that they decided to move forward with the surgery,” said Mickelson.
The surgery was successful and Wiggles recovered normally. “She recovered really well from the surgery that we did. It was a benign mass, so on that aspect she should be just fine,” said Byer.
Unfortunately, the large mass wasn’t the only issue. While Wiggles was in for consultation, Mickelson examined the area on Wiggles’ leg that she had been chewing. A fine needle aspirate revealed it was a plasma cell tumor, which Mickelson described as “oftentimes benign acting,” but shouldn’t be ignored. Wiggles initially received electrochemotherapy at MU, but after little improvement in the tumor, she is now receiving radiation therapy at the MU Veterinary Health Center at Wentzville, which is closer to the Ruedins’ home. She has also been placed on a weight-loss plan. “The definitive radiation protocol gives her the best chance at remission and that’s what we want,” said Leena Ruedin.
Moving forward, the Ruedins plan to continue to do what they can to help Wiggles be comfortable and happy.
“For us, it’s really cool knowing that the family was willing to adopt a dog that had lived in a shelter for that long,” said Mickelson. “Not just adopt and let it live out its day, but also medically get everything in order. I just think they’re really cool people and we’re appreciative of them.”
Leena Ruedin says throughout all of this, she and her husband never hesitated in their adoption of Wiggles. “We saw a dog that needed us and that we needed,” she said. “She was filling the hole in our hearts that our previous dogs left when they passed. She makes our hearts smile.”
By Nick Childress