"Sparky Fights Back: A Little Dog's Big Battle Against Cancer" 
by Josée Clerens and John Clifton
by Marilyn Harban, AKC Gazette

May 2005




AKC Gazette – Official Journal of the American Kennel Club

May, 2005 
A Little Dog's Big Battle Against Cancer

Josée Clerens and John Clifton (Foley Square Books, $16.95)   

All of us dread the day we discover a lump on our beloved pet. Our worst fear is to hear the diagnosis of cancer. Josée Clerens and John Clifton have published Sparky Fights Back (2005, Foley Square Books), documenting the life of their Australian Terrier and his journey through treatment for non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

Sparky's story began when, as a 6-year-old living in New York City, his owners discovered lumps on his throat. He was taken to his veterinarian for examination and biopsy, and the diagnosis of cancer was confirmed. Josée and John were told that, without treatment, Sparky would have about a month to live, but with treatment they could expect another year or possibly 14 months. They chose treatment, beginning with a series of four chemicals commonly given to human cancer patients. Every effort was made to give Sparky the best possible quality of life.

John and Josée had decided to get an Aussie - their first dog - after reading an illustrated dog book. They kept returning to the picture of the Australian Terrier, which was, according to the book, a small dog who needed little grooming and had few health problems. They attended Westminster, met some breeders, and saw the dogs in person, which just reinforced their love for the breed. After much searching, they found a puppy for sale - their Sparky. They had met the challenges of raising a puppy in a New York City apartment building and now, six years later, were faced with trying to save the life of their beloved dog. How unpredictable life is!

Sparky went into remission within the first couple of weeks, lost hair during the following months, and throughout treatment continued to maintain a healthy white blood cell count as well as his "high cute factor." John spent each week researching treatments, including homeopathic and supportive measures from alternative medicine. Each week brought new challenges to both Sparky and his owners, along with a roller coaster of emotions. Sparky met every challenge with courage. He seemed to accept it all, placing his trust, if not in the doctor, in his owners and their assurance that no harm would befall him.

Sparky Fights Back is the story of a vivacious Australian Terrier, and Sparky's adventures will tell you much about living with and loving the breed. The story is all Aussie, but the cancer treatments described can apply to any dog. Medically speaking, the book addresses questions any of us would ask if this were our beloved pet going through cancer treatment. In addition to being a wonderful, heartwarming story, the book includes an expanded glossary of tools available to fight cancer, an appendix with the 10 warning signs of cancer, and listings (with addresses, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses) of resources such as radiology facilities by state, online resources, oncologist locators, sources for financial aid, and veterinary associations.

Royalties from the sale of Sparky Fights Back benefit the Animal Cancer Foundation. For more information, go to Sparky's fight began in August 2000, and he remains alive today: Miracles can happen. - M. H.

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