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A life remembered

  • Tasha the black Lab

    A life remembered

    Beloved dog inspires owner to write a book about her life, including cancer treatment at Lewis Small Animal Hospital

    Tasha's quirky antics and unconditional love for her family inspired her owner to write a book about her. 

It’s been 14 years since a black Labrador named Tasha has roamed the halls of Jo Prouty’s home, but her presence is missed every day. 

Tasha was a bright spot in her family’s life, with her antics an endless source of entertainment. 

“She was very playful and very funny. And she made up all kinds of games to play,” Prouty recalls. “One of the games that she would do is she'd go in the closet, and she might take one of my bedroom slippers. She would hide it and would always leave something in place of what she took.”

Young Tasha poses with her toys.

From there, the search was on, and as the item’s pursuer neared its hidden location, Tasha would get more and more excited until the item was found and the game was over. 

Tasha’s life was a storied one, filled with highs and lows since the Prouty family adopted her in 1996 at 5 months old. Among the lows were two bouts of cancer—the second of which led to her passing. Both times she received oncology care at the Lewis Small Animal Hospital at the University of Minnesota. Today, Prouty still speaks warmly of its staff members and their work with her beloved dog.

Treasured time

Tasha’s cancer journey began when the family noticed a growth in her mouth. 

“Everyone tells you Labs are food driven, so when she started having some issues about eating, we thought something weird was going on,” Prouty says “And then we looked in her mouth, and here's this terrible-looking thing.”

Tasha lounges in a chair as a puppy.

Surgeons at the VMC successfully removed the mass, which was identified as melanoma. This type of cancer forms from pigment cells and is commonly found in the mouth of dogs. The effect of Tasha’s surgery seemed almost instant. 

“She changed overnight. Her energy came back,” Prouty recalls. “She was just herself again, and we were just so excited.”

Life went back to normal for a time. Then a little over a year later, Tasha got a nosebleed. A visit to her regular veterinarian led to another referral to the oncology service. This time, the diagnosis was carcinoma and there was little hope of winning the fight.

Carcinoma is a rare but aggressive form of cancer. Tasha’s nosebleeds indicated the cancer was in an advanced stage. 

“At that time there really wasn't much they could do,” Prouty recalls. “They offered radiation but that meant sedating her every single time they did it, and they warned us about the side effects. So we came home, and we read all about that. And then we realize that it actually didn't get her very much more time. So we figured you know, let's just let her have the time she has without all of that stress.”

Tasha and Jo enjoy a riverside hike. 

Over the next four months, Tasha lived life as large as possible. She joined Prouty and her husband, Bob, on visits to state parks multiple times a week. And for a while, she was fine. Eventually, the cancer took a physical toll and Prouty could tell that time with Tasha was nearing its end. Prouty called her adult son, Christopher, home for one final visit. 

“He came home to see her and spent a day with her—and she was just like herself,” Prouty says. “She walked with him down the stairs to the door when he left, came back upstairs, and collapsed. She just wanted to be that dog he loved and remembered, and she was for a day.”

A few days later, 13-year-old Tasha took her last trip to the vet and her family said goodbye. 

Telling her story

Prouty has thought about Tasha often since her death. About her quirks, like being able to predict when someone would be home no matter how unexpected their arrival was or her ability to seemingly understand human conversations. 

Tasha smiles after graduating from obedience

Prouty’s love inspired her to put Tasha’s story on paper, and the COVID-19 pandemic provided her with the time and opportunity to do it. She wrote and published, “The Love of a Dog: A Chronicle of a Remarkable Retriever,” 

She still has stacks and stacks of paper filled with revisions from the writing process. But to her, it was all worth it to share the story of her treasured dog with the world.

“We absolutely adored her,” Prouty says. “She was a member of the family, and I loved remembering her when I wrote the book. I loved writing the book because it was like reliving that again.”

In the book's final chapter, Prouty recounts Tasha’s cancer battle and taking on the role of caregiver in her dog’s final days. She treasures the extra time that oncology care at the Lewis Small Animal Hospital gave Tasha with her family.

“They really extended her life substantially,” Prouty says. “They gave her more than a year and a really good quality of life, so I’ll always be very grateful to them.”

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