NEAR SCAPPOOSE, Ore. – When Cera Reusser held a bundle of a black lab back in 2000, the connection was immediate.
"Chase and I met on the fourth day of her life and we just had a bond instantaneously," she said.
Chase made an impact that day and continues to make an impact years after her death.
“Nobody else could hold her except for me and through all of the training that we did – the field training and the dock dogs training that we’ve done – everything that little girl did was for me,” said Cera. “It’s an unconditional love that you get from dogs."
Cera will never forget that night when she knew something was wrong with her award-winning dock dog.
“I’d given her the normal nighttime loving after I came home from work and there was a lump. And I’m like - that wasn’t there yesterday,” she said.
The news from the veterinarian was devastating – it was cancer and it was spreading.
“She had a tumor from her canine to her brain,” Cera said. “It was too far gone and we couldn’t do radiation. We did do one round of chemo on that following Monday.”
The vet thought Chase had two to four months to live but death came just a few days after her chemotherapy treatment.
“She started bleeding up from her gums and I let her go the next day,” said Cera. "And yes – that was the hardest thing. I never want to have to do that again.”
Chase was only six years old. The average life span of a medium-sized lab is about 10 to 12 years. Cera soon learned that the rate of canine cancer is extremely high.
“One in three dogs die of cancer,” she said. “The phone call that I got that my little girl was sick and, I don’t know. I know you’ve fought cancer and you know what that (feeling is) where you’re just like all of a sudden – what?”
Today, Chase’s aunt, 12-year-old Smokey, is among the three black labs Cera and her husband, Terry, own.
Cera and Terry have been married 26 years and with no human kids, these dogs are their babies. And would you believe that Terry is allergic to dogs?
"Just being in a sleeping bag with a dog on top of you, it’s a good thing,” he said. “It far outweighs any negative part of it. So I take the Claritin and live with it. I love my puppies.”
In addition to old Smokey there is 4-year-old Ricky, Chase’s daughter, and 7-month-old Elsie, Chase’s granddaughter.
These are lucky labs. They live and play on two acres just outside of Scappoose and a former garage has been transformed into an upscale condo for canines.
Mementos from the life of the talented dock dogger are everywhere and since Chase’s death, Cera has created Chase Away K9 Cancer, a nationally-known fundraiser for the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine Foundation.
Cera’s own mother died of cancer when she was just 2 years old and advances in human cancer treatments give her hope for Chase Away K9 Cancer.
“When I used to compete with Chase - I’ve got a wristband in the house that’s actually by her ashes - it said ‘Life is a Team Sport.' And I wore it at every competition with her. When I lost her, I had this one (a different one) made up and it says Chase and the year that she was born and the year she passed away. And it says ‘forever in my heart,’” she said while choking back tears.
Cera also has a tattoo of Chase’s paw print on her leg that is a permanent reminder of her little girl.
Smokey, Ricky and Elsie are carrying on Chase’s memory as well by also competing in dock dog events. Cera, an endlessly energetic dog owner, trains them often.
Cera says if you are hoping to have your own great dock dog, it first takes what she calls ‘toy drive.’ Then it takes pounds of patience and most importantly – lots and lots of love.
“You need to love them every minute of every day because you don’t know how long they’re going to last,” she said. “And every minute is precious.”
(All photos courtesy of Cera Reusser)