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Celebrated cancer-sniffing dog dies at age 3

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http://www.mercurynews.com/mld/mercuryn ... 185221.htm

By Linda GoldstonKobi the cancer-sniffing dog is gone.

The yellow Labrador retriever died March 3, just two weeks after he was diagnosed with lymphoma. The cancer would have claimed him all too soon, but Kobi died from a rare reaction to his chemotherapy.

He was 3.

``It's amazing what he accomplished in his short life,'' said his owner, Maria Frianeza of Pinole. ``We're so proud of him.''

Kobi died in the same month the study that made him famous was published. His cancer-detecting skills had been featured in the Mercury News and the New York Times, and broadcast on TV in Japan, England, Mexico and Russia.

He was one of the dogs trained to detect, with 88 to 99 percent accuracy, breast and lung cancer in breath samples from people. The research was conducted by the Pine Street Foundation in Marin County and published this month in the medical journal Integrative Cancer Therapies.

I met Kobi in February and was struck by the dedication to his work. He and four other dogs had been trained using the ``click and reward'' method and Kobi especially loved those treats.

``He loved getting it right,'' said Maria. ``Getting it right and getting his treat.''

As soon as he identified a positive cancer sample, he would sit down, the dog handler would click and Kobi got his treat. Kobi figured out that if he ran back over to the positive cancer sample -- the same one he'd just gotten a treat for detecting -- and sat down again that he could get another treat.

``That's one of my favorite stories about Kobi,'' Maria said this week.

It's never easy to say goodbye to any of our animal friends, but having a young dog die so suddenly has got to be the saddest of all.

For Maria, ``it was surreal just hearing that he had cancer. I feel a little robbed. We had made all of these plans to do things with him.''

Kobi's reaction to the second week of his chemotherapy was so severe Maria had decided on the morning of March 3 to put him out of his suffering.

He died before she got to the clinic.

``Up to the day he died, we still thought he was going to come out of it,'' she said.

At 100 pounds, Kobi was a big bear of a dog who loved retrieving his ball from the water, tossing a piece of rawhide in the air and then pouncing on it.

He also loved massages and riding in the car, with his head hanging out and his ears flapping in the wind.

At night, he loved sleeping with Maria and her boyfriend, resting his chin on their legs. But he refused to climb onto the bed until they had cleared off anything that might have been on ``his'' blanket.

He was tapped for the cancer detection study by the man who trained the dogs for the research. He owned the doggy day care center where Kobi stayed while Maria was at work.

A year after his training, Kobi made some spontaneous cancer detections. On a trip to Los Angeles, he barked incessantly at the mother of Maria's sister-in-law, who was dying from ovarian cancer. He did the same thing with a few strangers at various dog parks.

``We never had the courage to tell the person about Kobi's ability,'' Maria said. ``It was a moral dilemma.''

When news of the study broke, ``Kobi was nervous at first with all the cameras, lights and fuzzy boom mikes pointed in his direction,'' Maria said.

``But then he became a pro: posing for pictures, detecting the samples at a 100 percent accuracy rate and just being adorable for the camera. Kobi was a natural-born star.''

His cancer was detected after he developed a cough. The first week of chemotherapy went well; complication after complication developed during the second week.

Kobi is buried at Bubbling Well Pet Memorial Park in Napa in an ``open meadow where he can run free.'' He died so young, but his star will shine for a long, long time.

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