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Would You Do this for your Furry Friend!?!?!?!?


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Jerry's legacy

Jennifer Morey/The Times-Standard

Posted: 02/08/2009 01:30:45 AM PST

Click photo to enlarge«1»Many of us feel our pets are members of the family. We refer to them as our fur-bearing children and would do almost anything for them. But would you sell your house, business and most of your possessions, buy an RV and hit the road because your dog had cancer and you wanted to give him the adventure of a lifetime?

That's what Rene Agredano and Jim Nelson did in 2007, after their beloved dog, Jerry, lost a front leg to bone cancer. The threesome, or Jerry's “pack” as the couple calls it, were longtime residents of Humboldt County before they adopted their mobile lifestyle.

The story of Jerry, Rene and Jim is one of the highlights of next Sunday's episode of “Nature” on PBS. Titled “Why We Love Cats and Dogs,” the film explores humankinds' fascination -- infatuation, the program calls it -- with our (mostly) four-legged, (mostly) furry canine and feline friends.

”This is a different kind of 'Nature' film,” said Executive Producer Fred Kaufman in a press release about the show. “We combine a more verité style of filmmaking with in-studio pet owner interviews, and the result is a gamut of stories that are insightful, heartwarming and funny.”

For Rene, Jim and Jerry, the verité style meant the producers traveled to meet the pack in order to film Jerry in action, being his doggie self and enjoying the family's cross-country trek.

”PBS contacted us in March 2008, while we were




visiting family in Los Angeles,” wrote Agredano in an e-mail interview from the Salton Sea in Southern California, where no cell phone service was available. (Their RV is equipped with a satellite communication system to connect to the Internet.)

”We had just discovered that the cancer had come back in Jerry's lungs, and were en route to see the oncologist in Santa Fe, New Mexico, (which was going to be our home base for a couple of months while we worked at a resort),” she wrote. “PBS contacted us on a Saturday, and the following Thursday they met us in New Mexico and filmed us for three days, including our first visit to Jerry's oncologist. Their crew filmed us hiking in Albuquerque, Santa Fe and on the road in little nearby towns. They even strapped a cameraman to the back of our pickup truck! They really wanted to show our life as it was: traveling, hiking and enjoying our time with Jerry, which we think they captured perfectly.”

On their travels, the pack met many people who were fascinated by the three-legged dog, and the PBS crew captured some of those encounters on film as well.

”They documented us walking around the old plaza in Santa Fe, sharing Jerry's story with strangers,” said Nelson.

Nelson, 42, and Agredano, 39, are both California natives. He grew up in Petaluma, she in Los Angeles, and they met in 1995 when they both lived in San Francisco. They married two years later and moved to Eureka in 1998, launching a graphics shop that they ran out of their home for nine years.

Shortly after moving here, they visited the Sequoia Humane Society and adopted 6-month-old Jerry, who looks like a purebred German shepherd but Agredano said probably was a mix of shepherd and border collie as he “certainly had the energy of a border collie.”

The way she describes their first encounter with Jerry might strike a familiar note with many pet owners:

”Jerry was the only dog in their kennel who had torn up every toy inside, even a laundry basket! We said 'We want that one!' When he went outside to meet us, he jumped up on Jim's lap and gave him a big kiss. It was love at first sight. We knew right then we were meant to be together.”

For years, the couple had planned to travel across the United States with Jerry. But life and work being what they are, the trip was put off.

”Ever since we started our business, our number one goal was to sell it,” Agredano wrote. “We had been working toward that goal since 1998, but it wasn't until Jerry got sick that we realized ... we still weren't as close as we wanted to be to that goal.”

A combination of events put the gears in motion to make the leap. They lost a good friend to cancer, watched their peers' lives go by and began to realize that a lot of their friends' dreams were going unfulfilled. They were just too busy and got caught up in “the daily grind, debt, mortgages ...,” Agredano said.

”We turned around and noticed 10 years had gone by,” said Nelson.

In September 2006, they had just returned from a short trip when Jerry started limping. His vet prescribed arthritis drugs, but each time they stopped the drugs, the limp returned.

After spending several fruitless months trying to obtain a diagnosis, a local veterinarian recommended taking Jerry to an ortho- pedic doctor at the University of California, Davis' Veterinary Teaching Hospital.

They soon learned he had osteosarcoma.

”He hid his pain well, for too long,” said Nelson. “By the time specialists diagnosed the osteosarcoma ... the tumor in his scapula was the size of a mango.”

Jerry's leg was amputated four days later, yet even though they got the whole tumor, the doctors still only gave him a few months to live, because osteosarcoma inevitably metastasizes as lung tumors. Even with amputation and chemotherapy, it always comes back.

At first, they opted not to put Jerry through chemo, wanting instead for him to enjoy the time he had left rather than having his last days filled with doctor appointments and drugs. That was in November 2006.

”We kept asking ourselves: 'Who were we going to do it for, him or us?'” Agredano said.

So, they put him on some anti-cancer supplements, changed his diet and hoped for the best. At the time, his lung X-rays were clear. They began to “put plans in motion to travel as a pack,” Nelson said.

”We budgeted for a year on the road, and quickly determined there was no way to see the U.S. and find our next calling in such a short time,” he said.

They extended their travels by “workamping” -- working part time in exchange for an RV site with hookups. They spent last summer on a ranch in Colorado, and have also worked at an organic farm, a resort and an animal rescue -- all things they have considered doing as a business later on.

As for Jerry, like many three-legged dogs and cats he was the quintessential trooper, equipped with a Ruffwear Webmaster harness.

”It's traditionally used for search-and-rescue dogs, but we found it to be a huge help with helping Jerry get around, navigate slippery floors and help him out of awkward positions when he was lying down,” said Agredano.

In their travel photographs, Jerry appears quite comfortable with the apparatus, and poses obligingly in scenic locales like the Devil's Tower Monument in Wyoming (scene of the alien rendezvous in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”) and the shores of Lake Ontario in Canada.

Many other photos of Jerry are shared with the public through Jerry's blog at www.tripawds.com. The blog started out as Jerry's personal journal (with occasional entries by his “pawrents”).

”Waiting in a hotel near UC Davis while Jerry underwent surgery, we started a little Web site to keep friends and family informed,” said Nelson. “I came up with the term 'tripawds' after hearing three-legged dogs referred to as tripod dogs.”

Soon other dog owners in similar situations found the site and the support they had been seeking. Nelson and Agredano then made it their mission to create a resource for information about amputation for dogs with cancer.

Sixteen months after Jerry's amputation, X-rays revealed masses in his lungs. Around the same time, the PBS producer heard about Jerry. Nelson and Agredano had done some research on chemotherapy and found an oncologist in Santa Fe using something called “metronomic therapy” on dogs. The PBS producer met them in Santa Fe and filmed them at their first oncology visit.

”This chemotherapy is so simple, it's incredible,” said Agredano. “Jerry got a chemo pill every other day, along with an antibiotic and non-steroidal arthritis drug, both of which are shown to have anti-tumor growth properties to them. Not enough oncologists are using this method, though. We wish more were.”

As full-time RVers, the method worked well for them, and they updated Jerry's blog with regular reports. Last year they added discussion forums, and the Tripawds community now has more than 400 registered members, with more joining daily. Judging from the feedback and the thousands of comments posted to the blog over the last two years, Tripawds has proved to be a valuable resource to those needing quick answers and information about canine cancer and amputation.

And no doubt it has also provided some degree of solace to Agredano and Nelson since last October, when it became clear Jerry was losing his battle with cancer. The chemotherapy had given him seven months before the tumors grew to the point that his quality of life suffered. It was time.

”We released him under the great big Montana sky,” said Agredano.

The date they released Jerry from his broken body was deliberately chosen: Oct. 3, the Feast of Saint Francis, the patron saint of animals. Jerry had just had his 10th birthday, after spending his last months on a Colorado ranch and his last days exploring Grand Tetons and Yellowstone national parks.

”When Jerry passed away, Tripawds.com members immediately asked if we would keep the Web site going,” said Nelson. “We quickly determined it was Jerry's legacy, and we now have a mission to maintain this platform for the discussion of cancer in dogs and amputation as a viable solution for extending their quality of life.”

Through the blog and discussion forums at Tripawds.com, Nelson and Agredano hope to spread Jerry's motto: “It's better to hop on three legs than to limp on four.”

It's natural to ask, and perhaps even to assume, that they will eventually get another dog. Will it be a tripawd? You bet.

”After seeing how awesome three-legged dogs are, and how they inspire other humans, our next one will definitely be a tripawd!” wrote Agredano in an e-mail.

They're hoping to eventually buy a piece of land in Colorado where, she said, they can “spread his ashes over the land he loved.”

”Why We Love Cats and Dogs” will be broadcast on the local PBS affiliate, KEET Channel 13, next Sunday (Feb. 15) at 8 p.m. (It will be rebroadcast several times, so check listings as KEET currently has three channels operating.) To contact Jim Nelson and Rene Agredano, visit http://www.tripawds.com or their travel blog, http://LiveWorkDream.com, which explores the full-time RV lifestyle while taking a long sabbatical.

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