Thomas Cromwell would have been two years old this year.
Along with Millie, 10, and Buttermilk, 3, Thomas was one of Jan White’s cherished Great Pyrenees. Sadly, in spring 2018, he passed away from a strange disease. White calls it “swamp cancer,” but it goes by another name.
White cares for a number of animals on her property, including horses and a miniature donkey. Her dogs ordinarily roam free, but because of Thomas’ unexpected passing, White is on high alert.
“They stay outside most of the day,” White told FOX 10 about her dogs. “They eat things out of the pasture they shouldn’t eat, sticks, pecans.”
Before 2018, White had never heard of pythiosis, or any other rare tropical diseases, for that matter, on her farm. Few have, which is why the disease is often called swamp cancer.
In fact, White’s veterinarian, Dr. Stuart Rackley at the Auburn Animal Hospital, has only diagnosed two cases of pythiosis in the last two years.
“A lot of times, it’s not good to let your dogs swim or drink out of nasty water sources,” Rackley said. “But, if they’re active, or hunting dogs or they’re out on farms, things like that, you don’t have control of that.”
Spores from the mold may enter into an animal’s bloodstream through cuts or scrapes, or through the nose or mouth. Hours later, the first symptoms may set in: vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, swollen lymph nodes, fever, and abdominal pain.
The sooner pythiosis is diagnosed, the sooner and more successfully it can be treated. Unfortunately for Thomas, a little vomiting didn’t seem like an emergency to White, as her dog had been out exploring countless times in the past, more than once regurgitating something on her floor.
When Thomas kept throwing up, White decided to take him to see Dr. Rackley. An initial x-ray showed little cause for concern, and White and Thomas were sent home.
Just days later, it got worse. Much worse.
“They said, ‘There is no hope,'” White said. “I said, ‘Don’t even let him wake up. Just go ahead and put him down.’
“His stomach walls were 8-inches thick from that pythiosis.”
Originating from a waterborne mold, pythiosis is more commonly found in tropical climates, but a humid winter and spring has seemingly cleared the way for it to thrive in inland Georgia.
“We’ve had a couple of wet years here,” Dr. Rackley says. “This is year is really wet, and last year was wet, too.”
White misses Thomas Cromwell every day, but she also wants others to know how he died. Her hope is that others will never have to face the same tragedy.
“This morning, I was going through my camera, and I had to call my husband,” White says. “I was just in tears. He was just one of those dogs. He was so special.”
Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, going to the dog park, spending time with his daughter, and coffee.
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