A ‘Ronald McDonald’ house for the four-legged

Tuesday, May 17, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 1:49 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

Marilyn Gaffney’s quest to help her ailing dog Ricci took her halfway across the state, from her home in St. Louis to treatment facilities in Columbia. For a month, she would make that trip twice a week.

Ricci’s veterinarians in St. Louis weren’t sure what was wrong with her, so they referred Gaffney to MU’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital.

There she found a “team of wizards,” as she calls them, who found a tumor on Ricci’s brain.

Since then, Gaffney has worked as the St. Louis fundraising coordinator for Barkley House. Similar to a Ronald McDonald House, where families stay while their sick children are hospitalized or treated, Barkley House would house sick pets and their owners while the animals receive care.

Creating Barkley House is also a focus for Carolyn Henry, associate professor of veterinary oncology. Her idea for Barkley House came about when Sally Truscheit drove her Great Pyrenees “Barkley” daily from Kansas City for treatment at MU. When Truscheit was injured, she had no way to stay with him near the hospital.

“Some owners would drive to Columbia daily, from as far as St. Louis or Kansas City,” Henry said.

Gaffney said she would have been devastated if she had been forced to leave Ricci in the hospital kennel for four weeks of radiation therapy in 2000 and again in 2002.

During those two months of treatment, Gaffney began each Monday telling Ricci, “We’re off to see the wizards.” She left the dog in Columbia until Thursday, after Ricci’s radiation treatment was completed. They spent Thursday nights in a hotel and went back for more treatment on Friday mornings. Then, they packed up to go back to St. Louis for the weekend.

“I don’t have children,” Gaffney said. “They (the dogs) are family members.”

She adopted Ricci as a retired greyhound racer, so she had been in a kennel situation before — which made it a little easier on both dog and owner.

“This was the only reason I could leave her in the kennel for four days a week,” Gaffney said. “If it had been Daisy, our Dalmation, we would have had to euthanize her. The stress (of being kenneled) would have been too much for her.”

Treatments and time away from home are not only difficult on the animals, but also on their humans.

“I remember Carolyn telling me it would be harder on us than on the dog. It is different than (making a decision with) a person that has their own input,” Gaffney said. “It was very lonely traveling alone with a sick dog. A lot of people would say, ‘Why don’t you just get another dog?’ It would have been nice to be able to be near people who understood my craziness.”

Land is being held to build Barkley House near MU’s vet hospital, on the east side of campus, so animals with more critical conditions could easily get there in an emergency, Henry said. It would also provide an opportunity for the veterinary students to have more interaction with clients, allowing them to develop better personal and communication skills, she said.

Barkley House would have separate bedrooms, a commons area, individual access to the outside and linoleum floors, for those animals whose illness makes them prone to accidents.

The project is estimated to cost nearly $2 million. So far, $99,000 has been raised from individuals and businesses. Another $400,000 has been promised through estate gifts.

Henry said staying at Barkley House would probably cost less than a hotel.

“For many people it would be the difference between euthanasia and treatment,” Gaffney said.”

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