July 06, 2021


Close up of Sugar the Bulldog


People usually pick their pets, but that wasn’t the case with Stephen and his American Bulldog, Sugar.

Six years ago, Stephen’s family welcomed a litter of six puppies. Stephen planned to choose one puppy to keep, and find new homes for the others. “A couple came over to pick one of the pups, and they asked which, if any, had established itself as an alpha,” says Stephen. “At that point none of them had, but that night Sugar claimed the title. She sat at my feet, pushing her siblings away to keep me for herself. That’s when I knew Sugar was staying, and she has been sleeping with me since she was four months old—she picked me.”

When Sugar was five and a half, Stephen noticed that she had gained some weight. He touched her stomach and found that it was hard and bloated. Something didn’t feel right. That night he rushed her to his local animal emergency hospital in Massachusetts.

After nearly two weeks, it was determined that Sugar had a substantial blood clot in her vena cava, along with a tumor sitting on her adrenal gland. The staff at the hospital were not able to provide the advanced care that Sugar needed, and the team at a nearby specialty hospital suggested that Stephen let nature take its course.

For Stephen, letting go of Sugar was not an option. He received a referral to the Animal Medical Center and spoke at length with Dr. Chick Weisse, Head of Interventional Radiology, as well as several members of his staff, whereupon Stephen decided to take Sugar to New York for a consultation.

“I interrogated Dr. Weisse for 15 minutes,” says Stephen. “I wanted to know how good he was.”

Dr. Weisse assured Stephen that removing the tumor and blood clot was possible, and that he had the surgical team in place that would allow Sugar to return home healthy, and live a normal life. This team included not just AMC’s veterinarians, but also involved two liver surgeons, a vascular surgeon, an interventional radiologist, and a physician assistant from nearby human hospitals.

Stephen agreed, and Sugar was prepped for surgery to remove both the tumor and blood clot in one intricate procedure.

Together, the team of veterinary and human medical professionals worked swiftly and purposefully to remove the adrenal tumor and the blood clot in Sugar’s vena cava. “While the procedure was complicated, I believe we had the best surgical team in the country operating on Sugar,” says Dr. Weisse. AMC is unique, in that it routinely partners with human medical professionals and shares knowledge that benefits both human and animal patients. Thanks in large part to this collaborative approach, Sugar’s surgery was a success.

Because of Sugar’s blood clot, she was taking anti-coagulants, which contributed to tremendous blood loss during surgery. Multiple transfusions were required to keep her alive, and even post-surgery, in the ICU, she needed additional transfusions. But Sugar is one tough cookie.

Throughout her stay, Stephen would visit with Sugar a few times a day, each day. “The AMC staff were great; they would make sure we always had a blanket to sit on and would check to see if Sugar was ready to go back to the ICU,” says Stephen. “I knew she was getting better, because as each day passed on she was more and more resistant to going back to the ICU; the first few days she would go back voluntarily—after that, she clearly was saying ‘No, no, no!’”

Five days later, Sugar returned home with Stephen as promised, reclaiming her spot on the bed.

Every spring, the Animal Medical Center celebrates three Living Legends: animal patients whose lives were saved by the veterinarians and staff of AMC. In 2017, thanks to our generous donors, Sugar was one of the patients honored as a Living Legend.

You could be the reason we celebrate a Living Legend in the future. Consider a donation to the Animal Medical Center today.

Sugar the dog on a leash by her owner
Sugar the dog smiling and looking happy in a hallway
Sugar the dog on a leash getting pet
Sugar the dog standing with her owner and AMC staff being honored as a living legend
Sugar the dog