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2013-05-15 / Columnists

Pets pets pets

The Animal Medical Center (better known as “The AMC”) located on East 62nd Street in NYC is a non-profit veterinary institution that has been a national leader in animal care, education and research for over a century. On May 7, the AMC hosted their fifth annual “Living Legends” luncheon at the Harmonie Club, blocks from the hospital.

The event honors pet patients who have survived overwhelming crises, thanks to the cutting-edge technology and highly skilled teamwork at the world-renowned facility. Three seniors- “Isabella” the Dachshund, “Magik” the cat and astounding “Pauli” the Guide Dog- were this year’s guests of honor, introduced by the dermatologist and oncologists responsible for their miraculous care. The AMC treats over 40,000 cases each year with a staff of 80+ veterinarians who utilize an interdisciplinary approach in more than 25 key specialties and services 24 hours a day, every day of the year.


“Pauli” the Guide Dog with his best pals Tom Raibaldi and Dr. Nicole Leibman. “Pauli” the Guide Dog with his best pals Tom Raibaldi and Dr. Nicole Leibman. “Isabella”: Just before her third birthday, this cherished Doxie was losing her hair. Soon her upper body was nearly bald. When Isabella’s vet could not pinpoint the cause, she was referred to Dr. Mark Macina, head of the AMC dermatology department who determined that Isabella had follicular dysplasia, a genetic condition (seen in her breed) where the hair follicles develop abnormally. He prescribed retinol, melatonin, a special shampoo plus topical and external circulation enhancers, and soon her hair slowly grew back. After nine years of treatment, she no longer needed her medication. Now 15 years old, Isabella glowed while showing off her luxurious hair at the luncheon.

“Magik”: This amazing cat was the sole survivor in a litter of eight kittens. As an older adult, she was diagnosed with breast cancer by Dr. Nicole Leibman, head of the AMC oncology service. Magik underwent a complete mastectomy and then chemotherapy every three weeks. She was cancer-free in four months. The following year an x-ray revealed the cancer was back and had spread to her lungs. Despite a grim prognosis, Dr. Leibman and Dr. Valerie Wiles recommended treating Magik with a targeted chemo drug called Palladia. Two years later at 15 years old, Magik is still enjoying her golden years with her loving family.

“Pauli”: Just what is the special “Secretariat” something about Pauli that makes him so in tune with his companion Tom, as well as a longtime survivor, years beyond medical expectations?

Tom Raibaldi of Staten Island has owned two incredible guide dogs from the Guide Dog Foundation in Smithtown- Pauli a 12-year-old Lab, defying all odds in his battle against lymphoma; and his predecessor, Sporty, who anticipated and protected Tom by pulling him on the grass prior to a seizure, long before seizure-alert dogs were trained service dogs.

For over 10 years now, effervescent Pauli followed in Sporty’s paw prints, sensing danger in the nick of time. He’s refused the beckoning of a crossing guard; also stubbornly stopped in a NYC intersection when given the “Forward” command, as cars sped out of nowhere. He pulled Tom away from a telephone pole as a black box was about to fall. Pauli just knew.

When Tom was a toddler, he was bitten by an insect while visiting relatives in Southampton. After six months in a coma, he awoke blind and paralyzed. Over time he regained some mobility but not enough feeling to read Braille. Reading was very difficult for him despite years in schools for the visually impaired. At age 18 a wonderful tutor taught Tom to read large print books, and made a GED possible several years later. Pauli accompanied Tom during eight years at York College, and wore a matching cap and gown when Tom graduated. He’s nothing short of a guardian angel.

In 2006 when Pauli was only five, Tom’s mother noticed his eyes were a little red. This seemingly harmless symptom led them to Dr. Leibman at the AMC and a shocking diagnosis of Stage 5 Lymphoma with a prognosis of three months without treatment; approximately one year with chemo. Tom opted for chemo to forestall the inevitable.

Thanks to the Frank V. D. Lloyd Fund for Guide Dogs established at the AMC in 1960, Pauli was provided with free veterinary care. (The late Mr. Lloyd, a NJ litigator and philanthropist, was on the Board of Trustees at The AMC and many other charities. This AMC fund gladly accepts donations.)

Pauli began visiting the AMC weekly for chemo. He responded well, and achieved complete remission in one week. He completed a common standard of care chemo protocol six months later. Pauli’s been in remission now six years-possibly a canine cancer record.

“More malignant quickly dividing cells respond more quickly to chemotherapy.

Low-grade malignancies tend to not respond as well to chemo but these also tend to be slow-growing cancers and animals can live longer with even no treatment.

Pauli’s case is the longest remission since I have been at the Animal Medical Center,” said Dr. Leibman who joined the AMC staff in 2001.

So what factors may have contributed to Pauli’s remarkable remission? Could it be his bubbly temperament? Does attitude play a part in recovery? Pauli readily greeted his admirers at the luncheon. Tom jokes that Dr. Leibman calls Pauli that “crazy guide dog” because he happily bounded into chemo and follow-up appointments whereas many other dogs become apprehensive.

Or might there be a tad of divine intervention combined with good fortune, chemo and AMC expertise? After Tom’s son Michael was born five years ago, the Raibaldi’s visited their parish to set a christening date. Tom mentioned Pauli’s cancer to the priest who listened intently, held onto Pauli and prayed over him for 10 minutes, finally uttering, “Pauli’s gonna be fine.” Perhaps he knew the good padre St. Francis of Assisi roots for AMC “Living Legends” too.

For Adoption at Babylon Town Shelter (631-643-9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon: Our shelter dogs and cats need a different type of miracle- a permanent, loving home. “Captain” #13-257 (seen in the tub) is a clean, lean, lovable machine, only about six months old. “Babs” #3-126, a precious tortie was abandoned at a Babylon apartment. Dogs: “Enzo” #13-137 Cane Corso; f. Maltese #13-249; m. Yorkie with a heart murmur; “Chanel” #13-39 smiling Pit. Cats: “Bobby” friendly senior; “Stewie” #3-141 handsome; “Tigger” #3-122 orange Adonis.

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