The weird behavior started the spring of 2004, when Debbie Marvit-McGlothlin, 29, a nurse living in Pittsburgh , was three months pregnant with her first child. She and her husband, John, a counselor, were so excited about the baby they talked of little else.
Little except for Autumn, their two year-old shepherd mix. The dog had taken to licking Debbie's leg incessantly. Even more odd, Autumn had never been a “mouthy dog, the type to show its love with incessant licks and slurps. “Autumn, stop already,” Debbie had taken to scolding.But instead of stopping, Autumn stepped it up. Debbie would curl up on the couch for an afternoon nap and awaken to find her dog licking her again. It was always the same leg-her left-and it was always the same spot-the back of her thigh.
When Debbie examined the spot, she found a small mole, about the size of the cap of a ballpoint pen. She had tons of moles and this one did not seem remarkable. But Autumn would not leave her alone. Was there something amiss with the mole? Oh, it was too silly to even think about.
But after Autumn graduated from licking to scratching and even biting at the spot, Debbie decided to go to her doctor. Her dog had been acting strange for four months.
When she told her doctor the story, he listened politely but was clearly not a believer in doggie diagnostics. Purely to placate her, he agreed to remove the mole and biopsy it.
When the test results came back, he delivered devastating new: Debbie had malignant melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.
Autumn had been right all along. Maybe Debbie and her doctor ought not to have been so skeptical. A recent groundbreaking British study substantiated the uncanny ability of some canines to detect cancer. In the study, a group of dogs correctly selected urine samples from patients with bladder cancer 41 percent of the time, compared with 14 percent by chance alone. How these dogs are able to do this is not known. A dog's sense of smell is generally thought to be 10,000 to 100,000 times better than a human's, so perhaps the dogs were able to detect abnormal proteins or other substances unique to cancerous cells.
Two weeks after her diagnosis, Debbie underwent surgery to remove a large patch of skin surrounding the mole. At this point, she was six months pregnant and couldn't bear to imagine what would happen to her baby if her body were ravaged with cancer.
ut thanks to Autumn, the cancer was caught so early it had not spread. As for Autumn, the strange licking is over and she's a regular pooch again. “I don't know why I didn't listen to Autumn from the beginning” Debbie says “I didn't want to sound weird or crazy. If there's a lesson in all of this, it's that people should do more than love their pets. They should have faith in them, too.”