Early in the morning of March 6, 2021, Aleksa Fortuna’s beloved Greyhound, Effie, began to pant and pace. Her breathing was labored, and she cried out in pain as her back legs struggled to support her weight. In a few short minutes, she could no longer stand without Aleksa’s help. Panicked, Aleksa carried her 80lb dog to her car and raced to a nearby emergency veterinary clinic.
There, the veterinary team got Effie out of the car and onto a gurney, rushing her inside to find the cause of her collapse. (Aleksa had to wait in her car due to Covid-19 protocols.) The veterinarian came out a short time later to deliver the bad news; Effie had hemangiosarcoma. A tumor on her heart had burst and she was bleeding internally; she was struggling to breathe. The veterinarian recommended euthanasia.
Hemangiosarcoma is an aggressive, fatal, and common cancer in dogs. It can develop in any tissue or organ, but most commonly affects the spleen, right atrium of the heart, and the skin. It is often called the “silent killer” because the tumors are often not detected until the later stages of the disease, and even dogs harboring large tumors may show no clinical signs or evidence that they have a life threatening disease.
Stunned, and with tears streaming down her face, Aleksa agreed that euthanasia was the best and only option to end Effie’s suffering. As the veterinarian went back inside the clinic, Aleksa sobbed as she struggled to accept what was happening to her beloved Effie. Later, she would drive home with an empty collar and leash, which underscored her loss.
In the days after losing Effie, Aleksa started looking for ways to support research into hemangiosarcoma, which led her to the AKC Canine Health Foundation (CHF). Since 1995, CHF and its donors have invested over $4.1 million in 29 grants to understand the mechanisms and causes of hemangiosarcoma, while also developing new treatment targets and tools for early diagnosis.
Aleksa did more than look into this dreadful disease--she decided she would raise funds for more research. Here, she discusses her efforts with the AKC Canine Health Foundation.
CHF: How has the loss of Effie motivated you to support canine health research?
Aleksa: The sudden loss of Effie made me feel helpless. Up until that horrible morning, I’d always worked to make sure she was happy and healthy, and to keep her safe as we navigated life together. Then suddenly, I was faced with the really tough decision to euthanize her. I couldn’t save her from hemangiosarcoma. That’s what prompted my search for ways to help other dogs and owners, so they’d hopefully not have to go through this traumatic experience. I knew supporting canine cancer research was the best way for me to get us closer to preventive and diagnostic measures. So, I started a GoFundMe fundraiser to support CHF’s Hemangiosarcoma Research Initiative in Effie’s honor. I also teamed up with my bakery business, Aleksa Breeze Bakery (@BreezeBaking on Instagram), to generate further donations. We recently met our $2,500 goal thanks to the generous support of friends, family, and strangers who empathized with Effie’s traumatic experience.
CHF: Have you encountered other people who have had dogs affected by hemangiosarcoma?
Aleksa: I have met countless other people whose dogs died of this killer cancer. I was honestly shocked by the number of people who have reached out to me on social media after I posted Effie’s story on Instagram (@GreyhoundEffie), telling me about how their dog had passed away from the same cancer, and how awful the news and experience was.
CHF: When you started your fundraiser, what did you hope to accomplish?
Aleksa: I hoped to be able to make a true impact on hemangiosarcoma research. To help further this research, I decided that financial support was my best option while using Effie’s story to bring more awareness of this terrible disease. Awareness has helped me educate some pet owners and connect with many others, while fundraising has helped me be a part of moving hemangiosarcoma research forward. Fundraising is where I can make the biggest impact for future dogs, so that’s where I put 100% of my efforts.
CHF: Have the results surprised you?
Aleksa: I was initially surprised by how many people were willing to support my cause through sharing my experience with Effie. I had no idea how many others would connect to her story. I was surprised and overwhelmed by the amount of support I received through my bakery orders to help fund donations. It has been a surprising and rewarding experience of love and support to help with fundraising efforts.
CHF: What are your hopes for the future?
Aleksa: I hope to continue spreading awareness about hemangiosarcoma and fundraising to help protect future dogs from this awful cancer. It is my lifelong goal to help CHF fund hemangiosarcoma research that will eventually lead to early diagnosis, and hopefully, a cure. I couldn’t save Effie, but I hope to help save other dogs.
Learn more and support hemangiosarcoma research at akcchf.org/hemangiosarcoma.
Help Future Generations of Dogs
Participate in canine health research by providing samples or by enrolling in a clinical trial. Samples are needed from healthy dogs and dogs affected by specific diseases.