Matt Rose and his adventurous dog Barlow faced the news no one ever wants to hear: Cancer. Through their shared desire to continue getting outside and making the most of their remaining time together, Matt created an app to store Barlow’s medical records, so he’d have them on hand in case of emergency. Below is their story. Thanks for sharing, Matt!
The veterinarian mentioned the word my wife and I feared the most. Cancer. We knew Barlow, our 10 year-old Newfoundland/Retriever mix, was having some kind of intestinal issue, but we didn’t think it was cancer. This was a dog that 6 months before had run to the top of a 14 thousand foot peak in Colorado, and just that morning had nearly pulled my arm off trying to chase a cat down the street.
A high-grade spindle cell sarcoma to be specific. But there was hope, and on the advice of our vet we opted for surgery. Barlow was still in his prime and was not ready to say goodbye. Plus, we had just moved to Los Angeles from Colorado so I could attend graduate school at UCLA, and had spent the car ride plotting all our adventures in our new state.
After a few weeks of recovery, we were back out exploring. First the hills around LA, then the San Gabriels, and later the Sierras. Barlow was doing great, and we tried to to convince ourselves that he was cured, and back to being an unstoppable, cat-chasing, mountain-climbing, snow-loving monster.
His independence and his insatiable thirst for peanut butter returned. When we went to a park, he would again placate me by dutifully catching a few Frisbees before losing interest, then running off to sniff the nearest dog’s butt. When we hiked, he still took off looking for water when he felt like it, and would typically return sopping wet. Usually we would encounter hikers who had seen him streaking through the woods and say, “oh, thank god…. we thought that was a bear.”
But in the back of our minds concern lingered, and we found ourselves analyzing his every action. Was he lazier than normal this morning? Did he finish every last piece of kibble? Did he pee too many times on that walk?
Almost a year passed before we saw the signs again. Loose stool. Urinary-tract infections. The vets confirmed it. Cancer again, but this too was operable.
Within a few days of the surgery Barlow was back at home, but he had lost a step. A neighborhood cat would still send him into a frenzy, but he slept longer and didn’t initiate play as often. We knew we didn’t have long, so we decided to spend as much time outdoors as we could, and we would let Barlow set the pace. We even picked up a Ruffwear Web Master Pro harness in case he needed a boost over a log or up some steps.
Whenever we left the apartment with him, I was concerned about having to make an emergency vet visit and not having Barlow’s records with us. His medication and care instructions were overwhelming, and I was terrified of showing up at a vet ER without all that information. I knew carrying his paper file with us everywhere was unrealistic, and unfortunately our vet didn’t offer a way to access his records online.
So I stared building a mobile app with our vet and some classmates that would allow us to scan and keep Barlow’s health documents and medication information on my phone by simply snapping photos of the documents. We enabled the app with character recognition software, so any printed word in the photo of the document was immediately searchable and could be instantly located.
Over the next six months we had one last adventure to the Sierras, and several more to the San Gabriels before Barlow let us know it was time.
In the difficult months after Barlow passed, my wife found an abandoned puppy in LA, who we took in and named Eddie (after Eddie Vedder). Eddie, a toy breed terrier, was wearing a little pink collar when my wife found him…same as Barlow had the day I brought him home from the shelter. We both feel as though Barlow sent Eddie to keep us company.
Over the past year we have continued to work on the app, which we call Petsnap!!!. The app is free in the Apple App Store, and we’re working on an Android version. Our hope is that having anytime access to a pet’s records and medical history will offer other owners the same peace of mind we sought while we were out exploring the mountains with Barlow.
P.S. Eddie, who is unaware he only weighs 10 lbs, climbed his first 14er this year (but fell asleep in my backpack on the way down).
To get in touch with Matt, especially to give feedback on the app or to be a beta tester for the Android app, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.