Skarlet the therapy dog was ready to deliver a basketful of Valentine's Day cards on Feb. 14 to patients at Community Regional Cancer Center in northeast Fresno.
But the golden retriever never got the chance.
After coughing up blood at home, she visited the veterinarian, who diagnosed her with rapid-growing cancer in both lungs. Ten days later, handler/owner Pam Kennedy mercifully put Skarlet down.
Skarlet had been the subject of a Bee story Jan. 18 for making the rounds with Kennedy at the center on Wednesday mornings an act that brought a sense of joy to patients at difficult times in their lives. Skarlet would've been 5 on April 15.
Kennedy, a retired school teacher and curriculum coordinator with Sanger Unified School District, says it is ironic that Skarlet died of cancer. Skarlet's mother, Sparkle, was also a therapy dog who died of spleen and liver cancer in October 2011.
"People say, 'You must've seen it coming' with Skarlet," says Kennedy, adding that a trip to the vet nine months previously had shown Skarlet with clear lungs. "There was nothing."
Kennedy has started taking Skarlet's brother, Yankee, age 3 1/2, to the cancer center, mainly to help her get through the pain of losing Skarlet. Yankee still needs weeks of training before he is registered as a therapy dog.
According to the Morris Animal Foundation, one in four golden retrievers over the age of 2 dies from cancer. The foundation is conducting a study to try to get some answers.
Kennedy has signed up Yankee to be part of the study.
"Whatever this cancer was, was fast-going," Kennedy says. "I miss her.
"I don't know if I can spin a positive on cancer. I feel it is the devil walking on Earth. I know my two girls gave a lot of comfort and distraction to patients from what they were dealing with."
The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6304, email@example.com or @ronorozco_bee on Twitter.