TAMPA, Fla. – For years, Gary Fritts and his therapy dog, Bella, have been helping the Clearwater community by visiting libraries and encouraging children to read.
Now, after Bella was diagnosed with soft tissue sarcoma, the community is repaying the favor.
Earlier this year, doctors from BluePearl Veterinary Partners hospital removed the cancerous mass from between Bella’s shoulder and spine, which required amputation of her left front leg. She’s currently undergoing radiation therapy with Dr. Curtis Kane of BluePearl.
To thank Fritts and Bella for their service, the Sara F. Gassman Foundation is stepping in to help defray the cost of treatment.
“It’s really amazing to watch when Gary and Bella visit the library,” said Marcia Gassman, one of the fund’s trustees. “The kids are always so excited to see her. It makes it so much more fun when they know they’ll be reading to a dog.”
Fritts and Bella visit the East Library in Clearwater once a month as part of the Doggone Reading Program, which benefits children who have difficulty reading by motivating them to practice by reading to trained therapy dogs. The program is administered by the Paws for Friendship organization.
Fritts and Bella also visit the Beach Library every Wednesday afternoon with Fritts’ wife, Linda, and her miniature Labradoodle, Rico. In addition, the couple regularly take their dogs to local nursing homes.
Gary Fritts said he was overwhelmed when he learned the foundation would be helping to pay for Bella’s cancer treatment.
“I just didn’t know what to say,” he said. “It was almost too much to take in.”
Kane said Bella, a 6-year-old Chinese crested powderpuff, is responding well to her treatment. Unlike humans, dogs experience few side effects from
cancer therapy. In fact, many dogs – including Bella – look forward to radiation.
“Dogs are social animals,” Kane said. “They enjoy the car ride and they love meeting other people and other dogs.”
As a specialty and emergency hospital, BluePearl has the technology necessary to diagnose and treat cancer, as well as doctors with years of advanced training in oncology.
Despite missing a leg, Bella is already back to her old self – visiting libraries and providing children with a sympathetic ear.
“She’s really a natural,” Linda Fritts said. “All of the children just love her.”