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Hero dog takes a victory lap, thanks to expert treatment for cancer

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Buzz is a highly trained Labrador retriever who has spent years helping Michigan law enforcement officers with important search and recovery work. Now, as he undergoes treatment for a life-threatening disease, Buzz is taking a kind of victory lap through southwestern Michigan, visiting some of the same officers he has helped over the years.

“I am using the time we have to communicate with people whom he knew in the past — it’s a bucket list kind of thing,” said Sue Stejskal, who is Buzz’s owner and handler.

Buzz, who is 9, is receiving expert care for lymphoma at the BluePearl Veterinary Partners hospital in Grand Rapids.

As a recovery dog, Buzz is an expert at searching for bodies, often those of people who have drowned in Michigan lakes.

“His job is to really help locate the missing and reunite families with their loved ones,” said Stejskal, a special deputy with the St. Joseph County Sheriff’s Department. “Buzz serves as a kind of forensic tool who can be used along with all the other forensic tools of law enforcement.”

Buzz, who came out of a special breeding program for detector dogs at Auburn University, also happens to be a friendly and lovable companion.

“My husband calls him a labradoofus — he’s a goofy, charming, special dog,” Stejskal said.

Buzz has received successful ongoing treatment from BluePearl’s Dr. Kristopher Sharpe  for inflammatory bowel disease. When Stejskal recently learned that Buzz has lymphoma, “I felt like I had been hit with a ton of bricks,” she said.

“But the cool thing is, Dr. Christine Swanson is giving him excellent treatment and Buzz doesn’t know anything is wrong. As long as his quality of life is great and he’s still willing to keep on going, he’s going to be by my side,” Stejskal said.

Swanson, a board-certified veterinary oncologist at BluePearl, has been giving Buzz regular chemotherapy treatments, which are designed to give him as many more good months of life as possible.

“Buzz is a great dog who has a strong connection with his owner, and I would say even a sense of purpose,” Swanson said. “It’s really heartwarming to know that he has helped so many people.”

Stejskal and Buzz have recently been visiting different law enforcement agencies they have worked with over the years.

Stejskal said she is grateful to BluePearl and many others who have helped Buzz in various ways, including the Sturgis Kennel Club, which has provided Buzz’s health insurance, and Royal Canin, which has generously provided his prescription dog food.

And she’s grateful to someone else.

Buzz.

“He’s been a delight, an absolute delight,” Stejskal said. “He’s an excellent detector dog, he’s an excellent therapy dog, and he’s just been a great partner. To be honest, I feel so thankful and honored that I’ve been able to work with him.”