Adopted Lab Stands By Girl Fighting Leukemia

Pediatric cancer is no match for 92 pounds of pure love.

every gift saves lives

every gift saves lives

Stephanie + Sam

At an adoption event for Labrador Rescuers of San Diego, in a sea of wagging tails and wet noses, our eldest son was drawn to the golden Labrador within minutes. It was love at first sight. I remember looking at this big, tall, 92-pound Lab and being slightly intimidated by his presence. What I didn’t realize at the time was the size of his heart.

"I remember looking at this big, tall, 92-pound Lab and being slightly intimidated by his presence. What I didn’t realize at the time was the size of his heart."

Once we adopted Sam, we saw that he is quite the gentle giant. Our three-year-old crawled over him. Our seven-year-old nested next to him while reading. And our five-year-old daughter squeaked with joy at his “big brown eyes” and declared him the best dog ever. Sam loved it all.

All was well in the world because Sam had joined ours. Until August 2015, when our daughter Cate was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Life as we knew it stopped. Our family was stunned and heartbroken. Cate was admitted to Rady Children’s Hospital to start treatment immediately: blood transfusions, tests, and chemotherapy soon followed. She wanted to come home.

Weeks passed and we tried to appease her homesickness to no avail. Until Sam started sending video messages barking at the camera reminding her to be brave. Cate began the countdown to return to Sam.

My husband and I alternated nights and days at the hospital. It was painful to be apart. Walking past Cate’s empty bed at night was particularly difficult. But finding Sam asleep in her room comforted me. Sometimes I would join him and we would miss her together. Other times, I’d lie awake plagued by anxiety and hear the thump of heavy paws. Sam would appear at my bedside as if to remind me I was not alone. He was there.

Cate’s homecoming was monumental for all, but watching Sam roar through the house to greet his girl is a treasured memory. Her treatment spans two-and-a-half years. The first year, she missed school entirely. But she did have Sam. He sat with her during tutoring lessons, shared her lunch, and they napped side by side. At one point Cate lost the ability to walk. Slowly she regained her mobility with Sam right beside her.

Cate is still fighting her leukemia, but she’s finally able to join her older brother at school. The kids worried Sam would be too lonely at home. Enter Coral. She is the sweetest, most smiley black Lab you’d ever want to meet. Lab Rescuers placed her with us and Sam and it was love at first sight—again.

Pediatric cancer can steal a lot, but because of one dog’s big heart it cannot steal the capacity to love.

Each year, the Petco Foundation invites adopters to share the story of how their adopted pet changed their lives during the annual Holiday Wishes campaign, giving the organization that they adopted from a chance to receive a grant award. This story by Stephanie Kingston won Lab Rescuers of San Diego in California  a 2017 Holiday Wishes award.