Club, community help service dog get cancer treatment

Jennifer Tozzo with  her service dog,Zoe.

Jennifer Tozzo, left, with Dr. Jay Garlitz, in Lion’s Club suit, and UF veterinary student Kryssa Johnson outside the UF Small Animal Hospital duringĀ a PAWS clinic on May 29. (Photo by Sarah Carey)

By Sarah Carey

Zoe Tozzo knows American Sign Language, English and Spanish. She’s participated in a variety of community events, including parades and community clean-ups, has done reading programs in schools, even Special Olympics. But this outstanding citizen is not human; she is a dually-certified service and therapy dog and a beloved companion to her owner, Jennifer Tozzo, of Hawthorne.

Just three months ago, Tozzo found a lump in her dog’s mouth and feared she might lose her dog to cancer. But thanks to a little-known program at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine, financial support from the Hawthorne Lions Club and a vaccine developed by a UF veterinary oncologist, Zoe received the treatment she needed and is on the road to recovery.

For several years, Zoe has received veterinary services through a student club known as Pets are Wonderful Support, or PAWS, which provides basic veterinary services to the pets of people with disabilities or terminal illnesses, at no charge.

Veterinary students Clair Vaibon and Sharon Villabona have worked closely with Zoe Tozzo and her owner through PAWS.

Veterinary students Clair Vaibon and Sharon Villabona have worked closely with Zoe Tozzo and her owner through PAWS. (Photo courtesy of Sharon Villabona)

“We biopsied the mass and discovered it was a melanoma,” said Sharon Villabona, a senior veterinary student and surgery officer for PAWS. “She was devastated and wanted to do everything she could for her best friend.”

The club offered to pay for Zoe’s basic blood work and x-rays to make sure the tumor hadn’t spread to her chest. In addition, PAWS offered to pay for half of Zoe’s melanoma vaccine treatment if Tozzo could pay for surgery to remove the mass and the remaining half of the vaccine.

“Ms. Tozzo and Zoe do a lot of volunteer work in Hawthorne and Zoe had met many people whose lives she had touched over the years,” Villabona said. “When Ms. Tozzo told us she would begin fundraising to pay for all Zoe’s expenses, we had no idea her community would contribute so much to Zoe’s cause.”

Ultimately, enough money was raised to pay for the melanoma vaccine entirely — and Ms. Tozzo even made a donation to PAWS with donations that were left over, said Villabona, who along with surgery co-officer for the club, senior student Claire Vaiden, has worked most closely with Tozzo and Zoe over the years.

Zoe Tozzo with Drs. Stone and Medina

Dr. Carolina Medina, Dr. Amy Stone and UF veterinary student Kryssa Johnson are shown with Zoe during a check-up prior Zoe’s rehabilitation therapy on May 29. (Photo by Sarah Carey)

Dr. Amy Stone, club advisor and chief of the UF Small Animal Hospital’s primary care and dentistry service, performed the surgery and successfully removed the mass on Zoe’s lip. The next step was entering Zoe into the melanoma vaccine clinical trial, which is run by Dr. Rowan Milner, the UF veterinary oncologist who developed the vaccine.

“She’s getting the cancer vaccine now and seems to be doing real well with it,” Tozzo said.

Dr. Jay Garlitz, a dentist who works as secretary-treasurer of the Hawthorne Lions Club, said Tozzo and Zoe are “very active community members.”

“Zoe was very important to Jen as a service dog, a hearing dog and a visitor at our club meetings,” Garlitz said. “Our Lions Club already had Jen as a cherished member at the time Zoe was diagnosed with melanoma. We did not have to think twice about helping a Lion in need, and neither did other Lions clubs in our district.”

Many donations were made by the Hawthorne club and other district Lion members “to make sure there were enough funds to assist Tozzo now, and to have a reserve for future needs. Of course, without the generosity of the UF veterinary school, none of this would have been possible,” Garlitz said.


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June 2013

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Jennifer Tozzo with her service dog,Zoe.

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A service dog and community hero got needed cancer treatment thanks to UF’s PAWS program and local Lion’s Club.

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