“I owe my life to that dog. She’s really been a godsend to me. She has never been wrong.”
“I owe my life to that dog,” Stephanie Herfel said of her Siberian husky, Sierra. And because Sierra has helped diagnose Herfel’s cancer three different times, it’s hard to disagree.
Herfel, a 52-year-old Wisconsin resident, first experienced Sierra’s heroics in 2013. “She put her nose on my lower belly and sniffed so intently that I thought I spilled something on my clothes,” Herfel told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “She did it a second and then a third time. After the third time, Sierra went and hid. I mean hid!”
Herfel then decided to make a doctor’s appointment and started to get an idea of what her husky had been sniffing. A gynecologist told Herfel that she had an ovarian cyst and wrote her a prescription for some pain medication.
But when Herfel came back home with pain medication in hand, Sierra started behaving weirdly again. The dog reportedly curled up into a ball in Herfel’s closet. Concerned about Sierra’s behavior, Herfel went back to the gynecologist who then confirmed that Herfel had stage III ovarian cancer.
“To see her become so afraid was spooky in its own right. So I made an appointment with a gynecologist and in a matter of weeks and some blood work with an ultrasound, on 11-11-13 I was sitting in the gynecology oncologist room in shock that I had cancer,” Herfel said.
It’s amazing enough that Sierra was able to detect her owner’s severe illness once, but this wasn’t the end of the husky’s heroics.
Following Herfel’s 2013 diagnosis, she underwent a full hysterectomy, lost her spleen, and began chemotherapy that lasted through April 2014. She was pronounced cancer-free at the time, but unfortunately, the cancer returned — not once, but twice.
Herfel began experiencing the same kind of discomfort in 2015 and in 2016. Each time, Sierra behaved the same way that she had in 2013, and each time medical professionals confirmed that Herfel’s cancer had returned. The first time her cancer returned it was in her liver, and the second time it was in her pelvic area.
“She’s really been a godsend to me,” Herfel told the Journal Sentinel. “She has never been wrong.”
Dr. David Kushner, Herfel’s primary oncologist, said that Sierra’s actions were not coincidental by any means. Dogs from various breeds indeed have the ability to detect a number of different types of cancer via their sense of smell with an accuracy greater than 98 percent.
“It’s almost like the dog knows what’s going on and is scared,” Ashley Wagner, from the Wisconsin Ovarian Cancer Alliance, told the Journal Sentinel.
Ovarian cancer has a tendency to come back multiple times, and Herfel is already defying the odds by being five years cancer-free, despite the fact that her cancer has already returned twice in the past.
Even though she’s at risk of the cancer returning for a fourth time, Herfel manages to remain optimistic. “There are things that are coming out new every day. That’s how I live my life. I’m going to do the best thing I can do at the time until the next best thing comes along,” she said.
As for her relationship with Sierra, Herfel plans to write a book about the special bond they share and the husky’s role in saving her life.
“I just feel like my story can let people think about their animals and think, ‘Wow, my animal did this when I got diagnosed.’ Just to give the animals credit that they are pretty smart.”
Next, read the heartbreaking story of Hachiko, the world’s most loyal dog. Then, learn about Vladimir Demikhov, the Soviet scientist who created a two-headed dog.