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Sumo’s story

sumo__7The resiliency of a loving spirit

By Lisa Davis-Burnett

It takes a special kind of crazy to open your home and heart to seven dogs. "They are my family," says realtor/artist Sabine Liebehenz. Having known Sabine for several years now, I can attest that those are not just words; her dogs are her life.

One of Sabine's special family members fell sick earlier this year, the alpha leader of her pack, the bulldog Sumo. She took Sumo to Animal Hospital of Sint Maarten, the vet office located in Crowne Plaza on Union Road in Cole Bay. There, veterinarian Glen Romney did some tests and diagnosed Sumo with an aggressive type of bone cancer called Osteosarcoma. The tumour had begun in the lymph glands around Sumo's right shoulder. The doctor explained that this type of cancer will spread rapidly to other parts of the dog's body. The prognosis was poor. Dr. Glen and Sabine conferred about their options.

Sumo is a three and a half year-old English bulldog. He looks gruff and knows his place as the top dog among Sabine's tribe. The other dogs look to Sumo to set the mood for every moment of every day. Once you get to know him, though, Sumo is a sweetheart. Sabine cuddles with him in bed, and they have a special relationship of love and trust.

Facing facts for Dr. Glen and Sabine was not easy. The vet explained the best case scenario for Sumo was an amputation of the right front leg, followed by several weeks of chemotherapy. A bulldog is a breed that carries a lot of weight in its front legs; it didn't seem like an attractive option. Then there was the chemotherapy – another scary consideration. If they were going to do it, though, they would have to act fast; every day was critical. That night, Sabine talked with her friends on a porch high on the hill in Point Blanche. With a sad sigh, she told her friends she would put Sumo down.

The next day she spoke with Dr. Glen and said, "I can't do it. When I look at Sumo, I just know I have to give him a fighting chance." Almost at the same time, the response came, "I know, I was thinking the same thing. We have to fight it."

That was almost seven weeks ago, and they are very optimistic at Sumo's recovery. Dr. Glen shared his pride that it was the correct choice: "Absolutely! He has the perfect name, he's a fighter! His issues post-surgery were mostly psychological. It's like he was saying, 'Hey where's my other leg?' And he had issues with pain in the missing leg, a common problem with amputees called phantom limb syndrome. Now he's back to his normal way, he's a happy camper. I know Sabine and I are very thrilled. To be honest with you, I am so glad we made that decision."

Sabine tells how the other dogs reacted when Sumo returned to the pack as a "tripod" – one dog really went into shock. She saw Sumo coming in after the surgery and she was shaking and drooling; another dog was depressed for a week. While Sumo recuperated, the other dogs came over to check him out. Sabine says Sumo took sick leave for two weeks, but never really gave up his alpha role in the pack. After two weeks, he was "back on the job."

Once Sumo was feeling better, they started the chemotherapy. They don't know if the osteosarcoma has already spread, but are holding out hope. "Maybe Sumo will be one of the very few dogs that survives this sickness," said Sabine. "Maybe we caught it in time. At least, we are giving him a chance to survive. If he will last 10 months or 10 years, I know we did the right thing." As I interviewed the vet and Sabine in one of the examining rooms, Sumo made himself at home, snoring contently on the tile floor.

Dr. Glen says he couldn't have done it without his staff. He took over the Animal Hospital of Sint Maarten two years ago from the previous owners. "I kept most of the staff when I took over the shop and they have been very supportive." He was raised in Guadeloupe, but as his father is from St. Maarten, he visited here often as a child. He spent over 20 years in the states, went to do his university and vet school training there. "I worked for eight years as a veterinarian, doing pet care, small animals and exotics." He was working in Chicago before moving to the Friendly Island, and was considering buying a vet office there, but then this opportunity opened up and it seemed perfect. "I saw it as a sign, I got married in St. Maarten, my dad is from St. Maarten, and I love the island. This has been two wonderful years, and I think that I've been received very well."

Romney says his number one priority is the pets. "It's not a job for me, it's a passion; it's the love of my life. I always wanted to be a vet, as long as I can remember. I love what I do; this is like a dream come true for me." He emphasizes communication with the pet owners and education of the clients. By talking with the owners and combining that with a physical examination of the animal, he is able to better understand what the animal's issues are. "Pets are creatures of habit," he says, "and if something changes in their routine, there is always a reason."

Animal Hospital of Sint Maarten offers complete in-house lab work, including x-rays, video otoscopy, endoscopy, cardiology, pain management, and surgical services with advanced anaesthesia. They have wonderful cats and dogs, kittens and puppies for adoption; and you can check out some of these sweeties on their facebook page. They are open weekdays from 7:30am to 6:00pm (except Wednesdays which are reserved for surgeries). Saturday hours are 9:00am to 1:00pm. Phone is (712) 544-4111/4112, email is This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . Their new interactive website allows prescriptions to be ordered, appointments to be scheduled and homecare to be advised. Check it out at www.animalhospitalsxm.com

Sabine is the woman behind Different Realty and No. 1 i-jeans. Her philosophy in business and life is to embrace individuality, design through inspiration, and enjoy every minute. Contact her at (721) 522-5131 or visit her website at www.differentrealestate.com.

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