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A winning combination

Sally Sweatt has four canine companions at home and owns four others.

Woman’s support of comparative oncology aids the search for better treatments for both dogs and humans

Sally Sweatt surrounds herself with animals. The Minneapolis resident grew up with dogs and horses, and she has shared her love for dogs by introducing underprivileged children to them.

Today Sweatt breeds and shows Sealyham terriers and French bulldogs. In the winter of 2010, she also became a co-owner of a “beautiful” Scottish deerhound named Hickory.

And when Hickory was named best in show at the 2011 Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York last February, Sweatt was stunned and thrilled. It was the first time a Scottish deerhound had taken the honor.

“It was so unexpected—by everyone. It was a dream come true for all of us,” Sweatt says. “[The judge] knew the quality of that dog, and he could not take his eyes off of her.”

Strengthening the connection

Aside from the thrill of winning at Westminster, Sweatt says that the bond with her dogs helped her deal with breast cancer.

Diagnosed in the spring of 2010, Sweatt underwent treatment at the Masonic Cancer Clinic at the University of Minnesota. A year later, a mammogram gave her the results she was hoping for—no sign of cancer.

Sweatt says her relationship with her dogs helped her get through the treatment.

“You have something to think about, things to look forward to, something to take your mind off of yourself,” she says. “It helps you mentally as well as physically.”

A perfect pairing

It only made sense for Sweatt to support research that would help animals and humans who have cancer through the University’s comparative oncology program.

Canine studies can help scientists understand the genetic origins of cancer in both dogs and humans. And some breeds of dogs develop types of bone cancer and blood cancer, for instance, that progress similarly to the way human bone cancers and blood cancers progress.

Sweatt herself has had two Sealyham terriers who have had lymphoma as well as dogs from other breeds with different types of cancer.

Though she has supported veterinary medical research at the University for more than a decade, one of Sweatt’s most recent gifts provided funding that allowed the College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM) to restart its oncology residency program, says Jaime Modiano, V.M.D., Ph.D., director of the University’s Animal Cancer Care and Research program, a collaboration of the CVM and Masonic Cancer Center. With that start-up funding, the school built a financially self-sustaining program.

For Sweatt, the more she learns about the similarities between canine and human cancers, the more fascinated she becomes.

“It’s amazing to see what the two can find out from one another,” she says.

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