"Nothing more can be done." These words would sink the spirit of any loving pet-owner. But as dairy-farm owners and breeders of champion dogs, Jeff Winton and Jim Modica don't quit easily when it comes to their animals.
Cousins Gracie and Margaret Mary had lived only half the lifespan of whippets when a sudden neurological disorder left both paralyzed right before Christmas. With few options and little time, the men braved blizzards to drive their dogs from New Jersey to Cornell University Hospital for Animals (CUHA).
"We'd just come from hearing they'd have to be euthanized," said Winton. "Within ten minutes of greeting us the Cornell doctors examined the dogs and said 'we think we can fix this.'"
A team of specialists and students performed a newly developed spine surgery that saved the whippets' lives. Gracie went first, and when Winton arrived to take her home on Christmas Eve, he found a surprise.
"I'll never forget that night," said Winton. "The staff was throwing a little Christmas party in her honor. She wore a Christmas bandage and was nibbling little treats they'd baked for her. It literally brought tears to my eyes, seeing how truly these people care about pets."
After Margaret Mary underwent the same procedure, she remained for a week of physical therapy.
"The student working with her would call me with updates twice a day," said Modica. "She sent videos of Margaret in the rehab pool or sleeping on a bed in the rehabilitator's office. Their compassion with the dogs extended to us. The girls have gone from not being able to move at all to running around like puppies again. We've had them for three years more than we would have if we hadn't brought theIl)l to Cornell, and that's a joy for which we'll be forever grateful."
Inspired by the care they received, the two donated to the College of Veterinary Medicine Annual Fund and the Annual Fund of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, where Winton had earned his bachelor's degree. Wanting to contribute something more, Winton started thinking back to his undergraduate days.
"I was the first of my farming family to go to college," said Winton. "Scholarships enabled me to come to Cornell and to build my career without bearing the huge burden of debt. I thought if we could do the same for a veterinary student we would be helping someone who might go on to help other people's pets."
Thus the Gracie and Margaret Mary Professional Scholarship Fund was born. Established to support students interested in studying neurological disorders like the one that once threatened its namesakes, the scholarship will benefit its first recipient in 2012.