Treated for Cancer : Canine Detective Bites the Bullet, Gets Laser Surgery

Times Staff Writer

Lonnie can smell a poacher a mile away. She can detect the carcasses of ill-gotten booty even if they are in plastic and on ice.

The 5 1/2-year-old German shepherd--the only dog authorized to do detective work for the state Department of Fish and Game--was out sick Saturday.

In fact, she was on an operating table at the Beckman Laser Institute at UCI Medical Center in Orange.

Her owner, Alan Nack of San Diego County, discovered a small lump after she cried as he was petting her belly.

At first doctors thought the lump was just an irritated mammary gland or lymph node. Then they discovered that it was an egg-size malignant tumor in her abdomen.


At the Beckman Institute, Greg Roberts, who just received his doctorate in cell biology Friday, and veterinarian Scott Weldy injected a photosensitive dye into Lonnie days before the surgery.

The dye is retained by diseased tissue, at which the doctors aimed the laser Saturday.

Lonnie’s tumor was removed and four 12-minute laser treatments were applied to kill any remaining diseased cells.

Nack, 38, said he has spent more than $1,000 over the past 3 months for chemotherapy for his dog. But the treatment at UCI will cost him only $50 for drugs and supplies.

The laser center has treated about 25 animals in the past 6 months to research the treatment in hopes of starting a veterinary wing at the center.

Weldy, Roberts and technician Linda Whisenhunt volunteered their time to care for Lonnie. The value of treatments was estimated at $600.

Lonnie was chosen for the surgery, Nack said, because she is healthy and the cancer had not spread.

The brown-and-black shepherd pranced around just minutes before she would lie anesthetized on a table, with paws crisscrossed over her neck, for the 2 1/2-hour procedure.

She is the only dog authorized by the state to work as a canine detective for the Fish and Game Department. Nack said she has worked with him for 2 years, sniffing out illegal hunters and their booty.

With the 2 1/2 years of special training she received in Germany and added training from the Fish and Game Department, Lonnie can detect the scents of waterfowl, venison and fish at a site even hours after they have been removed.

Once, he said, “she found ducks in the back seat of a pickup truck that were in an ice chest and in plastic bags.”

She also makes arrests. “She finds the suspect and barks at him, and if he tries to move, she’ll bite him,” he said.

Lonnie also goes to classrooms with Nack when he explains his job to schoolchildren.

She is friendly with children, he said, “but she knows when business is business.” Lonnie was on the job the week before her surgery and is expected to be back at work in about 2 weeks.

Nack was confident Saturday night about her complete recovery and was looking forward to having his colleague back.

“She’s a partner for me,” he said.