Cancer cluster affects animals

By Kristina Webb
Copy Editor

Acreage resident Gail Bass never expected what she saw from her window about five months ago.

The creature perched on her bird feeder looked like a squirrel, but it was covered in tumors.

“It was strange because I noticed the one and it kept getting worse,” Bass said.

Photo courtesy of Gail Bass

The tumors covering the squirrel varied in size, and the number of tumors increased over the next three months. Then, Bass said, the cold snap came and she hasn’t seen the squirrels since.

The Acreage, a pastoral community in western Palm Beach County, is the focus of a state investigation into whether or not a pediatric cancer cluster exists in the area.

Bass wonders if there is something making animals in The Acreage sick.

Dr. Vanessa Rolfe, a veterinarian with the Bird and Exotic Hospital in Greenacres, said the tumors on the squirrel were most likely caused by myxomatosis — a disease usually seen in rabbits and very rare in the United States — or one of several bacterial or fungal infections.

“Chances are not great that is a non-infectious neoplastic condition, but certainly possible,” Rolfe said.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), neoplasia is “the uncontrolled, abnormal growth of cells or tissues in the body,” and the resulting growths may be either benign or malignant.

Bass’ two Chesapeake Bay Retrievers both had cancer by the time they were 2 years old, and both died after suffering from autoimmune disorders for several years — one from thyroid problems, the other from Cushing’s disease.

“They were always in the pond [on my property] swimming and drinking,” Bass said, adding that the dogs did not come from the same litter.

The AVMA reports cancer is the cause of death in nearly 50 percent of pets over 10 years old, with cats having fewer cancers than dogs.

Susan Coffman saw the signs of a potential cancer cluster years ago.

Coffman, vice president of Doberman Rescue Concern (DRC) in West Palm Beach, lives near the intersection of Seminole Pratt Whitney Road and Okeechobee Boulevard in The Acreage.

In her home, Coffman keeps urns of all the dogs who have passed away under her care.

“This is Eli,” she said. “Eli had head cancer.”

Coffman noticed a large number of dogs with cancer coming out of The Acreage when she began working with DRC in 1985. She said “warning sirens” began to go off in her head when she attempted to adopt several dogs from Palm Beach County Animal Care and Control (ACC).

“They were euthanizing any dog that came from The Acreage and had a tumor,” Coffman said.

Coffman said she does understand the need for such action.

“They did not want to house and spend money on animals that are not adoptable,” Coffman said.

ACC officials could not be reached for comment on their euthanization policy.

Before long, Coffman began to notice other signs of a problem in The Acreage.

According to the Doberman Pinscher Club of America, cardiomyopathy — weakened heart muscle — is the number one killer of Dobermans nationwide.

However, Coffman has kept records for almost 15 years that show cancer as the number one cause of death among Dobermans in The Acreage.

“Cancer has always been a problem out here,” Coffman said.

Several of her dogs have passed away, and one is currently undergoing treatment to remove a malignant tumor.

Coffman said she has also noticed an increase in autoimmune problems in Acreage dogs.

“I have tried to tell people about this for so long, but they seemed resistant,” Coffman said. “You can look at it as dead Dobermans, or you can look at it as a warning.”

According to state investigators, there are many potential causes for the cancer cluster, including pesticide run-off from farms and orange groves.

The area is also surrounded by several industrial sites, including Pratt and Whitney to the north and the Palm Beach Aggregates to the west.

A lawsuit filed and then dismissed in federal court last month accused government contractor Pratt and Whitney of causing the cancer cluster in The Acreage.

According to a Palm Beach Post article from 1999, the Pratt site on the Beeline Highway just north of J.W. Corbett Wildlife Management Area has been the focus of federal environmental clean-up efforts since the 1980s.

Corbett and the Pratt property are directly north of the affected area in The Acreage.

Lake Worth resident Brandon Zapf goes hunting and fishing at Corbett a few times a month.

According to Zapf, he was hunting at Corbett about a year ago when he encountered a “strange” deer.

“I shot the deer, and between the skin and the meat there was green slime,” Zapf said. “I started to dress the deer, and ended up just leaving it there.”

Zapf said he has also run across deer with growths.

A spokesperson for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission could not comment on sightings of abnormal animals at Corbett because, she said, none has been reported to her.


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7 Comments

Filed under News

7 responses to “Cancer cluster affects animals

  1. Acreage_Resident

    Wow – great article Kristina! This is what the Post should report on! This is scary indeed! Praying for all residents of The Acreage.

  2. Ron Vargo

    This article is the worst kind of sensationalism. Everything from the headline “cancer cluster affects animal” as if it were a proven fact, to the opinions of those quoted as if they were proven facts. You quote these people keeping their “private statistics” as if they were experts. Ask the guy with the “green slim” on the deer if he saw any aliens while he was out there. I’m sure if you submitted this to the Enquirer, they would probably love it.

  3. Norma Jean

    This is fear mongering, and the acreage has had enough of it.

  4. The Real Life

    WOW!!

    Fear mongering? What is the motive?

    I personally lived in the “cancer cluster” field for two years (92-94), and raised two Dobermans. Both ended up dying from cancer.

    Now, anyone who does their research knows that Dobermans are susceptible to cancers at a slightly higher rate than many other dog breeds. Nonetheless, to have an elevated level of Doberman cancers in the cluster is not a coincidence.

    But wait…it must be too difficult to think into this issue that far. Evidently…some comments show evidence of this lack of thought….just like the records show animals are affected by the cluster.

    I am done now…carry on.

  5. Bart

    This Article is subject to a few questions:

    1: Although Mrs. Bass is an Acreage Resident does she live within the Cluster Map?

    2: Why would Mr.Zapf hunt and fish in the corbett 2 times per month? Hunting season is only a few months out of the year, which means the other months he would fish. Why would he not fish in Lake Worth? Snook, Peacock Bass, Some of the best fishing in the world in his own backyard?

    3. If he is that much of a hunter, why would he not bring the deer to the field station so it could be verified by fish and game? Why would he not post a message on the board out at corbett? Why would he not get the word out-fish and game office is on his way home along northlake blvd.

    4. Finally as an owner of a Chesapeake Bay Retriever that is six years old and has lived and swam in the acreage her entire life, I’m proud to report that she has no health issues.

  6. cris

    Wow, I love all you people who say its not real. so if it doesnt affect you, it must not exist. we are all liars i guess. and me having to put down 3 dogs from 3 seperate litters in the last 4.5 yrs, two with tumors and the 3rd with uncontrollable siezures that would not stop. my vet believing she had a brain disorder. I should have paid for the autopsy to find out what it was. i just couldnt afford more money since i spent $1500 just to try to save her. and they lived outside, drank the ater and lived in the pond being that they were all labs.

  7. While doing a research for a project about dogs I found your blog. Thanks for the info

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