“I miss him every single day. I’ve had a lot of cats in my life, but there was just something special about Dimitri,” said Barbara Maier, Dimitri’s owner. Dimitri fought a hard and fast battle with cancer, but unfortunately, his little body succumbed to the disease. The Maiers lost Dimitri in 2018, but his legacy lives on in cancer research.
When Barbara and her husband, Vincent, rescued Dimitri, she wasn’t sure if he would ever warm up to them. “I helped rescue Dimitri and got him spayed. Someone was supposed to adopt him and another kitten that was found at the same time. That individual backed out, so the pair came to live in our garage,” Barbara explained.
“For the first few weeks, every time I’d come out to the garage to feed them, he’d hide,” she said. “Eventually, he realized that the other kitty, DeeDee, was getting all the food. One day, I came into the garage, and he was waiting for me. He let me pick him up, and from that day on, we were best friends.”
Not long after, Dimitri became a house cat. When Barbara fell and fractured her ankle, Dimitri was beside her throughout her recovery. “I was bedridden for three months,” she said. “Dimitri spent all day in bed, right next to me. That’s when we really bonded. I could call him, and he’d come running. He was never very far from me.”
As longtime cat lovers, the Maiers spent their fair share of time at Cornell Veterinary School – a three-hour drive from their home. “It was at Cornell that we met Dr. Page,” Barbara explained. “At the time, we had a cat named Katrina that had cancer. We’d bring her there for radiation and treatment. Katrina loved Dr. Page. He would carry her around the clinic, and we loved the care we received. Through Dr. Page’s treatment of Katrina, we formed a true friendship.”
Dr. Page continued to care for Katrina and many of their other cats who were unfortunately diagnosed with cancer. “I enjoyed getting to know the Maiers in my time at Cornell and beyond,” said Dr. Page. “It was always very evident to me that they loved their animals very much and would do whatever it took to care for them.”
Over the years, the Maiers came to trust Dr. Page with their animals. The Maiers have had six cats with cancer. All of them were treated by the team at Cornell, many by Dr. Page. “We were sad to learn that Dr. Page was moving to Colorado,” Barbara said. “There’s no one else I’d rather treat my babies.”
When Dimitri was just eight years old, he ate a bit of trash from the kitchen counter. He threw up some of it, but they didn’t know if there was more. The Maiers took him to their local veterinarian and something showed on the ultrasound. The Maiers then brought him to Cornell for a consult. “The whole drive, I was so worried about him,” she said.
The team at Cornell performed an ultrasound to look for any obstructions, but unfortunately, they found something else. They tried to determine the mass with two aspirates but were never quite able to make a diagnosis.
Dimitri would get fluids every three days at their local veterinarian. Within just a couple of weeks, Dimitri’s health declined rapidly. There was a phone consult with Cornell. The Maiers brought him back to their local veterinarian to get fluid that same day. “When we got there, they could feel the mass. That’s how much it had grown in just a few weeks,” she said.
The Maiers consulted with many veterinarians, and even Dr. Page in Colorado, but there was nothing that could be done. It was too big and he was already too sick. “I’ve never cried so many tears,” she said. “As much as I wanted to bring him home, I knew I couldn’t. It wasn’t right. I’d be bringing him home for me, not for him. I couldn’t prolong his life just for my sake.”
“I talked to Dr. Page on the phone and he checked in with his old colleagues at Cornell. He looked at the scans and agreed that there was nothing more that could have been done. It was just too prolific. If I thought that Dr. Page could have done something else, Dimitri and I would have been on a flight to Colorado,” she said.
On November 18, 2018, the same day that President George H.W. Bush died, the Maiers made the tough decision to euthanize Dimitri.
Following his death, the Maiers created the Dimitri Feline Cancer Research Fund at Colorado State University in honor of Dimitri and their relationship with Dr. Page.
“We just wanted to do something,” Barbara said. “We’ve had our fair share of cats with cancer and we’ve received tremendous care from Dr. Page. We established this fund to help people and their animals. It’s our greatest hope that the money will fuel better treatments for cats with cancer. We never want anyone to have to go through what we have.”
“We are honored to continue our cat research in the name of Dimitri,” Dr. Page said. “Cat cancer is an expanding priority of ours at the Flint Animal Cancer Center and we can’t do it without support. I am truly grateful to the Maiers for our long friendship and for allowing this work to continue.”
Dimitri didn’t get a long life that many cats do, but his memory lives on through feline cancer research.