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Tulsa isn’t your average puppy. Like other dogs, the 2 ½-year-old German shepherd loves booty scratches, squeaky toys and “Puppachinos.” But unlike most pups, she has many more responsibilities. Her No. 1 job is to keep her human safe.

Tulsa’s mom Sydnee Geril, 25, is being treated at Moffitt Cancer Center for Ewing sarcoma. After undergoing therapy for nine months, Geril went into remission and adopted Tulsa with the hopes of training her to become a therapy dog.  

“She was 7 ½-weeks-old when I rescued her,” Geril said. “She was a goofy and energetic little pup.”

But after eight months in remission, Geril’s cancer returned. Tulsa now had an important new mission: train to be a personal service dog.

“One of the side effects of my chemo causes me to pass out sometimes. Tulsa is trained to alert me before that happens,” Geril said. “Before passing out, your body goes through a chemical change that gives off a scent. Tulsa was trained specifically to detect this scent.”

When Tulsa detects the smell, she puts her paw on Geril’s leg to alert her of the pending episode, giving her enough time to get to a safe place before she starts to feel dizzy. In addition, Tulsa helps with many other tasks.

“She does pressure therapy where she rests her body or head on my thighs. This helps with blood circulation and can be very helpful in reducing recovery time from an episode.”

Chemo has taken its toll on Geril’s body making it difficult for her to get around on her own. Tulsa knows how to retrieve medication and dropped objects.

“She also knows other convenient tasks such as ‘find my car’ for when the chemo brain really kicks in,” Geril shared. “She offers me counterbalance while walking, as well as forward momentum. In the future she will be trained to allow me to brace on her and help me up off the ground.”

The cancer diagnosis came as a shock to Geril, who was a collegiate athlete.

“During my last year of college, I began to notice some pain in my left hip,” Geril explained. “I was a gymnast for 16 years and rode horses for Louisiana State University’s equestrian team for three, so injuries were pretty common. I thought it was just an old injury flaring up, or maybe I hurt myself and didn’t realize it.”  

She brushed it off until the pain worsened. Only then did she seek advice from a local doctor in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, who thought it was a small fracture on her hip. But when the pain became unbearable, Geril traveled home to Florida to see her dad, a doctor of physical therapy in Ocala. Within a couple of days, she underwent several scans and scheduled an appointment at Moffitt. In the span of just three months, the new images showed a golf ball sized mass in her left hip, as well as three smaller masses in other areas. Geril was diagnosed with the rare form of bone cancer in October 2017 shortly after graduating from LSU.

Each month, she makes the 90-minute drive to Moffitt for five consecutive days of chemotherapy, followed by another single day trip for a different dose.

Dr. Damon Reed

Dr. Damon Reed, Director of the Adolescent and Young Adult Program

“I absolutely love Moffitt Cancer Center. It’s weird to say that about a place that is so difficult to go to at times, but it is true,” Geril said. “My oncologist Dr. Damon Reed and his team have been nothing short of amazing getting me through this treatment process.” 

Tulsa had been a faithful sidekick during appointments at the cancer center until COVID-19 hit. Geril stopped bringing her to the hospital in an effort to keep her from being exposed to potentially harmful elements that could transfer to fur and later be problematic for someone with a weak immune system. In late May, Geril discovered the Shed Defender, a bodysuit for dogs that helps control shedding. The super suit has allowed Tulsa to stay clean and get back to work by her mom’s side.

“Tulsa has changed my life,” Geril said. “If it wasn’t for her I wouldn’t have the freedom to go out in public without the constant fear of passing out somewhere. Cancer sucks, but living with it doesn’t have to. I try to celebrate the little victories and always make the most of life. I’m glad Tulsa is such a huge part of helping me do that.”

Favorite hobbies:
Tulsa loves to squeak toys. If she gets her paws on a good obnoxious squeaker, she could go on for hours! She also loves to play fetch and train
Favorite snacks:
Puppachinos, cheese, yogurt and fresh chicken
Favorite toys:
She has a huge stuffed puppy that barely resembles a pup anymore from how much she’s loved on it
Inspiration behind her name:
The inspiration came from Tulsa, Arizona. Geril drove through and thought it was beautiful and unique, just like her pup, so it fit perfectly
Personality type:
Tulsa is a normal, goofy, silly puppy when she’s off duty! She loves to rub her face on the couch and give her favorite people tons of kisses. If you’re lucky enough to be one of her favorite people, she will always make sure she knows where you are and that you’re OK
Weirdest obsession:
She has a hilarious obsession with pillows. She thinks they’re all meant for her and she must snuggle with them