For a local reverend and his whippet Joshua, LSU Vet Med was an answered prayer

Anyone who knows the Very Rev. Tommy Dillon also knows his trusty sidekick: a 13-year-old whippet named Joshua.

The rector at St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in Baton Rouge brings Joshua along pretty much everywhere, including church on Sunday. While Dillon’s in the pulpit, Joshua snoozes in his office. And when the service is over, Joshua explores the Parish Hall, taking special care to dispose of crumbs dropped during that morning’s coffee hour.

Priest and pooch have been practically inseparable since Dillon rescued Joshua 11 years ago from a farm in Mississippi after the dog’s original owner died.

And so when Joshua was diagnosed with skin cancer in 2017, it was a big deal for Dillon.

“I was scared to death,” he says. “My mother had died of colon cancer, and my dad had cancer. When our pets get it, it can be kind of a trigger.”

Joshua’s regular veterinarian, Dr. Emily Taylor, had spotted unusual growths on the dog’s belly, and recommended Dillon take him to the LSU Vet Med animal clinic. Updated and renamed the Stephenson Pet Clinic last year, the clinic is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It treats about 20,000 cases annually and has long been the go-to resource for emergency or specialty vet care in the region. That’s become even more important to pet owners like Dillon, who see their animals as members of the family and want to extend their lives as long as they can.

The LSU Vet Med team removed the cancerous spots from Joshua’s stomach and a separate, benign growth from his neck. Joshua also had a couple rounds of chemotherapy, which were administered in the clinic’s cancer treatment area.

The Very Rev. Tommy Dillon brings his beloved whippet Joshua to LSU’s Stephenson Pet Clinic for care.

Dillon acknowledges such treatment isn’t cheap, and jokes that he probably contributed to the new clinic’s renovation with Joshua’s medical costs.

“But I believe our animal companions are worthy of every investment,” Dillon says. “Because for me, Joshua’s love and companionship reminds me of the unconditional love that God shows us.”

Joshua has been cancer-free since 2017, but Dillon has continued to use the clinic’s other services. Last December, Joshua surreptitiously got into a box of Belgian chocolates—a gift to Dillon from a parishioner. Chocolate, particularly dark chocolate, is toxic for dogs.

“I brought him in, and they treated him,” Dillon says. “It was right before Christmas, and I was so glad they were there to calm me down.”

Joshua has since returned to the clinic for cancer checkups and other procedures that keep his golden years golden.

As St. Margaret’s unofficial mascot, he’s got work to do. lsu.edu/vetmed

From Eastern medicine to oncology

Opened in 2022, the new 40,000-square-foot Stephenson Pet Clinic features state-of-the-art amenities and a welcoming design for the thousands of pet owners who use its services annually. The clinic offers 13 specialties. Livestock and wild and exotic animals are also treated here. Here’s some of what you’ll find.

Oncology: Pets and animals have access to both chemotherapy and radiation. In fact, the clinic is Louisiana’s only radiation unit used for animal treatment.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy: Helps to heal wounds, decrease nervous system injury, minimize inflammation and treat infections.

Acupuncture: Treats a variety of disorders by stimulating nerves, increasing blood flow and releasing endorphins with the help of small sterilized needles.

This article was originally published in the November 2023 issue of 225 magazine.