All about Ava: 10 years in the life of one of our Best Friends

In a letter to Best Friends, a family reflects on how their dog Ava has brought them a decade of joy
By Elissa Jones

As you can imagine, once an animal in our care is adopted, one of the greatest thrills is receiving updates from her new home. Nothing feels better than knowing that a cat or dog or bunny or bird whom we have loved has now gone on to a happy new life.

We want to share a recent letter about a dog named Ava. Even though it contains sad news — a sweet dog cherished during her time at Best Friends is nearing the end of her life — we felt such joy to know that the last decade for Ava has been beautiful.

Ava the dog and another dog lying on the grass with a young girl

But let’s back up a little. Ava arrived at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary after being found terribly injured, with her paw caught in a trap. She was featured on an episode of the National Geographic Channel’s TV series DogTown, which chronicled our work here at Best Friends and the special dogs we care for. Ava was lovely and sweet, and it’s not surprising that she was adopted quickly.

In the letter below, her mom, Marissa, reflects on their time together. Thank you, Marissa, for giving Ava the gift of a new beginning — and, in turn, for sharing that gift with us.

Ava the dog and a woman sitting under the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary sign


Dear Best Friends,

I wanted to send you an update on our beautiful Ava. She is 12 now and is just the most perfect friend, protector and family member.

I’m a single mom with a seven-year-old son, Drew. Ava knew that I was pregnant before I did. She would nuzzle into my tummy and stayed really close through my whole pregnancy. She took care of the baby— napping and playing together. Drew and Ava are really close and have grown up together. We’ve fostered 43 dogs over the years, and Ava was instrumental in this. She helped so many dogs learn how to just be dogs. I always tell people that she fostered the dogs — not me.

We lost Ava’s beloved golden retriever sister, Chloe, in May. She was a few months away from turning 16 years old. Last January, Chloe was diagnosed with cancer. My heart broke. We had four more beautiful months together.

Ava the golden retriever with two other dogs and a smiling young girl

About a week after we got Chloe’s diagnosis, we learned that Ava has lymphoma. I had noticed an enlarged lymph node on Ava’s neck and she had surgery to remove it. Although it was caught relatively early, it is an incurable type. This news completely shattered me.

We saw a top oncologist and started chemo, but Ava had an adverse reaction to it and I almost lost her. I decided not to continue, and treat her with prednisone, acupuncture and CBD oil instead. The oncologist told me that this type of cancer may make Ava slow down, lose her appetite and lose her zest for life. Upon her diagnosis, the vet told me she may have several months to live; however, per usual, Ava is defying all odds. She is in good spirits, acting completely like herself and enjoying each day. My main priority remains her quality of life.

Ava the dog running in a sand dune

Drew knows that Ava is sick but they live in the moment — not worrying about the future. I’m working to stay in that head space, too.

Ava continues to act normal and happy. She enjoys daily walks, the occasional ice cream cone and lots of love. She’s put on a few pounds because I’ve been giving her ample snacks and meals. We go to the park and she likes sniffing around, lying in the grass and getting belly rubs from the kids. I’m able to work from home so we spend a lot of time together. She is totally content and comfortable and I couldn’t ask for more.

Ava the dog standing in a river

She has been such a blessing in our lives and her foot hasn’t caused her any troubles at all. I can’t fully express how much of an impact she has had on my life. She has this amazing energy that fills me up. She is the definition of joy.

I thank Best Friends for everything you have done for her and the other animals. I’m so proud to tell everyone her story and I encourage people to adopt animals. About a year ago, my son watched Ava’s DogTown episode and he was so sad to see everything she had gone through. But he knows that kindness to animals is a deep and important message, and he shares it with all his buddies.

Ava is my shining star and such a light to everyone she meets.

Your friend,

Young girl leaning into a senior Ava the dog

This article originally appeared in Best Friends magazine. You can subscribe to the magazine by becoming a Best Friends member.

Photos courtesy of Marissa Knight