Animals are the best therapy in just about any situation. Any dog owner will agree that when they’ve had a rough day and are feeling down, there’s no better medicine than snuggling up next to a happy pup. This is why one little girl from Wisconsin, who was diagnosed with a brain tumor, is asking people to send her photos of their dogs and let’s just say, people more than delivered.
7-year-old Emma Mertens of Hartland, Wisconsin was diagnosed with an inoperable diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG) brain tumor back in January.
DIPG is an aggressive type of tumor that forms in the brainstem and is a leading cause of death among children with brain tumors. According to the Michael Mosier Defeat DIPG Foundation, only 10 percent of people diagnosed with DIPG live for two years after diagnosis. The median survival rate is around nine months. Between 200 and 400 children are diagnosed with DIPG every year.
Emma’s family was understandably grief-stricken by the news.
“(We felt) obviously devastation,” Emma’s dad, Geoff, said. “Our daughter’s life is cut short. This is a horrible, horrible diagnosis.”
But Emma remains positive. Like many 7-year-olds, Emma is a huge dog lover and has always wanted a pup of her own. Due to family allergies, however, she can’t have a four-legged friend at home. So, she lives vicariously through other dog owners.
This is what inspired Emma to request photos of dogs on the internet and people more than delivered. Dog owners worldwide responded to Emma’s request, sending her more than 200,000 photos, letters, and well wishes.
Photos featured breeds of all kinds, from Pomeranians to fluffy huskies, German Shepherds, and Labradors.
“She was pretty amazed, pretty surprised,” Geoff said. “We literally feel like the whole world is rallying around her.”
Emma received so many responses to her request that the Mertens family switched to a P.O. box and then eventually to email when the postal load became too much. However, the email inbox reached capacity (3,000 emails) within an hour and the family began asking that submissions be sent to the Team Emma Facebook page.
A local humane society staff member even reached out to Emma to provide her with some puppy love.
“All of us at CRHS can relate to Emma and her love of dogs. That’s why we do what we do,” said Taylor Bates, marketing and events coordinator for the Coulee Region Humane Society. “We see difficult situations and mistreatment of animals every day. It can often be discouraging and frustrating for us when we’re working hard to save these animals. But seeing Emma’s absolute love of dogs and positive attitude despite her diagnosis is really uplifting and encouraging.”
Bates sent Emma 10 cards last week featuring shelter dogs who had health issues or extended stays at the humane society.
“We wanted to show her that even when you’re down, there is still good in each day,” Bates said. “Our animals come to us because they’re orphaned, abandoned, sick or neglected. But even so they still seem to maintain a positive outlook and hope for the best. … Because we work with animals every day, we see first-hand the positive impact that animals can have on people’s lives.”
Emma was also given the opportunity to be a guest veterinarian for a day at the Animal Clinic in Sussex.
*Watch with sound on* Our day with guest veterinarian, Dr. Emma was amazing! This sweet girl inspired all of us with her strength, kindness and laughter ?? https://www.gofundme.com/team-emma-fight-against-dipgTeam Emma – Emmalovesdogs7 #SussexMyVet
Posted by Animal Clinic in Sussex on Monday, March 25, 2019
And a group of police K-9s stopped by for a visit.
A GoFundMe has been created to help cover Emma’s medical expenses. It surpassed its goal within the month and is currently at over $129,000.
Emma is currently undergoing radiation therapy and, according to her dad Geoff, is “riding a really good wave right now.”
Geoff says the family takes things one day at a time, spending as much time with Emma as they possibly can.
“We make our time as a family really meaningful,” Geoff said. “Our day by day plan is to do whatever Emma wants. … We don’t know how much time we’re going to have with her.”