EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. (AP) — Loretta's tail didn't stop wagging from the time she walked into Trinity Lutheran School in Edwardsville until the time she left two hours later.
And why not? Children, teachers and other staff treated the yellow Labrador retriever like a movie star, despite her carved-out abdomen and oddly-shaved coat. They petted her, kissed her, hugged her, scratched her ears, fed her treats, read her stories and drew her pictures.
"She's cute," said first-grader Lauren Hamlin Chulka, 6, of Livingston. "She loves kids, and she likes cheeseburgers."
Loretta's visit filled the school with excitement and prompted a lot of laughter on Monday, but students also learned a hard truth: The dog had been abandoned in late November by a neglectful owner who allowed a mass in her abdomen to grow to the size of a melon.
"She has cancer," Lauren said. "She's not going to live much longer."
A veterinarian removed the mass last month, increasing Loretta's mobility and making her more comfortable, but the cancer already had metastasized to her lungs. She's been given weeks to live.
The dog's trip to Trinity was part of a "bucket list" being carried out by her Edwardsville foster family and other Madison County animal lovers. They're trying to fill her last days on earth with fun, love, comfort and happiness.
"It's just about giving her quality of life and then some," said Patty Barney, 52, Loretta's foster mother and board president at Partners for Pets, a rescue organization with an animal shelter in Troy. "We want her to know that people care about her."
In December, children showed up at the Barney home to sing Christmas carols to Loretta. Then the dog traveled to Chicago for a family holiday celebration, complete with her own stocking and gifts.
Several people have sent toys and treats to the house. Others have picked up Loretta and taken her to Annie's Frozen Custard and Schwarz Street Dog Park. Four Muddy Paws gave her a free doggy spa.
"She was a lawyer for a day," Barney said, noting that Edwardsville attorney Barbara Joiner has been heavily involved in the bucket-list effort.
Loretta also attended a birthday party and visited senior citizens at a memory-care center. She appeared on TV as part of a KSDK news story and recently filmed a Partners for Pets promotional video.
All of her adventures have been documented on the organization's Facebook page and at #lovingloretta on Instagram, resulting in $2,500 in donations for her medical care, more than three times the $700 in bills so far. Any money left over is earmarked to help other sick and injured rescues.
One social-media follower is Megan Langendorf, Lauren's first-grade teacher, who invited Barney to bring the dog to Trinity.
"I thought we could show Loretta a little love, too," she said.
Langendorf also noted that "responsibility" is the first-graders' word of the month, so they've been learning about being responsible, and that includes pet care.
After leaving Langendorf's classroom, the celebrity dog strolled Trinity's halls and hobnobbed with other students, racking up dozens more hugs and kisses.
Loretta's public story goes back to Nov. 27, when she was tied up and left outside Clinton County Animal Control in Carlyle in the middle of the night.
"She was really skinny, and she had a really large mass on her abdomen," said veterinarian David Hall, who examined her at Horseshoe Lake Animal Hospital in Collinsville. "Actually, it was probably a mammary mass. She also tested positive for heartworms."
A chest scan revealed a significant number of pulmonary nodules, leading Hall to believe the dog had terminal cancer. He estimated she had eight weeks to live. Veterinarian Lindsey Gammon later removed the mass.
Partners for Pets Director Nev Fisher named the dog after country singer Loretta Lynn since both came from rural areas.
It's believed that the canine Loretta is a full-blooded Lab, about 6 years old, and that she has spent most of her life outside in a pen. She's good-natured, despite her illness and abandonment.
"She's had a lot of puppies," Barney said. "Whoever had her made a lot of money off her. She's been bred and bred and bred."
Barney agreed to foster the dog with help from her husband, Kirk, an airline pilot, and two sons, Will, a student at Metro-East Lutheran High School, and Lee, who attends Southern Illinois University Carbondale. They also have three long-haired dachshunds, two cats and a foster cat with three kittens.
Loretta recently developed a cough, which could be a sign of her deteriorating respiratory health, according to Hall. It's expected that the dog eventually will have to be euthanized.
But Hall has been impressed by the efforts of Partners for Pets and others in the community to make Loretta's last days as happy and comfortable as possible.
"This dog didn't have a great life before this," he said. "But now she's being treated like a queen."
Source: Belleville News Democrat
Information from: Belleville News-Democrat, http://www.bnd.com