( CNN) It was a difficult season of loss for Sean Owens’ family.

Shortly after his father succumbed of kidney cancer in 2010, his mother’s beloved black Labrador retriever mix — Mary Margaret, or Maggie — was diagnosed with hemangiosarcoma, a rapidly growing tumor of the blood vessels. Maggie had a history of health problems, and Owens’ mother was distraught.

“That’s not an uncommon scenario in veterinary medicine, ” said Owens, veterinarian and professor of clinical pathology in the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California, Davis.

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