Medicine of the four-legged kind, Bark for Life raises funds in the fight against cancer

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At Woodglen Vista Park in Santee, the American Cancer Society hosted it’s first annual “Bark for Life: A Canine Event to Fight Cancer” for cancer survivors, for those battling cancer, for those lost to cancer, and everyone effected by cancer on July 11. This cancer fundraiser had a bit more bite than other Relay for Life events—it was organized to include dogs. All four legged friends were welcome. The turnout had family dogs, therapy dogs, and athletic dogs that compete in events like SD Flyball, a dog sport organization that was onsite with a course for dogs to show off their agility, skills, and craziness for yellow tennis balls. It was all for the cause, and promoted on the premise that dogs are one of the more benevolent elements in the fight against cancer. There is evidence to support the health benefits of the human-dog connection, the way the bond can improve the emotional and physical conditions of people who have cancer and other afflictions.

The people in attendance had personal stories to share that reinforced the data.

Buddy and Bailey, sibling twenty-month old Australian Shepherds, “Mini Aussies” with high energy bounced around the SD Flyball tent and course, eager to play. Their owner is Lee Beregstein, who intends to channel the energy and intelligence of the breed into helping people with cancer.

“This is important for us to support. They’re really great with children so I’d like to focus on the kids that have cancer. I had a cousin that was born with a brain tumor. She had surgery when she was a couple months old, now she’s eleven years old. She’s a cancer survivor. All of this that’s in our family strengthens the urge to try to find a cure and to help out as much as we can,” Beregstein said.

Debbie and Louie LaChusa are the owners of Hope, a two and a half year old Golden Retriever and therapy dog just getting started in SD Flyball. Faith, their 8 month old Golden will also be a therapy dog someday. From the sideline, Faith and Louie cheered on Debbie and Hope, fixated on the tennis ball at the end of the course. The LaChusa’s kids are grown and out of the house, but they keep busy with their dogs, their dogs keeping busy helping people.

Dog owner and self-proclaimed “Cancer Fairy” Ann McCorkell participates in the El Cajon Relay for Life in addition to this year’s Bark for Life. Each May, she walks fifty miles in a 24-hour period around the track at El Cajon Valley Stadium to raise money for the fight against cancer.

“You get sponsors, people who donate, I raised over $1,000 this year, I was team captain and on the committee,” McCorkell said.

She was at Bark for Life with her sister and her daughter, Kaci, Miss El Cajon 2015, who goes to San Diego State University, studying criminology and pre-law. The women all dressed up in their “Cancer Fairies” costumes, but let their three dogs stole the show — in different color tutus and matching wings, the dogs looked like a colorful tribe of their own, ready to serve in any capacity their humans required. It was impossible to look at the costumed canines and not smile. That was the idea.

Then there was the Team Tater Tots doggie kissing booth. Even if doggie kisses are not your thing, Tater, a smallish brown dog with round, happy brown eyes and long whiskers was determined to make you love him with his wiggles and whimpers, his “arf!” exclamations that were pleas for friendship to everyone who got close to him. His tail wagged so quickly, he almost could have taken off vertically like a helicopter. His owner, Julie Bartlett understands the therapeutic quality dogs possess. She works for the ACS. It’s more than her job—Bartlett has seen the destruction cancer can inflict physically, emotionally, circumferentially. So she professionally and personally invested in the many ways to fight it. Tater is part of that fight.

“I’ve had a lot of cancer in my family from both my husbands side and mine, and our dog has been a huge part of dealing with that, a huge emotional support for when you’re going through something like that. Plus, I’ve had a lot of pets that have had cancer. We know it affects people but we don’t realize it also effects animals. So it’s something that helps the people side of my heart and the puppy side of my heart,” Bartlett said.

She does five other Relay for Life events throughout the county, many of them overnight. Bark for Life is the only event she does with Tater, who was pint size, compared to some of the bigger dogs at the event. In his compact, furry body, Tater was a symbol of a dog’s ability to almost make anything better. Like a drug with no side effects, immediate relief upon contact.

The entry fee was $25 per person, plus a dog. Though Bark for Life was not one of the larger events put on by the ACS/Relay for Life, the turnout and the positive energy were a testament to how the collective efforts of a few determined people can do a lot of good, but person with a dog by their side can do even better.

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