Thursday, December 11, 2008

Two Dogs Walk 2K Miles for Cancer

Here's a great article published on 12/11/08 on ZooToo by Amy Lieberman.

December 11, 2008
Two Dogs Walk 2K Miles for Cancer

Luke Robinson and his two Great Pyrenees dogs are walking from Austin, Texas, to Boston, Mass., in name of one beloved dog and the untreatable cancer that took his life.

NEW YORK -- Luke Robinson's Great Pyrenees, Malcolm, died two years ago, but he remains committed to giving the dog's memory the walk of a lifetime -- all the way from Austin, Texas, to Boston.

Robinson and his two other Great Pyrenees, Hudson and Murphy, set out from Texas on foot -- and paws -- in March, in no hurry to reach their final destination.

"I have devoted the rest of my life to canine cancer, to raising awareness for it," the 37-year-old said.

The former business consultant says he was not a likely candidate to follow a risky course -- quit his high-profile job, sell his car, place all of his possessions in storage and transport his urban life to the backroads of the country.

But after Malcolm, then age 6, was diagnosed with cancer in 2004, Robinson's previous sense of purpose was thrown out the doggy door.

"It really shattered my world," Robinson said. "He was my boy. He wasn't my blood, but he was my boy. My days rose and set with him. He was a part of me."

Laying Malcolm to rest two years after his diagnosis, however, didn't lead Robinson to relinquish his battle against the fatal cancer.

The man who used to sing Malcolm bedtime songs began to ask questions: Why did this have to happen to his otherwise healthy dog, especially at such a young age? And, if Malcolm was only one of many dogs plagued by cancer, why weren't people paying more attention?

The latter is a question that too few people are actually broaching, Robinson says.

"There really is no chemo treatment for dogs," he said. "The vast majority of drugs out there only slow the progression. There really isn't that much out there, and when I began to fully appreciate the disparity between human and pet medical science, I realized there was a huge problem."

Most pet owners fail to recognize the serious threat of canine cancer, from which around 50 percent of dogs will eventually die, says Gary Nice, founder of the National Canine Cancer Foundation.

"Their pets get diagnosed, and then people come to us all the time, saying 'I didn't realize it was that bad of a situation.' "

Like Robinson, Nice decided to take action and establish the foundation after he lost his golden retriever, Bailey, to bone cancer several years ago; he has since seen two more of his goldens succumb to the same disease.

Golden Retrievers, Boxers, Flat-Coated Retrievers and Bernese Mountain dogs are predisposed to cancer, Nice says. Pedigree dogs, especially show dogs, like his own, also tend to experience more diagnoses, given their smaller, exclusive breeding circuit.

Around $5 million is spent on canine cancer research every year in the United States, compared with the $500 million that human cancer research receives annually, Nice says.

Unable to brush off these statistics in the aftermath of Malcolm's death, Robinson transmitted his grief into energy -- enough to sustain him and Murphy, 2, and Hudson, 7, as they complete their nearly 2,000 mile trek.

"I just wasn't willing to let his loss go in vain," Robinson said. "Whatever we do, we have to get the awareness out there for this issue."

Robinson and "the boys," as he calls them, planned the journey as an 11-month excursion, a goal that could be met if they traveled eight to 10 miles a day. Obstacles along the way, however, have slowed their progress -- as they now near Bowling Green, Ky., the trio has so far walked around 921 miles.

Steering clear of major interstates and highways, Robinson, normally weighed down with a 90- to 100-pound backpack, likes to take things step by step.

Robinson's volunteer team of six is crucial in coordinating his itinerary, which can be tracked on his blog,

"We are always trying to find someone who can pick him up off the road, find someone to take him to someplace warm, or let him spend the night at their house," said Ginger Morgan, the spokeswoman of Robinson's team.

"I sometimes feel like I am trying to find a place for Joseph and Mary."

Morgan generally finds success in persuading strangers, from veterinarians to church employees, to assist Robinson and his dogs in some fashion.

Relying on the kindness of strangers, though, is becoming more challenging, as Robinson heads north, away from the Southern community with which Morgan, who lives in Memphis, Tenn., has contacts.

Donations partially sustain Robinson's relatively frugal lifestyle, but his personal savings also bolster his budget, which lends to a regular diet of ramen noodles and trail mix.

When staying with strangers is not an option, Robinson doesn't mind shacking up with "the boys" in his tent. Come nightfall, the dogs take turns cuddling with their owner in his sleeping bag, in order to stay warm.

During days off, they sometimes perform meet-and-greets with spectators, who turn out to catch the trio while they can.

The dogs are troopers, Robinson says, and can outlast him any day on the walking trail.

"Hudson and Murphy are the stars of the show," Robinson said. "I'm just the guy carrying their luggage."

The team will soon weave through Kentucky, then cut north to pass through major cities in Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, and finally, Massachusetts. Robinson hopes to arrive in Boston by this summer.

He doesn't know where his pursuits will then take him, but doubts he will return to the world of business.

"This is my life, now," Robinson said. "I loved Malcolm. He is the inspiration and motivation that enabled me to gear myself up for this journey. This is just the first step."

A first step that will stop at nothing short of 2,000 miles and a lifetime to spare.

Please also take time to read the generous and positive comments posted after the article.

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