Saturday, February 21, 2009

Cross-Country Trek Calls Attention to Canine Cancer

from The Madison

by Sara Denhart
Kentucky News Desk

Friday, February 20, 2009

Five years ago, Luke Robinson of Austin, Texas, found out his best friend had cancer. He researched every medical journal to find out more about the cancer that was slowly killing his friend, but the lack of preventive medicine and treatment options was mind-numbing.

"He was a big part of my life," Robinson said. "I never knew you can have such a profound relationship with a pet."

While Robinson's best friend was not human and walked on all fours, it did not diminish the fact that his best friend was going to die in two years. He cherished the early memories of raising the Great Pyrenees puppy until the dog, Malcolm, was 8.

"When I got him, I had the father-son dog talk about you will listen to me and do what I tell you, but he broke me in a week," Robinson said. "I love to play golf. I would quit playing golf with my friends because Malcolm was my caddy."

After Robinson had provided care for the sick dog for two years, Malcolm died in 2006. He had gone through amputation and chemotherapy only to slow the progression of the cancer that later metastasized to his lungs. No one could tell Robinson why or how Malcolm was afflicted with cancer.

Robinson knew he had done everything a good pet owner should - provide shelter, love and proper nutrition; take him for checkups and exams at the veterinarian; and play with him from time to time.

"Dogs get the same type of cancers people get," Robinson said. "Canine cancer is a crisis of epidemic proportions."

Since Malcolm's death, Robinson sold his truck, put his belongings into storage, quit his job and started a walking trip from Austin, Texas, to Boston, Mass. He was on a mission to bring awareness of canine cancer.

"Malcolm is who got me on the road," Robinson said. "My family thinks I'm a nut job for doing this, but they are very supportive."

Since leaving his home a year ago, Robinson has met hundreds of people across the country who have told their stories about the pets they lost to cancer. He has made several shirts, as memorials, filled with the names of pets that have died from cancer.

"Cancers are becoming more common and more frequent in dogs," Robinson said. "I saw pictures of a beautiful corgi that died at the age of 2 because of cancer."

Robinson said the average age of some dog breeds is being reduced by several years because cancer is becoming so widespread. He said the Bernese mountain dog's life expectancy has been reduced from 10 years to 6 to 8 years because of cancer.

"Dogs even get breast cancer," Robinson said. "Nobody knows why dogs get cancer, but everybody wants to know what is causing the cancer."

Robinson, through his research and discussions with experts, believes the canine cancers are developed through environmental factors, nutrition and genetics. But genetics plays a small role in the cancers, he said.

"Everyone thinks it's a nutritional component," Robinson said. "The drug companies don't want to invest in researching it because all they care about are cures and treatments. There is no money invested in the prevention of canine cancer."

After four pairs of hiking boots, four tents, two cameras and three wireless phones, Robinson and his two Great Pyrenees dogs, Hudson and Murphy, have traveled 1,000 miles and have 1,300 miles to go. He will head to Cincinnati next and continue north before taking a dogleg east to New England.

"The dogs love the new sights and new smells," Robinson said. "Great Pyrenees are guard dogs, but they like to walk. Hudson loves horses and cows. He saw his first Shetland pony in Hanover and wanted to play with it. I couldn't do this trip without them."

Along the way, Robinson and his dogs, who walk about 10 miles a day, stop at animal shelters to volunteer, meet up with families who are hosting them and pick up supplies that have been shipped to post offices nearby. One of his sponsors sends 10 pounds of dog treats to every shelter where he volunteers during his travels.

"I considered myself a dog lover, but I never spent any time in a shelter," Robinson said. "I worried I would get too attached to the dogs there, but I found out that's not the case."

As the "pack," as Robinson refers to himself and his two dogs, walks, Robinson said they can carry about five days' worth of human food, dehydrated dog food packs, and water. The dehydrated dog food is similar to military rations given to soldiers, but it is formulated for dogs. The owner just has to add water, and the dogs can have a nutritious meal, Robinson said.

"We've been so blessed," Robinson said. "Every city has its own character. Memphis was really rich in culture and history. In Bowling Green, Ky., we met a really awesome head of the humane society there who has transformed the focus of the town on the need of animals. Louisville - I love that city. It's so eclectic and artistic. I love Madison. It's got a historic downtown that's really cool. I'm kind of a geek when it comes to history and science."

Robinson is using technology to document his journey for people who want to keep track of him online. He's using social networking programs such as Twitter, Dogster and Facebook to document his journey. After reaching Boston, he hopes to write a book about his journey and raise money for preventive measures for canine cancer.

"This is just phase one of the project," Robinson said. "I'm building a network now."

To track the journey of Robinson, Hudson and Murphy, visit

Caption with picture: Jenny Slover, manager of the Jefferson County Animal Shelter, plays with Murphy and Hudson, who were visiting Madison with Luke Robinson this week. Robinson and his dogs are a year into a 2,000-mile trek on foot and paw from Austin, Texas, to Boston, Mass., to raise awareness of canine cancer. (Staff photo by Ken Ritchie)


Kathryn Levy Feldman (Kit) said...

Your story hit a nerve. See my article. Saving Bentley in the Univ. Of Pa Gazette--just google Saving Bentley and you will know why. I'd like to talk to you about documenting your story, Contact me at:

Anonymous said...

Wow what a great and inspiring story! I wish I could do this with my babies! What's hard for me is finding a quality vet clinic to take care of all my pet's needs. But I did want to share this website with people if they are in the same bind!