Canine companions join owners to raise funds, awareness for cancer research

The Ellis County Expo Center was filled with dogs and their walking or running companions to raise money for cancer.

“This is a precursor of our upcoming Relay For Life event that will be held at the park in June,” volunteer Felest Ingersole said. “I’m here to support all cancer survivors, help raise money for research to beat cancer, and in memory of those who cancer claimed their lives. My son Aaron is a cancer survivor.”

The Saturday event was the second year for the Bark For Life of Ellis County. More than 50 people pre-registered for the event and more than 100 came to sign up for the walk. For many, Bark for Life was a family event.

“We’re excited to be able to hold this, to bring the community an event where we can enjoy a day with our families and our pets. I am a cancer survivor and an animal lover. This is the best of both worlds,” co-chair Mattie McClean said. “We have had a tremendous amount of community support to bring this together. I am so thankful for all the vendors and supporters of today’s walk.”

This year’s walk had many volunteers providing services and giving demonstrations. Wanting to pitch in and do whatever was needed were two soldiers who traveled from Fort Hood in Killeen to help out. Michael Cheeney and Christopher Wente, both getting ready for overseas deployment with the Third Brigade of the First Calvary, opened the event by presenting the colors during the opening ceremonies.

“We helped with parking, helping visitors load and unload and anywhere else we were needed,” Wente said.

“We saw the flyer online and wanted to come up to be involved and share our commitment for dogs and cancer research, Cheeney added.

More than 20 vendors advertised their services, and offered aid and comfort to the four-legged guests. Several pools a water were available to quench their thirst. Another booth offered doggy massages.

“Bob for Dogs” was the favorite of the water spots. The setup was a small kid’s pool filled with water and mini hot dog treats for the bottom. After the owners helped their canine friends figure where the treats were, the dogs kept bobbing for more.

“This dog saved my life. That’s why I’m here today, supportive of my dog that supported me while I battled cancer, ” Laurie Reynolds said. “When I came home from chemo, Ranger stuck by my side. He was with me every minute. He would not move off the bed. Ranger stayed with me night and day, never leaving my side. When I knew he had to go outside to go to the bathroom, my husband would literally have to pick him up and carry him outside and there was no doubt that he needed to go. Then as soon as he was finished, he was right back beside me. We have an extremely strong bond. His instincts are incredible. I would not have survived without him.”

Ranger and Reynolds later led the survivors’ walk, where cancer survivors take a trip around the track to be honored. As the survivors completed their victory lap, the track ring began to fill in with the many other supporters.

Beyond dogs who supported their masters through cancer, other therapy dogs were at the event. Arlene Tupa came with her companion, a Belgian Malinois named Keeper, which means protector. Before Tupa injured her back, she trained, groomed and cared for dogs.

“She is my everything. It’s just her and me. She helps me by mainly being my protector. She picks up things that I drop that would be difficult for me to pick up, she is very attentive to my every need,” Tupa said. “No one comes to my place without her letting me know. Life would be impossible without her.”