On Saturday November 19, Westside Park was packed with dogs. Some dogs wore sweaters and others charmed with a wag of a tail, but most wore purple bandannas in support of the fight against cancer.
American Cancer Society volunteer Carin Knighton organized the ACS-sponsored event Bark for Life to promote Relay for Life and recognize canine caregivers. Like Relay for Life, Bark for Life is a noncompetitive walk that raises funds for cancer research. At the beginning of the walk, Knighton stood under a purple tent behind a table covered with Relay for Life registration forms, donation forms and the latest issue of “The New Barker.”
“We always recognize the human caregivers at Relay for Life, but we are not able to have pets there,” Knighton said. “So many survivors have a canine caregiver who is with them 24/7. This gives us a chance to recognize them.”
This was the second time Bark for Life took place in Gainesville. Eighteen vendors, ranging from Shores Animal Hospital to the North Central Florida chapter of the Oncology Nursing Society brought giveaways and goodies to raise funds for cancer research.
Karen McLeod and Susan Frye are the presiding officers of the NCFL chapter of the Oncology Nursing Society. The organization works to encourage people to seek early detection, have open discussions with their primary care physicians, examine their family and personal histories and explore treatment options. Frye was accompanied by her sandy-colored pal, Genevieve, to help the patients she treats by working to find a cure.
“I have seen how research has been a very primary, important oncology area; and, we really have seen some amazing things with new drugs that are on the market,” she said. “It is fulfilling to be part of this piece for [the patients].”
Wearing a quilted green vest and a purple scarf, Genevieve was not the only fashionable pooch in sight. Gigi, a beagle, wore a purple bandanna and red bow as she trotted around on her leash with her tongue flopped out of her mouth, happily welcoming newcomers. Her owner, Sarah Blanc, is on the committee for Relay for Life.
“There are studies that prove that dogs can lower our heart rates and make us happier,” Blanc said. “I just think that having a dog and having a reason to get up and go for a walk each day is just one little thing that can make life a lot better.”
Karessa Widner especially valued her dogs while some of her dear family members and friends battled cancer. She attends Relay for Life each year. In 2017, the event will be held on April 7 at Flavet Field on the University of Florida campus. Relay for Life in East Gainesville will be held May 5 at Howard W. Bishop Middle School from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m.
“We have a lot of people in our family and friends who have gone through cancer treatments or are currently going through cancer treatments,” Widner said, “and those whom we have lost to cancer.”
She brought her two cocker spaniels to the event to help raise money for a cure to benefit those she loves. By the end of the event, seven teams collectively raised $4,871.
“It’s very important to me to have the funds for research,” Widner said, “and maybe we can have a cure.”
Photography by Allison Durham