Oakdale’s Ninth Annual Relay for Life has officially gone to the dogs … or at least that is the hope of team captain Kevin Benziger and his team, Believing for a Cure, as they host Oakdale’s first Bark For Life event.
The event will be hosted on Saturday, April 17 at Shire Park on the west side of Bridle Ridge. Registration begins at 9 a.m., opening ceremony will be conducted at 10 a.m., with the event concluding at noon.
A registration fee of $20 for the first dog and $10 for each additional dog from the same family is required to participate. Each canine participant will receive a BFL bandana. Canines earning $100 or more in sponsorship will be given a Bark for Life leash.
“Bark for Life is not normally a team fundraiser,” Benziger said. “It is usually something the (Relay) committee does as a sideline event.”
The concept behind Bark for Life, as a complementary fundraising source for the American Cancer Society’s signature fundraising Relay for Life event, first began in Pottstown, Pennsylvania in the spring of 2007. Following the community’s continued success with the event, the American Cancer Society trademarked the Bark for Life logo and made it an official fundraising event for the 2010 season. It is estimated that over 350 ‘Bark’ events will be hosted in the United States this year.
The Pottstown community had taken on a Relay for Life event goal of $1 million and thought of the canine sideline event as an additional way to bring attention to their upcoming Relay.
JoAnn McKiernan has been an active fundraiser for the American Cancer Society for over 25 years. When Sassy, her Yorkshire Terrier/Maltese mix, registered for the canine event, she sent e-mails to everyone she knew announcing her companion’s new role as an ACS volunteer.
According to McKiernan, almost immediately e-mails began coming in, with people wanting to know how they could support Sassy in her new fundraising role.
“People have dogs that are caregivers, members of their families and as best friends,” McKiernan told The Leader, via e-mail. “Dog owners who survive cancer understand the unconditional canine love that can help them fight another day.”
As testament to this, Benziger has invited Betsy Stowe to be the Survivor Speaker at Oakdale’s inaugural BFL. As a 15-year breast cancer survivor, Stowe was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma in 2008.
Stowe spent the majority of 2008 battling cancer through chemotherapy and radiation treatments. On her down days, as well as her up days, her Golden Retriever Chester was never far away.
“My dog would be beside me wherever I was,” she said, adding that even in her darkest moments of fighting cancer, Chester’s love was unconditional.
In 2009, Stowe’s goal was to attend Oakdale’s Relay for Life and walk the opening Survivor Lap in her purple shirt (worn by cancer survivors). When she arrived at the survivor parking lot on that April morning, she quickly realized her strength was not what she thought it was.
A volunteer swept Stowe up in a golf cart and placed her at the starting line where she could join the rest of the survivors, her peers.
“I knew I would probably only make it a quarter of the way around the track,” Stowe said. “So I positioned myself at the back of the group. It was just so important for me to take that opening lap.”
Barely a quarter of a lap in, Stowe felt her strength failing. But before she could give it a second thought, the volunteer on the golf cart was once again at her side.
“He didn’t take me off the track,” she said of her chauffer. “He took me around the track to finish the lap.
“I can’t tell you what that meant to me.”
Now, she sees her role as Survivor Speaker as a way of paying it forward.
“There is so much positive about ACS,” she said. “Relay is my opportunity to say thank you. I have benefited from so many of the services provided by ACS and made possible by this event.”
As the inaugural event organizer, Benziger recognizes that pets also get cancer, but makes it apparent that this is not that type of event. The event highlights and acknowledges the role the dog plays in the recovery process of its owner,
“This event is about two things,” Benziger said. “We’re focusing on two things, the instrumental role they play in people’s recovery and people love their dogs. They cannot bring them to Relay, so this is a way to include them.”
McKiernan agreed with Benziger stating, “Being able to bring your ‘best friend’ with you to events as important as raising funds for cancer treatments, patient services, education and awareness, is empowering and fun.”
While Oakdale’s first Bark for Life event is not being hosted in the traditional fashion, Benziger stated his hope is by hosting the mini event this year, it will spark interest for next year.
“Teams are getting involved,” he said of partnerships with other teams that are involved in the traditional Relay for Life.
In addition to teams that have volunteered to host booths at the inaugural event, BFL is being sponsored by the City of Oakdale, Oakdale’s Olde Towne Veterinary Hospital and Oakdale Veterinary Group. The Pet Station will hand out goodie bags and Pet Perfection has volunteered their services to primp the pets with doggie bows, toes and hairdos to prepare them for their photo opportunity.
“My goal is 100 dogs,” Benziger said. “And I think we are going to blow that out of the water.”
He added that the response from posters put up around town via phone calls and e-mails has been overwhelming.
“The support has just been amazing,” the organizer stated. “From the city, from the Relay for Life teams, the local businesses … It’s just been amazing. Everyone has just been so excited about it.”
“Congratulations to the Oakdale Bark for Life and their Relay,” McKiernan stated. “As the ACS celebrates contributing to a world with less cancer and more birthdays, the Bark for Life is born — timing could not be more perfect.”