Dog lover takes his battle against cancer in pets and humans to the streets.
Melisa Kottmeier is greeted by Indiana, one of two Great Pyrenees dogs owned by Luke Robinson, of the “2 Million Dog” crusade, who spoke to dog owners at F.Y.D.O. Land in Elgin, Ill., about links between human and pet cancer.
When his beloved Great Pyrenees dog Malcolm died from bone cancer in 2004, Luke Robinson was sad and angry.
Adding to his loss: Nobody could tell him why.
"I didn't even know dogs could get cancer," Robinson said.
Beginning in 2008, Robinson and two of his other dogs, Murphy and Hudson, walked from his home in Texas to Boston to raise awareness about cancer in pets and links to human cancers, as well. With stops and starts along the way, and Robinson and the dogs camping or staying with host families, the journey lasted more than two years.
"Somewhere on the cross-country walk I had this dream, this vision of taking the two dogs, walking 2,000 miles and making that into 2 million dogs," he said.
And so his life's mission was conceived. After the walk ended, the nonprofit 2 Million Dogs was founded with the hope that eventually that number of dogs and their owners will participate in walks to raise awareness and money to fund research to eradicate cancer from pets and people.
Humans share no direct genetic link with dogs, yet each dies from the same types of cancers in astronomical numbers, he said.
Sadly, nasal cancer was diagnosed in Murphy less than a month after arriving in Boston. He died a year and three days later.
Losing Murphy further strengthened Robinson's resolve.
"I think dogs are the canary in the coal mine," he said. "I think that they hold the answer. They drink the same water we do, are exposed to the same air, environmental toxins. I can't help but think that since we don't share a genetic link, there must be something in the environment.
"All the cancers we get, they are getting, too," he said. "And that is strange. We share no evolutionary line with dogs. We don't come from dogs and dogs don't come from us."
Robinson recently visited the Chicago area with Hudson and Indy, his newest "fuzzybutt," on what he named the "Summer of Murphy Tour," a cross-country journey in his van that he began in September.
Since 2010, through events called Puppy-Up walks, 2 Million Dogs has raised $270,000, said Karyn Vasquez, a dog lover and member of the board of directors of the organization. About a third of the money goes to research, with the rest going toward education and awareness.
"For me, just letting people know that our companion animals really do get cancer is a huge step in the right direction," said Vasquez, who lost her own dog, Chelios, to lymphoma on New Year's Day 2010.
Last year the organization presented a $50,000 grant to Princeton University to fund the school's study of canine mammary tumor development and progression.
"Mammary tumors are the most common tumors in intact female dogs," she said. "In humans, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women. Mammary tumors in dogs and breast cancer in women have many similarities, both in terms of risk factors and biology."
Interest in the mission has grown.
In 2010 there were Puppy-Up walks in 12 cities nationwide. In 2011, there were walks in 27 cities, and this year there are about 32. So far, about 3,000 dogs and their owners have participated, said Ginger Morgan, executive director of 2 Million Dogs.
"We are still looking for many dogs and their owners to help us in our fight against cancer," Morgan said. "When we hit 2 million dogs, we will still continue walking. We'll walk until we find a cure, until we can find out what is causing cancer and how we can prevent it."