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The Ruff Report: Dogs and Health


Making strides in fight against canine cancer

S
andra Vilahu has lost three dogs to cancer in just 10 years, including her beloved Brenna who died so suddenly that she had no chance to say goodbye.

The grieving has ended and now Vilahu is determined to help find a cure for the disease that afflicts half of dogs and kills one in four. It is the top cause of death in dogs over age 2.

"I became really angry that despite doing everything I could to protect her, she, too, was a victim of cancer," Vilahu told Love of Dogs. "Brenna's death was certainly the catalyst to get me into the fight for a cure."

Last year, the resident of Elk Grove, California, started an annual K9K Walk to Cure Cancer to raise money for Denver-based Morris Animal Foundation, an animal welfare organization that is trying to raise $30 million to find a cure for the disease. And this year, cyberspace is being used to take the event national.

"The idea of a virtual walk was born when my family in Alaska said they wanted to be involved in the K9K," Vilahu explained. "We created our very first virtual team, Team Alaska."

Those who are unable to attend the actual event on April 18 at Elk Grove Regional Park can participate by forming virtual walk teams, Vilahu said. The virtual walkers pay a walk registration fee and in return receive a Canine Cancer Campaign bandanna and awareness band in the mail with a letter of thanks.

"There are many people across the country who have lost beloved dogs to cancer, and this is a novel way for them to participate long distance," Vilahu said. "So far, we have teams in Alaska, Michigan, Maryland, Morris Animal Foundation's team in Colorado and the Tripawd.com Team."

The Sacramento Volunteer Group is paying all expenses for the K9K event, so all registration fees and donations will go to fund canine cancer research, Vilahu said.

Vilahu encourages dog owners across the country to consider forming groups and holding their own walks to raise money to fight canine cancer. "My hope is that there are 100 or more people out there that are willing host an annual K9K Walk to Cure Canine Cancer in their hometown," she said.

Unlike with people, the government provides no funding for companion animal research, so dog owners need to band together and raise money to find a canine cancer cure, Valihu said.
"I have no doubt that every year many valuable research projects never get off the ground due to lack of funding," she said. "If every dog owner donated just $1, we'd have sufficient money to fund a decade or more of research."

The National Cancer Institute estimates more than six million dogs are diagnosed with cancer each year, Valihu said. "Most dog owners don't realize that cancer is the greatest threat to their dog. Some breeds of dogs have close to 50 percent cancer risk. ... Cancers rates among dogs are increasing and more young dogs are being affected. It is incredibly heartbreaking to lose a young dog to cancer. Dog's lives are far too short as it is, and cancer has shortened the average lifespan of several dog breeds by as much as 2 years."

The Morris Animal Foundation's canine cancer research has the potential to play pivotal role in finding a cure for the disease, Vilahu said. "It is a global, targeted and collaborative effort."
Progress toward finding a cure has been coming in small steps, but a giant step forward happened in 2005 with the mapping of the dog genome, Valihu said.

The Morris Animal Foundation's canine cancer research has the potential to play pivotal role in finding a cure for the disease, Vilahu said. "It is a global, targeted and collaborative effort."
Progress toward finding a cure has been coming in small steps, but a giant step forward happened in 2005 with the mapping of the dog genome, Valihu said.

"We now have an early detection test for lymphoma, and later this year an early detection test for hemangiosarcoma (blood vessel cancer) should be available," Valihu said. "Early detection means better outcomes and the opportunity to develop more effective treatment protocols."

More reports about dogs and cancer:
Major breakthrough in canine cancer treatment
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Those who wish to participate in the virtual walk can visit http://www.caninek.org/ and download a virtual walk form or send an e-mail to sandy@caninek.org. Visit http://www.curecaninecancer.org/ for more information about the Morris Animal Foundation and cancer research.

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