Menifee's First Bark For Life Takes Small Bite Out Of Cancer

Hemet resident Debbie Sawitskas, a nine-year breast cancer survivor, gets a hug from her Great D...

Hemet resident Debbie Sawitskas, a nine-year breast cancer survivor, gets a hug from her Great Dane, Heidi.
Cancer survivors and their supporters spent Saturday morning, July 12, at an event similar to Relay For Life. This time, they brought their furry, four-legged friends to "take a bite out of cancer."

About 40 people and their canine companions participated in Menifee's first-ever Bark For Life event, which was held at Wheatfield Park. Owners and their dogs walked one lap around the park to honor cancer survivors and those who have passed. It was a much smaller spin-off of the annual 24-hour Relay For Life events, which also raise money and honor cancer patients.

Event Chair Kelly Carroll said Bark For Life was created to honor cancer patients and their "canine caregivers" who helped support them through their battles.

"The companionship we have with our dogs is something we can't replace, especially for some of our cancer patients," said Carroll (left). "They couldn't have gotten through it without their dogs."

Because this was the first time Bark For Life was held in Menifee, Carroll wasn't sure what to expect. Despite the small turnout, she said she was still happy with the event.

Hemet residents William and Gloryann Baca said their rescue dog, Poncho, was always there for them after they were both diagnosed with cancer in 2003. Gloryann was finishing up her radiation treatments for breast cancer when she found out her husband had leukemia. One year later, they decided to adopt Poncho, a Chihuahua mix.

"He was very helpful and comforting," said Gloryann. "He was good to hold for a good cry."

Dogs aflicted with cancer were also honored during the event. Harold, a rhodesian-ridgeback mix who passed away from bone cancer in April, was recognized as the 'Angel of Hope" during the opening ceremony.

His owner, Rickie Dickerson of Riverside, attended the event with her friends and four grandchildren, who remembered Harold as being "truly human." One morning, at the age of 11, Harold woke up with a broken leg.

"I made an appointment with the vet immediately because I knew he was a goner," said Dickerson, who described Harold as her best friend. "I told the doctor that if it is what we think it is, just leave him there. After he took the X-rays, Harold never left the table."

Humans and other dogs like Harold who passed away from cancer were recognized in the event's "Garden of Hope" (right), where people could write the name of their loved ones and place it among flowers for a small donation.

After the "Bow Wow Walk," there was a dog sports demonstration and contest. Awards were given out for the most spirited team and the top fundraiser. There was also a booth where owners could sign up their dogs for low-cost spay and neuter.

According to Carroll, they raised $3,700 of their $8,000 goal.

Rickie Dickerson and her grandchildren walk a lap in honor of her dog, Harold, who recently died of bone cancer.
A dog and dog owner take part in a "fly ball" demonstration.
William and Gloryann Baca, both cancer survivors, with their Chihuahua mix, Poncho.

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