Bark for Life: Dogs, owners battle cancer

By Peter H. Milliken


The dogs participating in Sunday’s downtown Bark for Life fundraiser for the American Cancer Society ranged from a 7-pound Chihuahua to a 165-pound Italian mastiff.

Patterned after a similar event last year in Pottstown, Pa., Bark for Life was the first edition of what its local chairwoman, Jamie Szmara of Youngstown, plans as an annual event in Youngstown.

A scaled-down version of Relay for Life, Sunday’s four-hour event drew about 60 people and about 100 dogs to Phelps and Commerce streets for an observance that coincided with the annual National Cancer Survivors’ Day.

Besides the Chihuahua and several mastiffs, breeds of canines represented in Sunday’s walk through downtown included the Labrador retriever, the beagle, the Akita, the Dalmatian and the pit bull.

Aside from raising money, the event recognized the therapeutic value of pets in helping people with their emotional recovery from cancer, said Szmara, an ACS volunteer.

“Dogs are a huge part of being with a survivor — somebody going through chemotherapy. They’re the companion that’s there every day, 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Szmara said.

Also present were dog adoption agencies and vendors selling candles, home-made dog treats, food and drinks for the walkers, and cosmetics.

The event’s first-year fundraising goal was $1,500 to $2,000, said Szmara, who participated with her three Italian mastiffs: The 2-year-old, 165-pound male named Zeus; the 21/2-year old, 145-pound female named Cocoa; and Cocoa’s daughter, a 1-year-old, 95-pound female named Marina.

Another participant, John Whitinger of Poland, a two-time cancer survivor, brought his two dogs, Koda, a 2-year-old male Akita mix, and Gizmo, a 4-year-old male beagle mix, both rescued from shelters.

Whitinger underwent surgery for a brain tumor eight years ago, and another surgery on the brain tumor six years ago. He goes to the Cleveland Clinic every four months for a magnetic-resonance-imaging scan to check for any recurrence.

“Raising money for the American Cancer Society means the world to me. I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for the American Cancer Society,” said Whitinger, who credits the ACS for funding research that developed the treatments and procedures he needed to survive.

“With my type of cancer, there’s no way that they can get all of it, and it will not go away. It will come back someday. They don’t know when,” he said. “I may outlive it. I may not.”

Four years ago, Whitinger founded the ACS’ Poland Relay for Life, which will take place this year from 6 p.m. July 8 to 6 p.m. July 9 at Poland Seminary High School.

Don't Miss a Story

Sign up for our newsletter to receive daily news directly in your inbox.