When Luke Robinson’s beloved Great Pyrenees, Malcolm, was diagnosed with cancer in 2004, he did the only thing that made sense: he walked 2,300 miles from Austin, Texas to Boston, Massachusetts.
Ironically enough, Robinson, founder of the PuppyUp foundation, a grassroots organization dedicated to funding comparative oncology research and raising awareness about canine cancer, was not initially a dog person.
“I’ve been a type A person all my life,” he said. “I had them growing up as a kid, but once I moved out of my house I didn’t have time for a puppy dog.”
Then one day an ex-girlfriend called up Robinson asking if he wanted one.
“I swear I said no, but I ended up with Malcolm anyway,” he said. “He was a Pyrenees, and they’re so damn stubborn. He and I were butting heads all the time.”
Robinson called his ex back up telling her to take the dog back. When she said no, he went so far as to try to give him away, but no takers. After four or five months of having Malcolm, something interesting happened—Robinson and his dog developed a spiritual bond.
“He just became my mate,” he said. “And he broke me. He broke my idea of dogs, because before him, I didn’t know people could have a spiritual connection with an animal, and I had it with him.”
Four years after Malcolm was diagnosed, Robinson, Malcolm and Murphy, Robinson’s second dog at the time, began their 2,300-mile journey to spread the word about canine cancer. They covered 16 states from the southern tier of the United States back up the east coast. They pitched tents and camped out on the side of the road during the first half of their voyage and had supplies shipped to them almost every 50 miles. But as their adventure became more public, people across state lines were itching to lodge them.
Along the way, Robinson and Murphy lost Malcolm to his disease. That’s when Robinson picked up his other Pyrenees, Hudson. The three walked the rest of the way to Boston and finally arrived there in 2010; Robinson lost Murphy to nasal cancer upon their arrival in Boston, and he picked up another Great Pyrenees, named Indiana, and founded PuppyUp.
Now in its fifth full year, PuppyUp has had 160 walks across the United States, all promoting the education of comparative oncology as well as raising awareness of a disease that not only afflicts humans, but man’s best friend as well.
The town of New Paltz hosted its third annual PuppyUp walk on Sunday, Sept. 11 at Adair Vineyards. According to Lori Stopskie, organizer of the event, they raised over $9,700. Stopskie, like Robinson, had a beloved lab-mix, Syrah, succumb to cancer in November of 2010.
“It still hurts,” Stopskie said. “It’s not fun losing anyone to cancer, losing a pet, losing a loved one.”
This year, Stopskie said most of PuppyUp’s funds are going toward studying osteosarcoma, or bone cancer, which is the No. 1 cancer in both dogs and children.
According to Dr. Sue Ettinger, a veterinary cancer specialist who attended New Paltz’s PuppyUp, cancer is the No. 1 killer of dogs. She said every one in three dogs will get cancer in their lifetime, with one out of every two dogs over the age of 10 being afflicted by cancer.
The Animal Cancer Foundation also reports that roughly 6 million cancer diagnoses are made in dogs each year, with the most similar cancers in both dogs and humans being non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, prostate cancer, head and neck carcinoma, mammary carcinoma, melanoma, soft tissue sarcoma and osteosarcoma.
“[PuppyUp] isn’t just about canine cancer, it’s about human cancer, too,” Stopskie said. “It’s about looking at the links between the two and trying to find better treatments and better cures for both dogs and people.”
This story first appeared in The New Paltz Oracle on September 15, 2016.