Bark for Life raises more than $7,000 for American Cancer Society

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Staff Writer
PETERSBURG – Amanda’s Field was filled with dogs on Saturday as the inaugural Bark for Life Cape May County unfolded.

Nearly 70 dogs, joined by more than 100 of their human companions, gathered to “ruff up cancer” and celebrate a world with more birthdays. They played games, competed in contests, romped, sniffed and made lots of new friends during the day-long, tail-wagging event. There was music, lots of food and, most importantly, camaraderie. Thanks to a small army of dedicated volunteers, the event raised more than $7,000 for the American Cancer Society.
At Bark, it’s all about honoring the care-giving role of canines as they assist a human fighting cancer. Canine companions demonstrate unconditional love, joy, security, compassion, and no judgments of cancer survivor’s abilities or appearances.
The area’s inaugural Bark for Life was deemed a huge success.
“All in all, we couldn’t be happier,” said Kirby Reed, the director of the event, the first of its kind in South Jersey. “We didn’t know what to expect today, this far exceeded our wildest expectations. We had a lot more people than we imagined, and people were very generous. We’re very pleased for a first time event. Everyone had a great time, especially the dogs.
“We didn’t have any problem with any of the dogs, they were all on their best behavior,” Reed added.
Bailey, a nine year-old English Springer Spaniel from Ocean City, was the grand marshal, leading a parade of canines around Amanda’s Field. Bailey helped cut the ribbon and even offered a high five with her paw and a big kiss for state Sen. Jeff Van Drew and Upper Township Committeeman Ed Barr, who attended the event and officiated at the ribbon cutting.
Van Drew, a dog lover whose family includes two German Sheppards, spoke of the “human family” sharing in the many joys and challenges in life, including a family member or friend suffering from cancer.
“We are all in this together,” he said. “There but for the grace of God go I.”
Van Drew praised all of the gathered doggies, for their collective care-giving roles. No one knows when a canine may be called upon to offer support, he said.
 “We need to take care of each other, love each other,” he said.
Welcoming the crowd to Upper Township, Barr noted the spectacular sunshine and blue skies gracing Amanda’s Field, a special bonus for the furry friends. The pleasant weather did not go unnoticed by Monsignor Quinn of St. Paul’s Roman Catholic Church in Stone Harbor, who offered a blessing.
With storms blasting the area overnight, Quinn said he put a good word in for the Bark. Just after sunrise on Saturday morning, the rain stopped and the sun began to shine.
Animals were saved from a flood long ago, he said, and afterwards made a part of a pact with Noah.
“Bless these animals and all those gathered,” he said.
Peanut, a Pug/Jack Russell Terrier mix, spread joy throughout the event. A certified therapy dog, Peanut wore a red vest emblazoned with “please pet me.”
Peanut lives in Ocean City and belongs to two volunteer organizations and regularly visits rehabilitation centers and other places where people are in need of good cheer.
“This event is wonderful, Peanut is having a great time,” said her owner, Madison Kennelly, the reigning Miss Cape May County Outstanding Teen. The entire Kennelly family, including her 17-year-old sister Savannah and her parents Tom and Mary Jo were on hand to greet both dogs and their owners.
Peanut got his start as a therapy dog after faithfully staying by the side of Madison’s grandmother when she was gravely ill with kidney disease.
“We thought we could help others too,” said Mary Jo. “We did not think it was fair to keep her to ourselves.”
Peanut goes into therapy mode when the red vest goes on, Madison said. Her calm, sunny disposition means the world to someone ailing, she said. 
A white mixed breed dog named Rory had a blast at the event. His owners, Marissa and Kyle Flatley, heard about the event through their veterinarian and decided to check it out.
“We love to do things with Rory, and we’re trying to get him acclimated to other dogs,” said Marissa. “It’s a lot of fun, we’re happy we came. It’s nice to honor dogs, you don’t see that happen very often. We’re very happy to help the cause.”
Bailey reigned over the large crowd of canines, making sure to greet each and every participant. Bailey is both a cancer survivor and a faithful caregiver. Adorned with a pink collar and lace-adorned, sequined pink scarf, she served admirably.
“I am so honored that Bailey was chosen to be grand marshal,” said Susan Hoyos. Bailey belongs to her sister, Linda Raiser. The two share a home in Ocean City’s north end.
Hoyos, a breast cancer survivor, relied on Bailey’s companionship when she was undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Raiser said Bailey “is a sweetie of a dog” who served as both a cancer survivor and faithful companion.
Bailey was five when she was diagnosed with cancer of the nail bed. A portion of her paw was amputated. She survived surgery, endured treatment and now thrives.
When Hoyos was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago, Bailey took on a new role as caregiver.
Raiser said her sister’s cancer diagnosis was frightening. If they’re lucky, people diagnosed with the disease have a furry, four-legged companion like Bailey by their side on the road to recovery, she said.
Raiser would drop her sister off for treatments in the mornings on her way to work and a friend would bring her home. Sometimes Hoyos would get home before her sister, but she never entered an empty house.
“Bailey would be there to greet her,” said Raiser. “Susan would come home and feel just awful from the treatments. Bailey seemed to sense that. She did her best to cheer Susan up, hop up on the sofa, curl up with her, keep her company. Susan would walk in and see that smiling face and she felt so much better. She’d pet Bailey and her pain would be lifted. It was just amazing what Bailey did for her.”
“They really do know when things are wrong,” said Hoyos. “Bailey was a pillar of strength for me. She stayed right with, right by my side. I couldn’t have gotten through it without her.”
The 2011 ACS Bark for Life raised more than $750,000 and in 2012 is expected to go over $1 million in fundraising dollars to support the mission of the ACS as it saves lives and works to eliminate cancer.
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