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Local Hero – Barking Up the Right Tree

Bark for Life

(L) Eileen & Coco and Lynn & Ducky, relax with Grand Marshall Buddy (far left) after last year’s race.

Celebrating the healing power of dogs

By Brendan Quealy

Anyone with a pet understands just how deep the human-animal bond runs. We feed them, keep them healthy, and make sure they are safe and happy. In return, they feed our souls and love us unconditionally.

Both Lynn Weiss of Orland Park and Eileen McKanna of Orland Hills understand firsthand how important that relationship can be, especially during an illness. Our canine companions have a tremendous healing effect on those directly and indirectly touched by cancer. Weiss was diagnosed with fibromuscular dysplasia, which attacks and eventually clogs the arteries if left untreated. She suffered through the tragic loss of her father, sister, and brother to cancer. McKanna carries the pain of watching both of her parents die from cancer, as well as helping her sister battle breast cancer. On top of all of that, both women were there every step of the way as their friend Kristine Bulian’s daughter fought and eventually lost her battle with cancer.

For all of those reasons and more, McKanna and Weiss are the perfect people to organize the American Cancer Society’s (ACS) 2012 Bark for Life event on May 12. A spinoff of the ACS’s Relay for Life, Bark for Life includes a one-mile walk for people and their dogs, with a mission to raise awareness and money to find a cure for cancer. “This event is being held to honor the lifelong contributions of our canine caregivers,” Weiss says. “The heart of Bark for Life is the relationship between survivors and their canine companions.”

Weiss is familiar with the difference a dog can make in the life of a cancer patient. When her father moved in with her about a month before he passed away, he and Rusty, her Golden Retriever, became joined at the hip. “You would think the dog was his,” Weiss says with a laugh. To this day, when she remembers the joy Rusty brought her father in his final days, she can’t help but smile.

For someone going through the physical and emotional roller coaster ride of a cancer diagnosis, having someone who gives you 100 percent support without fear, judgment, or anger is a gift.  “You get unconditional love from that dog,” McKanna says. “If you have hair or you don’t. If you have just thrown up on yourself—that dog never leaves your side. You can tell that dog your hopes and dreams—your fears about dying and what will happen when you pass away.”

Bulian’s dog Buddy stepped up to the plate in a big way when her daughter passed away. She credits Buddy with enabling her to make it through some of her darkest days. “Buddy is our mascot now,” notes McKanna, who could not think of a better representative to champion the healing power of dogs.

McKanna and Weiss are going all out this year and are excited about the upcoming event in Tinley Park. The Midwest Frisbee Dogs, Tinley Park Police Canine Unit, and the Will County Search and Rescue Team will show off some moves. Several animal rescue groups will bring adorable adoptable animals, and awards will be given out to the canine participants for Best Bark, Best Costume, Best Trick, and more. “We are so lucky,” McKanna says. “We are in this position to give back. Our families have been there for us and supported us—everyone is just happy to help and we are happy to give back to those who have given so much.”

Please visit RelayForLife.org/BarkCookWillIL to find out more!

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