Taking the dogs for a long walk

Cancer awareness goal of man's border-to-border trek along West Coast

By Stover E. Harger III, Columbian staff writer



Track the trek online

Luke Robinson's two dogs are wearing special GPS collars that let anyone track the progress of their journey from Canada to Mexico. You can follow along at 2dogsagainstcancer.com

Learn more about the nonprofit he founded at www.2milliondogs.org

When his dog Malcolm died in 2006 after a devastating battle with bone cancer, Luke Robinson found solace in an inspired mission: to spread awareness about cancer in dogs as a way to learn more about the horrible disease that affects so many, from pups to people.

You might have spotted a large man wearing a tan kilt with a sign on his back, flanked by two great Pyrenees dogs, briskly walking in Southwest Washington in the last few days. That's Robinson, and he's in the midst of a border-to-border journey on foot down the West Coast.

The Texas resident's goal is to draw attention to the nonprofit he founded after he left his career and possessions behind in 2008 and began a 2,000-mile expedition from Austin, Texas, to Boston, Mass.

He completed his two-year walk to not only honor Malcolm, but to remind as many as he could that "cancer touches everyone."

"That guy never gave in, until the end," Robinson said about Malcolm while sitting in a Salmon Creek parking lot on Friday. During the dog's cancer struggle, Malcolm lost a leg, but it didn't stop him from being the same old playful pup he was before. "If he never gave up, then I won't."

Today at noon, Robinson is meeting with supporters at Esther Short Park to walk as a group across the I-5 Bridge into Portland. From there he'll head to the Oregon Coast en route to California.

The Memphis-based nonprofit Puppy Up Foundation, formally called Two Million Dogs, draws donations at dog walk fundraisers across the country. Even though the grassroots group only tends to get donations $20 at a time, Robinson said it has gathered enough support to be able to make some big contributions to medical groups studying cancers, including $80,000 to Princeton University and $80,000 to the Animal Medical Center of New York.

The organization is a booster of comparative oncology, a field that analyzes cancer across species to find common links and better understanding the whys and hows of the disease. For example, the donation to Princeton is helping the school collaborate with the University of Pennsylvania to research mammary tumors in rescued dogs and discover more about how breast cancer develops in both dogs and humans.

There are an estimated 65 million dogs in the United States, and roughly 6 million of them are diagnosed with cancer every year, according to the National Cancer Institute's Comparative Oncology Program. Cancer appears to be found in about the same number of cats, as well. Scientists say studying these sick animals can help reveal clues to what causes cancer and might help reveal how to better treat it.

For Robinson, his journey isn't just about finding a cure for canine cancer, it's about determining environmental links and a cure for all cancer.

"The microscope does not make a distinction. I think these guys hold the key," he said pointing to Hudson and Indiana, while the dogs — his "fuzzybutts" — snooze on the pavement.

Along his walking journey, Robinson has talked to many who aren't aware that dogs get cancer at such a high rate. Before Malcolm was diagnosed, Robinson also didn't have a clue.

But he learned the terrible truth firsthand, not only when he cared for Malcolm as the dog deteriorated, but a few years later when another of his dogs, Murphy, got nasal cancer.

Ashes from both pets are with him at all times, encased in a necklace he wears around his neck to remind him of his late companions.

"Every one of us has been touched by cancer," he said.