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Tux Helps Children With Cancer

Amy, Olivia, Tux, Sophia, Dash and Eleanor

Amy D. Stephens

On December 5, 2003, the Bayside Exposition Center in Boston, MA underwent a transformation. Although the city was bracing for the season's first snow, the Expo Center was a Caribbean paradise. This was the setting for the third annual On Course For Kids agility tournament and the children were anxious to begin the competition.

This team agility event is a major fundraiser for the New England Medical Center Floating Hospital for Children's "Cycle for Life Fund". All monies from this event are contributed to this fund which makes living with cancer more bearable for children. The fund provides therapeutic initiatives (toys, books, computer games, trips), maintains a weekend playroom for children receiving treatments, offers the services of child life therapists, maintains easy telephone access for parents and organizes outings and support personnel for teen groups working with older patients. None of this money goes to research, as that is funded by other means.

Tux and I became involved in this event through my friend Eleanor who was going to be visiting the area during Thanksgiving and wanted to participate. Eleanor needed a partner, as it is a relay team event. Because Tux loves agility and children, we were excited to be a part of this competition.

Part of our "team" responsibility was to garner pledges, the minimum goal being $500 per team. Due to the overwhelming response we received, our pledges totaled $1,700 for the fund! With pledges in hand, we submitted pictures of our dogs to the event coordinator. The children would look at the photos and pick the dogs for their teams. The pictures were then made into buttons that team members & children wore to find each other at the event.

All team members dress to follow the event's "theme". Since this year had a Caribbean flavor, we picked a Pirate theme thanks to some old costumes and sewing skills. Then we set out for the arena.

Upon arrival, we registered and turned in our pledges. Then, on to the wall of pictures to find our dogs and the names of our teammates. We had been selected by Sophia Donnarumma (3 yrs.) and her sister Olivia (4 yrs.). Sophia had been diagnosed with Stage 4 Neuroblastoma in August, 2002 and had received her last chemotherapy dose two weeks prior to the event.

After walking the course, we got to meet our teammates, Sophia and Olivia. Tux and Olivia bonded instantly; it turned out that the Donnarummas had an 8-month old Dalmatian at home. Sophia couldn't get enough of Eleanor's Sheltie, Dash. The dogs and children were delighted with each other.

Tux with Olivia Donnarumma

Finally, our team's turn on the course arrived. Sophia and Olivia stationed themselves in the Pirate Ship positioned in the middle of the arena. There were two courses set up as mirror images. Each dog took turns running the course (through a tunnel, over a jump, take the object handler gives from the table, over another jump, through another tunnel) as fast they can within the timed 70 seconds. The objects on the table had unknown point values assigned to them so that the "winner" of the event was based upon a random draw. Our team ran so fast and so clean that we were the only ones to bring back 5 treasurers - this was 6 completed runs in 70 seconds!

Toward the evening's end, we participated in a costume contest, took many pictures and the dogs and children got to play. The Donnarummas wanted to be our teammates for next year's event! It was a great delight to watch Sophia run around, giggling and playing on the agility field with the dogs!

There were 30 teams involved in this event and over $61,000 was raised (including corporate sponsorships). It was very uplifting to witness the power of the dog-human bond and the immediate attachment of animals to children.

I know I'll be marking my calendar for next year's event - I hope the Donnarumma family still like Dalmatians!

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