Inspired by the death of a beloved agility dog, this non-profit foundation funds research into canine cancer, and produces educational documentaries for those whose dogs have been diagnosed with lymphoma and other cancers.
“Your dog has cancer.” No one wants to hear those words. But Terry Simons had no choice when his border collie, Reveille, was diagnosed with lymphoma and chronic lymphocytic leukemia in 2011. Needless to say, Terry was stunned and devastated. “I went home and simply felt sorry for myself,” says the dog agility trainer and competitor. “The next morning, I did some research and promised Reveille I would never let her know she was sick. We were not going to let cancer beat us, and I kept my promise.”
Terry did everything he could to get the best possible treatment for Reveille. In the meantime, they carried on doing what they most enjoyed – agility, herding, swimming and playing – before Terry had to make the tough decision to let his “heart and soul” dog go, just one year after her diagnosis.
Turning grief into action
One thing that struck Terry when he was seeking treatment for his border collie was the lack of accurate information about the available options for canine lymphoma, one of the most common of cancers afflicting dogs. So he decided to turn his grief into action in the hopes of helping other dogs with this dreaded disease.
“I had this idea that I would like to start a canine cancer foundation, in honor of Reveille and other dogs I lost to cancer,” Terry says. “I had no idea what I was doing or how much it would define my life. A simple plan of raising money for another foundation turned into raising money for my own foundation, and that’s when I realized what I wanted to do. I wanted to help educate dog owners about cancer, and fund the cutting-edge research to help diagnosed dogs.”
Documentaries as a teaching tool
Terry called his foundation Clear Canine Cancer (CLEAR stands for Canine Lymphoma Education Awareness and Research), which launched as a 501(c)(3) non-profit in February of 2012. One of his first projects was to make a documentary about canine lymphoma to teach people more about the disease. “I had no clue what it took to make a documentary, so I reached out to a friend and that’s when Stacey Zipfel became an integral part of CLEAR.” Stacey became the director of My Friend: Changing the Journey, an award-winning documentary that educates dog lovers about canine lymphoma. It includes interviews with oncologists and veterinarians, as well as three personal stories about dogs battling — and in some cases beating — the disease.
“One way in which we educate and create a greater awareness of canine cancer is through our documentaries.”
Although CLEAR’s original focus was canine lymphoma, making the documentary prompted Terry and Stacey to widen their approach to include more cancers – and to film more documentaries – especially after FidoTV contacted them about airing My Friend: Changing the Journey.
“We couldn’t have been happier,” says Terry. “We now had a larger platform to get the word out, and when we received responses from those who saw the documentary, we knew we were doing the right thing. We feel this is a great venue for the public to learn about cancer, through the pictures and words of families and their struggles with the disease, mixed with advice from veterinarian professionals.”
CLEAR’s second documentary is titled A Reason to Change. “It’s a hybrid documentary dipped into a music video about comparative oncology,” says Terry. “I wrote the lyrics and the song was beautifully performed by one of our supporters, Page Jackson. The video tells a story of a boy and a dog who briefly meet and have their lives forever changed because of cancer.” A Reason to Change was subsequently named Best Music Video by the Los Angeles Film Awards.
A move into research funding
“In 2016, we decided to take the plunge into research,” Terry says. “We chose to help fund research that was being conducted by Dr. Kristy Richards at Cornell University. She was involved in trying to create canine lymphoma cell lines (in simple terms, this is a way of having cancer live outside the body), so that researchers could use it to work towards better treatments. Dr. Richards and her team were successful in creating the cell lines, something that had baffled many researchers before her. So we had a homerun our first time out! When we learned Dr. Richards was working on a new project of using a simple blood test to detect tumor DNA in dogs, we wanted to get involved in that as well.”
CLEAR has also launched a series of Pop Up Canine Cancer Talks, a community outreach initiative to help people learn more about cancer in dogs. “The idea is to work with a local veterinary hospital or two, and invite their clients and the community to a talk about canine cancer with Dr. Avenelle “Avey” Turner from The Veterinary Cancer Group. We have done a couple of Pop Ups in Southern California, and one in Edmonton, Alberta, and are continuing with more this year.”
Along with everything else the foundation does, Terry and his team host an annual fundraising event — Help CLEAR Strike Out Canine Cancer. For the last few years, the event has taken place at Lucky Strike Live in Hollywood – last year, it raised $70,000, all of which goes to education, awareness and research. The foundation also holds smaller fundraising events during the year, and welcomes donations from individuals – just visit their website (clearcaninecancer.com) and click on the donation button. “You can be assured that your money goes directly to helping increase awareness of canine cancer, or to help fund research on cancer.”
Most recently, the organization has released a third documentary called My Friend: Standing Strong. “It’s an innovative journey through the lives of families with dogs afflicted by canine bone cancer,” Terry explains. “The most common form of bone cancer is osteosarcoma (OSA), which accounts for approximately 5% of all canine tumors, and 80% of all dogs with OSA will die of the disease. But we have options; not everything is a death sentence.”
For those who want to view CLEAR’s documentaries, My Friend: Changing the Journey airs regularly on FidoTV and on the foundation’s website, while A Reason to Change can be viewed on both FidoTV’s and CLEAR’s websites. “My Friend: Standing Strong is currently entered into several film festivals and has already garnered a few laurels.” You can watch the trailer on YouTube. “All our documentaries/music videos have won film festival awards.”
When Terry reflects on how far CLEAR has come during the last seven years, he circles back to Reveille. “She was a truly amazing dog in the agility ring, and the bond we had on the course was like none other; people would stop just to watch us run and see our relationship. Honestly, I never thought that my motivation to do something because of Reveille would turn out to be her legacy.”
This article was updated on April 30, 2019.