How a beloved dog inspired The Smiling Blue Skies Cancer Fund — a successful fund that raises money for animal cancer research.
Sometimes, wonderful things arise from unhappy circumstances. When Suzi Beber lost her six-year-old golden retriever, Blues, to lymphoma in 2001, she wanted to do something that would help protect more people from the heartbreak of losing a pet to cancer. She founded The Smiling Blue Skies Cancer Fund.
“Smiling Blue Skies is part of the University of Guelph’s Veterinary College and Teaching Hospital Pet Trust, a fund that provides financial assistance for the advancement of healthcare and quality of life for companion animals,” explains Suzi. “All the funds raised for Smiling Blue Skies go directly to cancer treatment and research, and towards the building of Canada’s first cancer center for companion animals and people.”
Smiling Blue Skies has helped fund a variety of research studies. “The goal of the Hemangiosarcoma Validation Study, as an example, was to determine whether a recently identified blood protein found at high levels in dogs with hemangiosarcoma is useful as a diagnostic tool for the presence of this disease,” explains Suzi. “While follow-up work for the test validation is still underway, the researchers are very excited about their findings so far, and it is only a matter of time before a commercial diagnostic test is available.” Smiling Blues Skies has also been instrumental in establishing North America’s first cancer registry for dogs and cats. “The Guelph Companion Animal Cancer Epidemiologic Registry is population-based and allows for special studies about the occurrence of cancer among dogs and cats in select areas.”
Smiling Blue Skies started out with just $1,000 a decade ago; as of today, it has raised more than $1 million to fight cancer – an amazing achievement. “From what I have been told, it is very rare for a grassroots organization to have raised so much money,” says Suzi. “And it isn’t about big donors; it is about $1 here and $20 there – so many people have made Smiling Blue Skies their charity of choice.”
The organization holds a variety of fundraising events across Canada, including walks, special agility events, and even obedience training weekends. Most important of all, Smiling Blue Skies offers 24/7 support to anyone whose life has been touched by this disease, and the website (smilingblueskies.com) is a valuable source of information.
“Smiling Blue Skies is the only two-time recipient of the Golden Retriever Club of Canada’s Silmaril Kennel Trophy for the Human/Animal Bond,” adds Suzi, who also uses her artistic talents to help support the fund. Her work includes one-of-a-kind jewellery and her “Cancer Breaks” collection of paintings. “Proceeds support the fund and the building of the Institute for Comparative Cancer Research at the University of Guelph.”
Blues was the sun and moon and stars to Suzi and her partner Tommy. “Thanks to the support of so many, we are going places we never could have dreamed possible back in 2001. Together, we are taking a big bite out of cancer.”
Ann Brightman is Managing Editor for Animal Wellness Magazine and Integrative Veterinary Care Journal. A lifelong animal lover, she has also been a writer and editor for over 25 years. Ann is a member of the Professional Writers Association of Canada and is also a Tai Chi instructor.