THE BLOG

Fighting for Our Best Friends

10/31/2011 03:52 pm ET | Updated Dec 31, 2011

About ten years ago, my wife and I decided to adopt a puppy. I had heard about people who considered their pets to be like part of the family, but I had never quite experienced it until I met Riedel. From the moment we met her, this boisterous little eight-week old Bernese Mountain Dog puppy wriggled her way deep into our hearts. She was always so happy and full of life. We were a family.

The day she was diagnosed with cancer was one of the worst days of my life. Our girl was dying and we were terrified. We could not imagine losing her. Riedel was expected to live just a few short months. But our despair quickly turned to determination, and we put together a team of veterinary specialists to treat Riedel aggressively, with an extreme focus on maintaining her quality of life. We decided to do everything we could to give her a chance to fight and live. What I witnessed changed my life forever. Riedel fought with extraordinary courage and grace. She didn't want to leave us. Our girl defied her prognosis and gave us 18 more months of her beautiful life. We lived every day of her treatment as a day borrowed and a day blessed.

I was so grateful to have had more time with Riedel than I had thought possible. What I didn't expect was how immensely her life and death would impact my future. Riedel's courage in her fight to live inspired me to leave my successful business career to start The Riedel & Cody Fund (RCF). I wanted to help other pet owners fight this terrible disease -- to provide them with funding and support so that they could have more time with their furry family members.

I write this on the one-year anniversary of the launch of RCF, and I am overwhelmed by our initial success. We are helping pets survive cancer and changing people's lives every day. As I envisioned the goals of RCF, I had expected to encounter many stories of hope, love and courage. What I had not expected to see, however, were the amazing examples of how people go to heroic lengths to help their pets fight cancer.

These heroes are normal, everyday people who refuse to let cancer win without a fight. We have funded so many wonderful animals and gotten a chance to know their incredible owners. These people have not only received our donations but they've gone to unbelievable lengths to fight for their animals, to help others and to make a difference. A few who come to mind are Johnnie and Kristie Sullens, from New Orleans, whose dog Angel required a costly bone marrow transplant to give her the best chance of fighting lymphoma. Instead of letting the cost deter them, Johnnie and Kristie went to extreme lengths to raise the money required for Angel's treatment, including selling their wedding bands, canceling their honeymoon, taking in a roommate, selling their car, and holding many fundraisers. When we learned of their plight, we gave them the remaining funds they needed. Angel received her bone marrow transplant and has been cancer free for over 18 months. Their amazing heroism could have ended with this wonderful outcome, but it didn't. They have been inspired to begin their own efforts to help others obtain bone marrow transplants for their pets.

Another hero is Jenny Smith, from New York City. Jenny could not afford the treatment required to fight her dog Sophie's cancer. She figured out that if she would do crazy things like dress up in dog costumes and run 10k's in a tutu, people would donate to Sophie's treatment. Through sheer energy, creativity, and perseverance, Jenny raised a substantial amount of money toward the treatment Sophie required. When she fell short of her ultimate goal, we learned of her case and we were able to give her the remaining funds needed for Sophie's chemotherapy and then her radiation treatment. Like Kristie and Johnnie, Jenny's heroism didn't end when she reached her monetary goal. She has also been inspired to help others, and is changing her life to try to become a veterinarian. Riedel would be proud of this hero.

Riedel would also be proud to call Sally Lynes one of her heroes. Sally, who is legally blind, refused to let cancer take her service dog, Bonnie. She worked with RCF to pay for Bonnie's treatment, and is now giving back by making speeches and appearing in local and national public service announcements to raise awareness and funds for the visually handicapped.

As I reflect upon the last year of my new life, I am humbled by the heroism that I see every day. I see people who are inspired by the love for their pets to do amazing things. The truly remarkable thing is that their heroism doesn't end when they reach their personal goals. They are then inspired to change their lives and give back. They want to help others in their fight to extend the lives of their pets. This is truly Riedel's legacy.

RCF continues to help save the lives of countless animals in their fight against cancer and through our work, we will meet more amazing people who will be added to the list of Riedel's heroes. Together, we will give a voice to our furry best friends and give back all that they have given us.

If you are interested in learning more or donating to RCF, please check out our website at riedelcody.org.