How WAG LOVE LIFE got started
My husband and I moved to Seattle five years ago from northern Virginia. Taking our two dogs to the off-leash dog park at Marymoor became one of my favorite past times. The place is enormous! In fact, for many months, I walked along the river, where our dogs swam and chased each other, and didn’t discover the rest of the off-leash area with beautiful meadows until much later.
And that’s where we were one fall Sunday when I first noticed Gus limping which turned out to be because he had bone cancer.
Our lives were turned upside down. If you've ever had your dog diagnosed with cancer, you probably know what I mean.
I spent anxious hours and days searching for the right doctors, trying to find out what options he had, waiting for calls back, waiting for appointments. Eventually, Gus had surgery - his front leg was amputated- and received chemotherapy treatment.
But typical prognosis for osteosarcoma even with chemo and surgery isn’t great. Most patients, I'd read, relapse.
But I still had hope. I learned about a clinical trial for dogs with osteosarcoma using a newly developed immunotherapy vaccine. Many of the eighteen patient dogs in the trial were surviving way longer than typically expected for osteosarcoma patients.
And things looked even brighter when I discovered that Dr. Choy – Gus’s veterinary oncologists – was involved in the study and had three of his canine patients enrolled in the trial. And they had all done really well – meaning they'd survived well beyond the expected time. And by some random coincidence, I had actually met the U of Penn researcher who was leading the study, back in DC at a conference when I had no idea that my own dog would be getting bone cancer.
But things didn’t quite work out like I had hoped.
The trial was already closed and no longer enrolling new patients. There was a rumor of a follow-up study. I kept on asking and waiting. I looked for other promising clinical trials.
Having grown up in Japan, I knew that Eastern medicine might also help. So I took Gus to acupuncture appointments and started him on Chinese herbal supplements.
And I tried to be positive. (which was very hard)
Eventually, the cancer did come back, and we lost our gentle loving Gus.
So in 2017, I started a nonprofit called Canine Cancer Research Alliance with a mission of supporting research to cure dog cancers.
I thought it would be best to first focus locally (Seattle is a home to many great cancer research institutions and companies, as well as excellent veterinary hospitals). I began talking to researchers at Fred Hutch Cancer Research Center and University of Washington to find out what new therapies were under development for people, and to see if any of them had the potential to help dogs. And we began to find several candidates therapies that, with some more work, could be tested for safety and efficacy with canine patients.
To find money to support research, I had to learn about fundraising.
I visited with some friends at Microsoft who were volunteering to raise funds for their cat and horse related causes, and who generously gave me lots of helpful advice. We came up with the idea of trying a 5k.
In a restaurant in South Lake Union, a couple of friends helped brainstorm over dinner and created a fun name “Wag Love Life”. And then a talented artist that I met through Vashon Sheepdog Classic came to our rescue with a wonderful poster design.
I also found out about Kukur Tihar, an ancient Nepalese festival. It literally means worship of dogs.
This festival takes place in fall as part of the larger Hindu festival of lights, with lots of flowers and blessings for dogs. So we were inspired to make flowers a big part of the gathering.
We also began reaching out to experts in different areas from dog massage, Eastern medicine, reiki healing to CBD and raw food preparations so they could share their knowledge on keeping our pets healthy and happy.
This year, we are also grateful to have live music at the event. The students of Seattle’s legendary Roosevelt High School jazz band will be joining us. What does jazz music have to do with dogs? I’m not sure. But I do know that good music makes people happy. And when people are happy, our dogs are happy!
So this is how Wag Love Life got started.
2018 was our first year, and I was anxious all summer thinking that only our family would show up. But we ended up having close to 400 participants :-) !! And so many people told us how much fun they had!
(And we were able to use the money raised to support some very promising new studies that could potentially lead to new therapies for dogs)
Thank you for reading this - and I hope you’ll come and join us this year on September 22!!
Mari ("Mary") Maeda
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