PLYMOUTH — Cancer is a disease that often leaves a footprint of fear and despair.
Saturday, a group of people and their canine companions left their own footprint (or pawprint) in a step towards hope in the battle against this insidious disease.
Saturday was the inaugural Bark For Life fundraiser for the American Cancer Society. Held by the tennis courts at Centennial Park, the event not only raised $560 for the ongoing battle against cancer, but allowed family and friends alike the opportunity to acknowledge the loyal companionship and healing influence of man’s best friend.
Bark For Life is an offshoot of Relay For Life Marshall County; just one of the many events that occur throughout the year to raise money for the ACS.
Four years ago, the Relay For Life excluded dogs from walking in the event. Many dog lovers — realizing the therapeutic effect that animals have in treatment and recovery for those fighting cancer — approached Lyn Ward, an organizer of Relay For Life, asking how they could include their dogs. With the sponsorship of the Plymouth Veterinary Clinic, Gina Young and the Plymouth Parks Department, Bark For Life was born.
The day started with registration and welcome to the 29 tail-wagging walkers and their handlers.
Reverend Pastor John Schramm from St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Plymouth started the day with a benediction for all the animals and those who have been touched by cancer. A proclamation from Plymouth Mayor Mark Senter was read, asking for the community’s support and to help the ACS “…move closer to our ultimate goal of a world with less cancer and more birthdays.”
Cancer survivor Joyce Rudolph spoke of the closeness of God throughout her battle and how her beloved dog Anna had been a source of comfort to her.
She, and fellow cancer survivor Kay Emond, led the first lap of the walk. Edmond was there with her boxer to both celebrate her victory over breast cancer nine years ago and to pay tribute to her two dogs now passed, Solly and Thomas, who were at her side throughout her cancer battle. Sadly, one year after her last cancer treatment, she lost her beloved Solly to cancer. When asked what message she would like to convey to the readers about Bark For Life, she responded, “We all need each other and things like this (event) draw people together.”
Throughout the day, prizes were given for largest and smallest dog, best tail wag, prettiest and handsomest dog, best trick, and best costume; also available for munching were treats for both man and beast.
“We got our feet wet today and learned it’s a ‘go’ for next year,” Ward said. “There were lots of compliments today on our effort. My husband, Jerry Nikitas, was perhaps the best when I got home this afternoon exhausted. ‘You did a good thing today,’ he told me. We all did a good thing today.”
According to Ward, Relay For Life raised more than $60,000 to fight cancer this year. Relay currently consists of 30 teams who organize a variety of events throughout the year including the annual survivor’s dinner.
Anyone can be a part of a team for $10, or create a team of their own. For more information or to donate contact: firstname.lastname@example.org  or visit the webpage at www.relayforlife.org/marshallcoin 
As the day wore down between barks, doggy high fives and tangled leashes, a sense of camaraderie filled the crisp autumn air.
Clusters of Greyhounds, boxers, pugs, and other dogs went around the loop for one last time and gradually wandered towards vehicles to make their way home to blanket and bed.
Without even realizing that on this day, they had made an impact in the fight against a common enemy that attacks both man and beast — cancer.