Nonprofit Spotlight: Czar's Promise 'inspiring hope, funding research' for pets and people impacted by cancer
by Samantha Haas
on Tuesday, October 29th, 2019 at 1:22pm.
For many, pets are family. Their companionship brings us joy and laughter; and losing them can cause immense heartache -- especially if a cancer diagnosis is involved. Cancer causes almost half of deaths in pets over the age of 10, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. Since several types of cancer commonly found in pets are also found in humans, treatment options are often similar but also expensive.
Local resident Beth Viney learned this the hard way when her Great Pyrenees, Czar, passed away in 2013 after 19 months with osteosarcoma (bone cancer) and a leg amputation. This gentle giant had been a therapy dog for five years with the Pet Pals program, bringing smiles and hope to those fighting cancer and illness in our community at places like American Family Children’s Hospital. Then, just over a year after Czar's passing, Beth’s 7-year-old Newfoundland, Baby Bear Osa, passed away unexpectedly from hemangiosarcoma (a blood tumor) in his lung.
These experiences made Beth realize the lack of resources in regards to emotional and financial support for people whose companion animals are diagnosed with cancer. After years of planning, she created Czar’s Promise in 2018 as a way to honor her “one-in-a-million” dog’s legacy of making a positive difference in the lives of local families.
“There’s now a local organization with people who have traveled this journey that understand what you’re going through and are here to help support you and let you know you’re not alone,” she said. “One of the most impactful things we provide is financial support, because sadly, some families have to make a decision to treat their companion animal or not based on financial resources, and most of the time these animals have good prognoses.”
The mission of this volunteer-run nonprofit, a project of the Pet Care and Assistance Fund, Inc., is to provide funding for companion animal cancer research at the UW School of Veterinary Medicine and pediatric cancer research at American Family Children’s Hospital, as well as to provide emotional, educational, and financial support for families whose companion animals have been diagnosed with cancer. To Beth's knowledge, Czar's Promise is the only organization in the country that takes a three pronged approach to have a direct impact on local companion animals diagnosed with cancer, while funding local research to help find a cure.
“The study of cancer in humans and animals is called comparative oncology, and that’s a very growing area of research because if we find a new procedure or cure for one, that can transcend to the other,” she said. “They’re all so connected and we’re helping them both.”
Czar’s Promise provides financial support for chemotherapy or palliative care treatment, for example, to any family whose companion animal is being treated at one of these board certified veterinary facilities: UW School of Veterinary Medicine, VCA Veterinary Specialty Center, and Madison Veterinary Specialists. Understanding that time is of the essence, Czar’s Promise provides a funding decision within three days of a family’s submitted application. So far, Czar’s Promise has provided financial support for nine canines (two of which are part of K-9 police units in southern Wisconsin) and two felines.
“We are giving them more time, more moments, and more memories,” Beth said.
Czar’s Promise also hosts a free Companion Animals Cancer Support Group, featuring a wide range of speakers and topics in a judgement-free environment. Joan Pape from Wellness by Intention will be presenting on “The Emotions of Caregiving: Take Care to Give Care” from 6:30-8 pm. Tuesday, Nov. 5, at Middleton Public Library.
Another development has been the Cooper Cares Project, in which Dog Grin Photography captures memories between the family and their companion animal through sponsored photo sessions and a photo book gift. Community partners have also donated goodies for cats, dogs, and humans called “Woof Packs,” which veterinary oncologists can give to families upon their companion animal’s diagnosis as a comfort with information to let them know they’re not alone.
“There’s a thousand questions these families have and not all the answers. There’s a wide range of emotions -- shock, sadness, grief, anger,” Beth said. “We’re here to validate those emotions and feelings that are real and help in any way we can.”
Unfortunately, Beth is reliving some painful memories as her 11-year-old Great Pyrenees, Tundra, is undergoing chemotherapy treatments for the same kind of bone cancer that Czar had.
“Czar raised her and taught her. She has been the matriarch of the family, protecting everyone and everybody,” Beth said, including humorous Amara, a 4-year-old Newfoundland, man-of-the-house Lucciano, a 2-year-old Great Pyrenees, and feline companion Sushi. “Tundra is magnificent, regal, and proud. We’re hopeful that she’ll turn a corner.”
Several events are held throughout the year where you can learn more about Czar’s Promise, including Barks for Parks (held at one of Dane County’s dog parks) each summer, Bailey’s Run Vineyard (a dog-friendly winery in New Glarus) in fall, and the Wisconsin Dog Fair (held at the Alliant Energy Center), which is coming up from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 10.
The organization’s biggest fundraiser of the year is in spring for its Inspiring Hope Dog Walk, which will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, May 9, 2020, at Winnequah Park in Monona.
Chris Venden, a Realtor on the Mad City Dream Homes team, supports Czar’s Promise because it helps two of her favorite things: dogs and kids. Plus, the nonprofit’s namesake was a Great Pyrenees, just like her own Yuki, whom she got from a client who could no longer keep him.
Her large fenced yard near Albany has been a wonderful place for her dogs to run around over the last 16 years, including German shorthaired pointers, Max and Smokey, and a Weimaraner, Blue. Then this summer, when Yuki was the last to pass away, the house became too quiet and lonely to bear. So in August, Chris welcomed Jed, a “goofy but sweet” 1-year-old bloodhound rescue, to the family.
Funding for animal and pediatric cancer research is especially important to Chris because she has lost two seemingly healthy/happy dogs to the horrible effects of cancer; and her little cousin, now 7 years old, has been fighting stage 4 lymphoma for the past 2 years, and recently finished his last chemo treatment and is in remission.
“When I heard about Czar's Promise from my neighbor, it gave me hope. The rise of cancer in dogs and children is at an alarming rate, and it's comforting to see the support and research going to help others who are facing it,” Chris said. “Many don't have resources to help their four-legged family members through cancer treatments and surgeries, and it's really hard to get through those decisions alone. Their dedication and commitment are inspiring."