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Janey and Pancho

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Curing Cancer at BOTH Ends of the Leash

Article by Melinda Gipson

Photography by Celeste Linthicum

Originally published in Leesburg Lifestyle

The sad truth is that you don’t have to try hard to “localize” a story about kids and cancer. While their population is only around 16,000 nationwide, the fundamental unfairness of a child with such a debilitating disease digs an oversized hole in your heart, and chances are there’s one right around the corner.

Connor Long, a neighbor of mine in Leesburg, was diagnosed with a rare brain cancer (anaplastic astrocytoma) two years ago at the age of 20 months. He’s now three and, following surgery which removed 85 percent of the tumor, the disease is no longer growing.

While he was in chemotherapy, the Long’s neighbors, Jeannie and Carl Schnur, learned that their son Jackson's service dog Janey had a rare Apocrine ductular carcinoma. Her tumors were surgically removed then treated with chemo at The Life Center in Leesburg. Jackson is a a 10-year-old with a rare seizure disorder, Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome. Janey and Jackson are inseparable and Janey was trained by 4 Paws for Ability in Xenia, Ohio for seizure alerting, seizure detection, behavior disruption, search and rescue, and socialization. To say that Janey is a crucial family member is putting it mildly. 

So, how common is it that a small neighborhood like Tavistock might have a kid AND a dog on the same block who come down with cancer within months of each other? Not as rare as you might think. While childhood cancer is 30 times more frequent than cancer in adults, around six million dogs get it each year. Half of all dogs over the age of 10 get it. The real surprise is that childhood and canine cancers are quite similar – much more similar than cancers between kids and adults. More importantly, finding a cure for canine cancer, which offers many more testing candidates, may just lead to cures for cancers in children.

One area foundation working to do just that and “Crush Cancer at BOTH ends of the Leash,” is the Canines-N-Kids Foundation, led by executive director, Ulrike Szalay. Ulrike has a career that spans work in both biotech and Harvard public health policy, later working with start-up drug companies. Because she started putting pediatric oncology doctors and veterinary cancer specialists together in 2016, Ulrike says, “I’d like to say some of the current awareness of the relationships between canine and childhood cancer comes from our work.” Because funding follows awareness, her work has just begun.

She’s raised $900,000, but fundraising was an after-effect of her tireless networking. “We were built to raise awareness of this exciting area of science and medicine – comparative cancer research – specifically where it comes to kids and dogs and the cancers they share – and secondarily to do some meaningful funding of research that can really move the needle.”

One of the early fans of the foundation was Dr. John Rossmeisl with Virginia Tech’s new Comparative Oncology Research Center (CORC), which had been scheduled to begin seeing patients this spring. CORC will be housed in the Virginia Tech Carilion (VTC) Biomedical Research Addition, a new building currently under construction on the VTC Health Sciences and Technology Campus in Roanoke.

Besides treating all types of veterinary cancer, it will offer dog and cat owners the opportunity for their pets to participate in research and enroll in clinical trials. A $3.28 million investment in a linear accelerator will allow the clinic to house the region’s only radiation oncology service for pets.

Among its many impactful contributions, Canines-N-Kids launched a symposium called Paws for a Cure ( in 2017. The first two meetings at Merck Research Lab in Rahway, Massachusetts, brought together leading researchers and doctors in comparative cancer research as well as independent pediatric and veterinary circles, foundations, pharmaceutical companies and behemoths in the pet health industry like PetCo Foundation and Blue Buffalo Foundation to help pay the bills.

As a consequence of COVID, this year the symposium will be held September 29-30, in two half-day, online sessions that will be free and open to anyone who registers. Dr. Peter C. Adamson, former head of the children’s oncology group under the National Cancer Institute and now global head of oncology development and pediatric innovation at Sanofi Inc.

As you come to know Ulrike, you’ll discover that, it isn’t just about data. Ulrike ironically lost her own dog – a longtime service dog who visited special needs students in the Loudoun Public School System – to cancer after her work on Canines-N-Kids began, and unabashedly speaks of cancer in kids and pets with the same passion.

“Who doesn’t love kids and dogs and get that we need to make more progress: We see these patients and our heart goes through the floor for them. It’s so unfair that these two populations that just want to get back outside and play have to deal with such toxic therapies. At the heart of this entire organization is love.”

She’s published a book called We’ll Get Through this Together about a boy and his therapy dog who helps him through his treatment with cancer. Boxed with a fuzzy stuffed Labrador toy named Brave and a red cap with a stitched Brave logo, the package can be sent to children for just $30 as part of Canines-N-Kids Foundation’s Hearts-N-Tails Program. The program, which started at Boston Children's Hospital, has found its way into nine others. Boston Children's Hospital has long had a therapy dog program, and their ambassador is a black Lab named Dexter. 

There’s also a box for kids who want to raise money for the foundation by hosting a “Barke Sale” (, which is a great way kids can keep busy and do good this summer. It comes with  cookie cutters and recipes for cookies for both dogs and humans, a step-by-step guide, plus postcards and signage -- even a social media tip sheet. 

Says Jeannie, “We’re still new to this so we don’t know a whole lot, but our hearts are in it. If we could bring those two cancer communities together, they could be a bridge and not have to reinvent the wheel.” Whatever cures it faster for the people and animals we love, we’re all for that.

  • Ulrike Szalay and Pancho
  • Cuddly Ambassador
  • Families United in a Cause
  • Special Friends
  • 'Barke Sale' and Hearts-N-Tails Boxes Spread the Word
  • Connor Playing
  • Ending Cancer at Both Ends of the Leash
  • Janey and Pancho
  • Connor and his Dad
  • Even Ambassadors Need a Good Scratch