Few things are more devastating to pet owners than the loss of their beloved animals, especially since many are considered members of the family.
Perhaps worse is the news that a pet has cancer. Veterinary oncology treatment can be costly and those pet owners who least can afford it are often confronted with the difficult decision to euthanize their dog or cat because they cannot afford the treatment.
Two men who know the heart-break of losing a pet to cancer, but who had the wherewithal to get their dogs the medical care that extended and improved the quality of their lives, are reaching out to those without means through a newly formed non-profit organization that bears the names of their pets.
The Riedel and Cody Fund was co-founded by Mark Tillinger and David Duchemin, both from Fairfield County. Tillinger lost his Bernese mountain dog Riedel last October and Duchemin's Rottweiler Cody died a few months earlier.
"They changed our lives. Their legacy is the Riedel and Cody Fund, which we feel will change the world," said Tillinger, who recently retired from Accenture to concentrate on this mission. "It's so personal to us, what we're doing," he said. Tillinger said the organization will provide hope through knowledge, funding and support.
"This is not just a job. This is a passion," said RCF's Executive Director Michelle Margo.
The Fairfield-based organization has as its primary mission providing financial support to qualified owners of pets with cancer to allow them to give their pets the best possible cancer care and treatment. Even before RCF was officially established, the group began contributing to the medical bills of three dogs, including the Larkin family's Belgian sheepdog Kelli, who lives in Fairfield County.
Pet owners are asked to write a weekly blog so that contributors to the organization can follow the animals' progress.
The Riedel and Cody Fund had its official launch at the Black Rock Yacht Club on Saturday. Duchemin told the nearly 200 animal lovers who attended that Tillinger took a conversation they shared about their dogs and transformed it "into a dream come true." RCF was certainly a dream come true for Johnny and Kristie Sullens, a New Orleans couple whose Carolina yellow dog, or American dingo, named Angel was spared an early death when the organization came to their rescue.
They attended the kick-off and shared their story. After learning Angel had cancer and that a bone marrow transplant would cost $16,000, the newlyweds chose to go without wedding rings and a honeymoon to save up instead for the procedure. Their fund-raising efforts fell a few thousand dollars short by the week before the scheduled surgery, and they feared the worst. But their plight came to the attention of RCF, which agreed to pay the remainder of the bill. Angel has been in remission for the last five months.
"I'd like to say thank you to Riedel and Cody," said Johnny Sullens.
"We were humbled by Hurricane Katrina so by the time this (diagnosis) came around we knew if you ask you can receive ... We are forever grateful," Kristie Sullens said.
Heather Witt, of Easton, a member of RCF's board of directors, knows first-hand that expenses can mount quickly when an animal has a cancer diagnosis. Witt has already accumulated $7,000 in veterinary bills for her 5-year-old Leonberger Maple's biopsy, surgery and chemotherapy.
Tillinger said the Riedel and Cody Fund wanted to start big, "with a significant amount of tail wind," which required someone with name recognition who has an affinity for the cause. They were able to get as the fund's national spokesman Jill Rappaport, a correspondent on NBC's "Today" show. Rappaport is the author of the book "Jack & Jill: The Miracle Dog with a Happy Tail To Tell," published by HarperCollins in 2009, an inspiring story about her dog Jack, who lost a leg to cancer before losing his battle with the disease.
RCF also plans to create a memorial garden for pets.
"Riedel and Cody are not forgotten," said Susan J. Goldstein, owner of the award-winning all-natural Westport-based pet supply store Earth Animal. Serving on the board with her is her husband, Dr. Robert Goldstein, a veterinarian and medical director of the Healing Center for Animals in Westport, and a founding member of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association.
"They have found a way to let Riedel and Cody live forever," said Dr. Gerald Post, one of about 130 board-certified veterinary oncologists in the United States. Post sits on RCF's board of directors and serves as the organization's chief medical advisor. Post also has a private practice at the Veterinary Oncology and Hematology Center in Norwalk.
For more information about the Riedel and Cody Fund, membership opportunities and how to make contributions, visit the website at www.cancerpets.org or call 203-295-0355.