This is a tribute to our beloved Jester, an incredible weimaraner and companion.
By Ed Hardee, For the News-Leader
A walk to help save lives of both people and animals is set for next weekend, inspired by a care-giver named Jester.
The "Bark for Life" dog-walk will start at 9 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 10, at Central Park. Supporters can walk with or without their dogs, on a one-mile route into downtown Fernandina Beach. Proceeds will benefit the Nassau Humane Society and teams in the American Cancer Society's upcoming Fernandina Beach/Yulee Relay for Life.
Registration is $10 per dog in advance or $15 on event day, including a doggie bandana and goodie bag. You can register now at the NHS Dog Park on Airport Road, Redbones Dog Bakery on South Eighth Street or online atNassauHumaneSociety.com. Event-day registration starts at 8 a.m. Sept. 10 at Central Park.
Jester was a dog whose life was intertwined with cancer treatment and care. His owners were Dr. Robert Joyce, a Fernandina Beach oncologist, and his wife Becky, a former oncology nurse. The Weimaraner puppy came into their lives as a Christmas gift from their children in 2002, a few months after Becky lost her mother to breast cancer.
"He was such a comforting companion and such good therapy for me and the whole family after my mom had passed away," Becky Joyce says. She would walk along the beach with Jester, who would listen as she shared her feelings, and shower her with puppy kisses. She watched as he playfully chased the ocean foam, and he introduced her to fellow beachgoers. "After two or three weeks I felt much better," she says. "It was wonderful therapy." But Jester's work as a family therapy dog had only begun.
In August 2007, Becky discovered a lump in her breast. She had the support of her family through the surgery, chemo, radiation and recovery - and she also had Jester, who stayed by her side. "Life goes on, your family has to get back to work, but your pet is always there for you," she says. "Dogs are very sensitive to what you're going through. You can be yourself with them."
"He would nuzzle me and give me kisses," she wrote in a tribute to her friend. "I knew he was thinking: 'Get better; we need to go to the beach!'"
Becky did get better and now is a cancer survivor. She and Jester resumed their beach walks. But in September 2009, the gentle gray Weimaraner was diagnosed with kidney cancer.
Treatments gave him 10 months of quality time, but "the day came when he couldn't get up to go to the beach with me, he just wagged his tail," Becky says. "I called the doctor, and said, 'I think it's time.'"
Cancer cases in both humans and dogs are increasing "as we both get older," Dr. Robert Joyce says. "There's much emphasis in oncology on the importance of companionship, on care-givers," he says. "Husbands, wives, children, best friends, friends at work - we all become care-givers.
"But we've overlooked animals. I've seen it over and over, so many times dogs substitute as companions when people can't, or won't."
Jester inspired the Joyces to help bring animals' care-giving role to light. First they sponsored an office fundraiser for the Relay for Life, which celebrates cancer survivors and pays tribute to lost loved ones. They called it "The Bark for the Cure." Then Dr. Joyce, board chairman of the Cancer Society's Nassau County unit, decided to take it a step further - or, actually, many steps.
"The Relay for Life also celebrates care-givers, the people who support people with cancer," he says. "Pets also fill that support role, and not just for people with cancer, but with conditions like impaired sight or partial paralysis. There are therapy dogs, companion dogs; there are also homeless dogs, dogs who need help. We decided we'd like to see the dogs get some kind of benefit."
And so the Bark for Life was set up for Sept. 10 as an early fundraiser for teams in the Relay for Life, which will be held Nov. 5-6 at Yulee High School. Proceeds from the "Bark" walk will also benefit the homeless pets at the Nassau Humane Society on Airport Road.
The Joyces hope everyone who supports either cause will take part in the event at Central Park. Jester will be with them in spirit. "He was happy and pleasant and just a sweetheart to the end," Becky says. "He was an inspiration."
And his inspiration lives on.
Ed Hardee is a member of the Nassau Humane Society Board of Directors and an active shelter volunteer.
Story created Sep 06, 2011 - 13:28:45 PDT.