Golden Retriever owners fight back against cancer

LOS ALTOS, Calif. (KGO) -- For Jerry Tomanek, life isn't quite complete without a Golden Retriever. But through 25 years, and eight dogs, he's learned what it's like to lose them as well.

"I always cry and it takes weeks to get over it," Tomanek said.

Pam Kennedy has experienced the same pain. Three of her Golden Retrievers died from three different types of cancer. "All I can think of is God needs more angels," she said.

Now, Kennedy and Tomanek are taking action. "The breeder said you need to get him into the study. I said sign me up," Tomanek said.

Researchers at the Morris Animal Foundation in Colorado are trying to get answers with a ground-breaking $32-million national study that will follow 3,000 purebred Golden Retrievers during their lifetimes.

The owners track nearly every detail of their dogs' lives, from where they live, what they eat and how they exercise. And the vets collect blood, fur, and other samples during regular visits. But the most important clues will likely be inside the dogs' bodies.

Brennen McKenzie is a veterinarian at the Adobe Animal Hospital in Los Altos. "We've suspected that in breeds that are predisposed to cancer, such as a Golden Retriever is, that there are genetic risk factors. And one of the goals of this study is to identify those in this breed," McKenzie said.

If researchers can identify genetic markers it could provide a breakthrough for the entire breed.

John Reddington is the CEO of the Morris Animal Foundation. "We might be able to find a genetic link which unlike the human population, you can breed those out of this population," Reddington said.

"It's so important to me, that maybe the 3,000 of our participants can help find a cure," Kennedy said.

That's the breakthrough Kennedy and Tomanek are hoping for so, they can eliminate a hidden killer from the breed they love so much.

Written and produced by Tim Didion.
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