by Katie Orlando

HUNTERSVILLE – Furry friends can fight cancer, too.

Dogs and their owners will walk about a mile and raise funds for the American Cancer Society at Bark for Life Lake Norman April 21 at Birkdale Village.

Registration begins at 8 a.m. with breakfast from Chick-fil-A and Fresh Market. Teams can register in advance at or the day of the event for $20.

Walkers can browse vendor tables and collect promotional items, goodies and giveaways.

“The whole purpose of Bark for Life was to target a new audience who might not be aware of relay,” American Cancer Society Community Manager Blair Lindley said.

Mrs. Southeastern North Carolina Autumn-Skye Boothe will speak about how cancer has touched her life.

Boothe, an animal lover and cancer survivor, has jumped at the chance to get involved with regional Bark for Life events. While Bark for Life gets animals involved in saving human lives, Boothe also works to give back to the animals. She directs and fundraises for Rikki’s Refuge, a 32-acre no-kill animal sanctuary in Virginia.

Event committee chair Melissa Shoemaker will introduce raffle prizes before dogs and their walkers take off.

Teams will follow the walk route around the pond and around the shopping center, with or without canine companions.

All pet lovers are welcome, Shoemaker said.

Bark for Life is a precursor to the American Cancer Society’s marquee event, Relay for Life, coming to Richard Barry Memorial Park June 22.

After the walk, dogs will compete for titles including best trick and sloppiest kiss.

Extending the invitation to pets has helped generate enthusiasm for the event. Shoemaker’s been overwhelmed by the support from walkers, businesses and sponsors including FiFi’s Fine Resale and Pampered Pets Inn. Sarah McGraw of McGraw Photography will be on hand snapping action and glamour shots of walkers and their dogs.

“It’s really easy to approach people with dogs and tell them about the event, and they get really excited,” Shoemaker said. “We walk our dogs all the time, so why not walk them for a good cause?”

Canine companions can also play a big role in survivors’ experiences.

“We wanted to allow them to bring their dogs who might have been their companion during their battle if they’re a survivor,” Lindley said. “It is just a really great event that allows an audience to have a really great time with their pets while fighting back against a disease that has affected their lives.”

Shoemaker will be walking with her two Pekingese, Snickers and Lilly. Her team, Friends of Snickers and Lilly, has met their goal of $2,000 through community donations and team member registration fees. The first annual Bark for Life Lake Norman in 2011 raised $30,000, and Shoemaker said they hope to surpass that this year.