A Big Bark Out to Cure Cancer

A young boy with cancer, a miraculous surgery and a very large Great Dane therapy dog combine to animate Heel Cancer, a cause marketing campaign for a small Portland dog food maker.A young cancer survivor, an outsized therapy dog and a contented customer inspired Heel Cancer, a creative cause marketing campaign launched by a smallish, Portland-based organic pet food maker.

Castor & Pollux, the maker of Organix pet food, has teamed with PetSmart and a tall, long-tailed Great Dane named Bentley to raise money for human and canine cancer research.

The campaign was inspired when Bentley's owner, who has fed the dog Organix since he was a puppy, told the company the amazing story of his brave young cousin in Nebraska.

The story began when Chase Caspersen's mother discovered a big lump on the 9-year-old's right forearm. The lump was diagnosed as a cancerous tumor and doctors feared amputation of Chase's arm may be required to save his life.

The boy's parents searched and prayed for another treatment. They found a surgeon at the University of Nebraska Medical Center willing to cut out the tumor and save Chase's arm. Chase underwent chemotherapy before his surgery to shrink the tumor to allow enough room to remove it without damaging nerves. The surgery was successful, preserving Chase's Little League baseball career. The 5-inch gash in his arm was patched using bone mass from a deceased 58-year-old female organ donor. Chase underwent more chemotherapy after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells and now is in remission, living a normal life.

While in the hospital, Chase interacted with service dogs, which provided one of the few bright spots in his painful days. To show his appreciation for the dogs, Chase cut up fleece blankets to make chew toys. That sparked the idea in his mind of making dog toys to sell to raise money for cancer research. Supported by his school classmates, Chase made 1,200 dog toys and raised more than $1,600.

Chase's cousin, Patrick Malcom, who lives in Colorado Springs, was so impressed with the service dogs that attended the boy, he decided to train his dog, Bentley, as a therapy dog. Bentley already holds the dog record for longest tail and is in contention for the Guinness Book of World Records title as tallest dog. Bentley is hard to miss.

Malcom told the story of his cousin's cancer and his super-sized therapy dog to Castor & Pollux because of his affinity for its Organix dog food. The staff at Castor & Pollux was alert to the potential of his story, and the Heel Cancer campaign was born. 

Bentley is traveling to major metropolitan areas this summer and through the end of the year to visit hospitals that treat children with cancer and stopping off at local PetSmart stores to pose for pictures and be on hand for prize giveaways. including a year's supply of Organix and Heel Cancer gear.

Media coverage generated by Bentley helps sell Organix dog food. Ten cents from the sale of Organix adult dog food products is donated for cancer research by the CureSearch for Children with Cancer and National Canine Foundation. Every day, 36 children are told they have cancer and 40,000 of them undergo cancer treatment every year. As many as one in three dogs are afflicted with cancer and half of them die from the disease. One of Malcom's previous Great Danes died of the same type of bone cancer that afflicted Chase.

Many smaller firms shy away from cause marketing campaigns because they think it is too much to manage. Castor & Pollux thought out of the box, approaching PetSmart with its idea to secure PR help and a point of outreach in major communities. They then enlisted two credible cause marketing allies, CureSearch for Children's Cancer and the National Canine Foundation, to give the campaign more online presence and built-in consumer support.

It is a big-time campaign with a low-cost budget, fueled by the heartwarming back story of a child cancer survivor and a likable, enormous barkperson. It has the stuff that attracts interest and builds brand loyalty. All because a company took the time to listen to a contented customer and add to an already amazing story.Heel Cancer shows firms can band together with nonprofits to create a compelling cause marketing campaign that generates sales and donations to a worthy case.