MICHIGAN CITY — La Porte's Shana Mueller has spent nearly a decade on the front lines in the fight against a disease that's wreaked havoc on her family.
For the past seven years, she's been an energic participant in the annual La Porte County Relay for Life. Along with her mother, Jeanine Powers, she formed the Ta Ta Ra Ra team, which has raised thousands of dollars for the American Cancer Society.
Like countless others, Mueller is driven to help find a cure for the affliction that's touched nearly every woman in her family, including her grandmother, who lost her battle with breast cancer last year.
Given her dedication, it was only natural she'd find a way to combine her activism with another essential part of her life — her love of canines.
"My dogs are my kids and my kids are my dogs," she said. "I had to have them involved with something I'm this passionate about."
This weekend, she'll ask the community to join her and her four-legged companions, Remington and Gunner, to continue the fight against cancer at the 2019 Bark for Life. The fundraiser takes place from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at Creek Ridge County Park at 7943 W. CR-400N in Michigan City.
Everyone is encouraged to bring their families and furry companions to the event, for which organizers are asking a $10 donation, though attendees are welcome to give whatever they can, Mueller said.
More than a dozen vendors will set up shop, selling food, treats, jewelry, fragrance and other items for humans and dogs. The Bark for Life will also feature a silent auction, children's activities, dog games and a demonstration by La Porte County Sheriff's K-9 officer Andrew Hahn.
La Porte singer Savannah Braman will perform throughout the day, including the national anthem. The event will also shine a spotlight on cancer survivors — including dogs who suffered from the disease — during a special ceremony.
The Bark for Life, an offshoot of the traditional Relay for Life, serves as a fundraiser for the annual cancer awareness campaign. Though many Bark for Life events encourage dog owners to do laps around a track like the relays, Saturday's event is more casual, Mueller said.
"Our main goal is for people to bring their dogs and kids, have a fun day, and learn more about what the American Cancer Society does for cancer patients and our community," she said.
Mueller and Powers established the La Porte County Bark for Life bout five years ago. Not only does the event serve as a fundraiser for Relay, but it honors dogs for the unique caregiving role they serve, Mueller said.
"They are our first line of support when we are sad or depressed ... this is our way of thanking them for that," she said.
The event also raises awareness for canine cancer, as dogs are capable of developing 80% of the same disease as humans. Unfortunately, their mortality rate is much higher, as owners often lack the money to cover treatment, Mueller said.
"If we can eradicate cancer in humans, we can help eradicate it in dogs as well, which will help them live longer," she said.
The cause brings hundreds to Creek Ridge every year, with the last Bark for Life drawing around 250, Mueller said. Many who attend don't get a chance to come to the Relay for Life, which, for liability reasons, forbids owners from bringing nonservice animals.
So far, Bark for Life organizers have raised $1,000 in contributions, a figure they hope to double by the end of the day Saturday.
As with other ACS events, a majority of the money raised will stay in La Porte County, Mueller said. Proceeds will help fund initiatives such as Road to Recovery, which provides free transportation for cancer patients to and from treatment.
Despite the gravity of the mission, Mueller promises Saturday's event will be full of laughter – and barking.
"I can't stress enough how much fun we really have," she said.
To learn more, visit facebook.com/BarkLaPorte.