Dignified Pet Services presents 'People in the Neighborhood'
She’s a dynamo fueled by dark chocolate and big dreams. A passionate crusader who envisions someday shaking hands with the vet who cures canine nasal carcinoma, the disease that stole her beloved Labrador, Chase.
Now in her 28th year at BMW Portland and nearly a decade into fundraising through the nonprofit she founded in memory of Chase, every dollar raised by Chase Away K-9 Cancer supports cancer studies. Literally collecting one dollar at a time in pocketed vests on dogs at events, the organization recently hit the million-dollar mark.
"Sometimes people treat me like a celebrity, and I'm like WTF?” Cera laughs. “I'm just somebody who lost her dog, and I got pissed. I'm still fighting for my girl Chase. Cancer took the wind out of my sails. But I'm a bitch, and when you knock me down, you better get the f**k out of my way when I get back up."
Preparing to build a home 19 years ago, Cera gave her builder plans for a doggy door before anything else. Their first Labrador girl, Smokey, arrived a month after the home was built. Named for Smokey Bear, Cera confesses, laughing, "I'll never be an adult — I'll always be a kid. I have a Herbie the Love Bug collection, and a Smokey Bear collection."
But she stands with the best of them. Like when a canine officer from Georgia called, in tears. A police dog was dying of cancer.
"Kids in Douglasville County supported the Sheriff's canine unit's penny drives,” Cera smiles. "They've raised close to $40,000.00 — in change — in six years. It's phenomenal. That's what Chase Away is — it's what anybody can dream."
Cancer also took Cera’s mom before Cera was two.
"I spent my childhood in the Shriner's Hospital for Crippled Children; born with bilateral hip dysplasia," she says matter-of-factly. "I'd get in my walker and scoot up and down the ward crowing like a rooster, waking everybody up — I'm a morning person. A lot of how I am now has to do with what happened to me as a child."
One treasure from those days is a cowbell her Grandma used to call Cera and her brothers in from playtime.
Among her treasured life lessons was learning that all the hours spent prepping Chase for victories were more valuable than the ribbons she won.
"When you lose a dog that lives to make you happy, it just sucks. Chase was an amazingly fun girl. She was an AKC Master Hunter, and an Elite Jumper, but that didn't help her live to be 7. I take millions of pictures of my dogs, but I don't have enough pictures of Chase — and now I never will. So I tell people to take those pics — one day they'll be happier than shit to have them."
The shoe that is so her? Her lucky orange dock-jumping shoes. "They may look bedraggled, but they're definitely day-glo!!! I also wear lucky underwear!"
Cera maintains the only way to heal from losing a dog to cancer is to get another dog.
"I've told people how horrified their dog who passed from cancer would be if s/he thought that they would be the last dog in their life."
Cera’s fur-kids are all Chase's offspring. Grandma Rikki, 11, was Chase's firstborn puppy; Elsie May, 8, is Chase's granddaughter; and Olie, 2 1/2, is her great grandson. Cera was there when each took their first breath.
"Olie is a rock star, and he knows it. He gets to come to work with me every day and give kisses to anybody who comes down the hall," Cera says proudly. That includes the Portland Timbers, who made him a custom jersey.
"After the season, they donate jerseys for my "kids" to wear for dock diving competitions — it’s great!" she laughs.
Cera credits Olie's good nature and more back to Chase.
"It's amazing what the love of one little dog has done. Everyone has their own 'Chase' that they're doing this for. Chase Away gives people a place to grieve and know they're not alone. Working a Chase event, you learn things you never anticipated. When little kids run up to you bringing their piggy banks, you know why — it's because they lost their dog to cancer," she says, her voice thick.
"Having a dog diagnosed with cancer puts you in a big frikkin ugly club, but at least there's a support group. You're not alone."
About our Sponsor
Dignified Pet Services has served the Portland-area community for 13 years. In addition to their core business of cremation and memorial services, Dignified co-sponsors the beloved annual Service of Remembrance at The Old Church in downtown Portland, as well as serving as wonderful supporters and friends of pets and those working in animal welfare. Proprietors Michael, Randy and Avani live in Sherwood.
Christy Caballero is a writer with pawprints on her broken heart from two victims of canine cancer, and agrees, it's an ugly frikkin club. She thanks Amanda Sue, Mabel, and other, furry angels for all the love and the inspiration that landed her four Maxwell Awards from the Dog Writers Association of America.