Mark Tillinger and his Bernese mountain dog Riedel shared a bond few owners and pets ever do: They went through cancer together. In 2009 Tillinger, 53, was diagnosed with prostate cancer, and Riedel had mouth cancer. Tillinger has been cancer-free for three years now, but Riedel, who "fought an amazing fight" for 18 months, died at age 6. "I wanted to insure that her legacy meant something," says Tillinger of Blackrock, Conn., then a senior partner at Accenture. So he and a friend started the Riedel and Cody Fund (riedelcody .org) to help cover veterinary bills for pets with cancer. Since 2010 they've aided some 100 four-legged family members, with up to $5,000 each, funded by Tillinger's and others' donations.
When 10-year-old Mateo Gold's Scottish terrier Ellie, also 10, fell ill with the same bladder cancer that had killed his family's other dog, the fund paid for an operation that saved her. "People love their pets, and you're put in a hard place," says his mom, Benita. "We spent all this money on our first dog; I don't know how far we could have gone without help." Now Ellie is home sleeping in Mateo's bed again. Hearing that, says Tillinger, is "so special. When I see how we have changed lives for the better, it's extraordinary."