Dog is top fund-raiser for AIDSWALK

The top fund-raiser for this year's AIDSWALK wasn't available for interviews. So his owner, Lynn Sussman-Orenstein, offered to make a statement in his place.

"He enjoys it," Ms. Sussman-Orenstein said of her dog, Abe, who raised $2,355 for the Health Education Resource Organization during the 3.5-mile walk June 5.


"It's exciting . . . to be with a lot of different people and animals. [But] He's exhausted the day after."

Abe, a 10-year-old Pekingese and poodle mix, is the official team captain for Osler Eight, a group of nurses, who work in the AIDS unit of Johns Hopkins Hospital, and their families.


Friends and family members of patients and former patients are also on the team, named for the Hopkins unit, Ms. Sussman-Orenstein said.

"When we began designating him as our team captain, it was a gimmick to get people to pay attention," said Ms. Sussman-Orenstein.

She noted that Abe has participated in six of the seven annual walks through the Johns Hopkins University neighborhood.

"It was a new, creative way of asking people to pledge our team."

From there, the idea grew until people began looking forward to Abe's arrival, she said.

"We have lots of dogs who walk every year, some wearing buttons or AIDSWALK T-shirts," said Joyce Kramer, HERO's AIDSWALK coordinator. "But none do as well as Abe."

His owner, who kicked off the pair's fund raising in early April with a reception at her Hampstead home, is no slacker when it comes to collecting money for the cause about which she feels strongly.

Ms. Sussman-Orenstein collected $2,110 worth of pledges in her own name, making her the second-highest contributor, Ms. Kramer said. "It's pretty amazing," Ms. Kramer said, confirming that Osler Eight collected more than $6,000 for HERO.


Seventy-five percent of the money will be used for HERO case management, HIV/AIDS prevention education and other services, she said. The remaining 25 percent is divided among AIDS service providers in the Baltimore metropolitan area.

"Over the past seven years of the walk, HERO has distributed over $1.5 million to other AIDS service providers," Ms. Kramer said. "We're still counting, but so far we've collected over a quarter of a million [dollars this year.]"

To prepare for the big event, Ms. Sussman-Orenstein said, she and Abe begin talking longer walks in the spring. "Where we live, there are plenty of areas where we walk," she said. "When the weather gets nicer, we walk more."

On walk day, the 14-pound black dog always arrives wearing a bandanna with pins from his previous AIDSWALKs, his owner said. Often, Hopkins neighbors who set up tables of water for walkers include bowls for the dogs, Ms. Sussman-Orenstein said.

"He walks a lot of the way," she said. "But, depending on the weather and how many people are around, I just carry him. I take him just because it's fun. I've had him since he was 3 months old, and I miss him when he's not with me."

Ms. Sussman-Orenstein said the walk also provides an opportunity to help her patients in a different way. "I'm strictly a bedside nurse," she said. "Raising money keeps me active in the issue of HIV, but puts it on a different level."


One reason she does it, she said is that "it helps to keep memories of people no longer with us alive. We're also walking in hope of making things better for our patients in the community."