Teen’s cancer survival story wins $50k grant for Sweet Paws Rescue of Groveland

That changed in June 2020, when Graham adopted Phoebe, a mix of pit bull and Australian Shepherd, from Sweet Paws Rescue, a Groveland-based nonprofit.

“I’ve always wanted to raise a puppy, but now I fully understand why they” [his parents] waited because if I was younger I wouldn’t have been able to train and raise Phoebe,” Graham said from his home in Vermont. “So I’m grateful for that.”

Now Sweet Paws Rescue thanks Graham and his mother for helping the volunteer organization win a $50,000 grant from Petco, the national retailer of pet supplies.

Emily Evans MacLaury submitted her son’s story to Petco’s Adoption Love Story contest in September. Her entry resulted in a $50,000 prize awarded to Sweet Paws this month.

“When a dog jumped on his bed, his beaming smile came out from under the tubes and puffy features,” she wrote of Graham’s hospital stay. “To hear him describe it made everything clear. ‘Dogs just see me as a person. They don’t see cancer.’”

Evans MacLaury said she and Graham were delighted to hear that their story was among the winners of the competition.

“I had written a lot of blogs when Graham was sick, so I was happy to keep writing for this competition,” Evans MacLaury said in a phone interview. “Later I got this email that we were one of the winners, and I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, this is real.’ And Graham immediately calculated how many dogs they could spay, neuter and feed with that money.”

Sweet Paws founder Cynthia Sweet said the gift is a godsend for her grassroots organization.

“We pack a big punch — I think we’re just as effective as big shelters, but we do it with a little bit,” Sweet said. “So $50,000, it’s not like that goes to a big CEO’s salary.”

Sweet said she plans to use the grant to pay for veterinary, food and transportation costs. The organization prioritizes rescuing cats and dogs from Massachusetts, but also accepts pets from Alabama and Mississippi, which have large stray populations, she said.

“There’s a saying in dog rescue, and it goes, ‘Dog rescue is like trying to empty the ocean with a teaspoon,’ and it’s true,” said Sweet, who founded the organization 10 years ago.

Phoebe was rescued as a puppy in Mississippi, where her nest was found under the deck of a house, according to Graham’s mother. She said that as soon as Graham and Phoebe met, the two clicked instantly.

“Graham sat down next to Phoebe and she immediately rolled onto her back, belly up,” Evans MacLaury said. “She just loved Graham from the start.”

Pictured is Graham holding Phoebe shortly after her adoption in June 2020. Emily Evans MacLaury

Katie Redefer can be reached at katie.redefer@globe.com.

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