Restoring Bill’s ride for animals in need

Two men on bicycles wearing black, white and grey cycling gear
Rance Sellon, left, and Bill Johnson, right, did several fundraising bike rides together to support animal care at the WSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine. On Aug. 15 and 16, Sellon will keep the tradition going in honor of his friend whose own cancer diagnosis will keep him from joining the ride this year. Photo by Henry Moore Jr., WSU College of Veterinary Medicine.

Washington State University veterinarian Dr. Rance Sellon enjoys bicycling, but his 217‑mile ride from Cle Elum to Pullman from Aug. 15–16 is about honoring a good friend and his efforts to help animals in need of care.

Sellon is making the trek — his sixth time — to support animals at WSU’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital that need life-saving procedures but whose human companions do not have the means to pay for the care. The ride was first organized in 2006 by Bill Johnson, a client of the Veterinary Teaching Hospital who lost his Golden retriever, Sonny, to canine lymphoma.

Johnson himself was later diagnosed with a blood cancer, hairy cell leukemia, and can no longer complete the ride, so his friend, Sellon is carrying on the Bill Johnson Annual Ride for Hope, which has evolved into a College of Veterinary Medicine tradition.

“I do this because I am a fan of Bill’s vision to generate money for future hospital clients in need and their pets, and I can do something I really enjoy — riding a bike — for something that I believe in and support,” Sellon said.

Money brought in from the ride goes to The Sonny Angel, Cody Jo’s and Annie Marie’s Gift of Hope Endowment, which Johnson established in the name of his two dogs and a friend’s dog to directly support animals in need of care at WSU.

“I wanted to create something to continue to help people and their pets long past my lifespan,” Johnson said.

The idea came to him inside the WSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital lobby, when he witnessed a family struggling to pay for their dog’s care while waiting for his own dog’s appointment. In the moment, Johnson put himself in their shoes.

“You know, not only are you losing your best friend, but you’re also guilt ridden because you don’t have the money,” Johnson said. “A lot of people, if they know something is out there, they are willing to participate. It makes a huge difference. When you put enough pennies in a pot, real money grows pretty quickly.”

To raise awareness and money for the fund he created, Johnson biked the very route he and Sonny frequented to Pullman for cancer treatments for 10 years in a row. As the ride grew, so did the number of riders around Johnson.

Two men in black, white and grey cycling outfits stand before a banner announcing the annual ride for animals
Bill Johnson, left, and Rance Sellon

Other than a slight detour on the Beverly Bridge to cross the Columbia River, Sellon’s solo ride this year will follow the same path.

While Johnson last completed the ride in 2016, the fund in Johnson’s dogs’ names is still active. To date, it has brought in more than $100,000 and benefited countless animals.

Johnson, who now lives in Arizona, said he hopes to complete the ride with Sellon in the future, but his own cancer diagnosis — a type of blood cancer like the one that plagued seven of his dogs — has prevented him from attempting the ride.

“My last year riding showed me my own first signs of cancer, as I was having a difficult time with the physical demands of riding 217 miles in a day,” Johnson said. “Rance encouraged me with his positive attitude and his focus on the task. I would not have made it to Ellensburg without Rance — he’s a rock.”

Despite Johnson’s diagnosis, he is not ruling out completing the ride again. Still, he is touched by Sellon’s selfless commitment to keeping the ride alive.

“If I could explain it, it would be like coming full circle, like coming back to the beginning where it all started,” Johnson said. “I am just honored knowing that a vision that is so dear to my heart has been kept alive by someone who has the same drive and devotion for helping those in need save their beloved pets.”

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