PHOENIX (AP) — What started out as a simple Facebook request for photos of dogs for a 16-year-old cancer patient has since turned the pet-loving boy into an Internet celebrity.
Anthony Lyons' love for the therapy dogs that greet him during his treatments for leukemia led a family acquaintance to put up a Facebook event page the week before Christmas to re-create the experience online. The request, "Photo Doggies for Anthony," resulted in thousands of pooch pictures and cheered up Anthony, but it has also evoked gifts and gestures in the real world.
The attention has brought Anthony offers for donations of actual dogs. People have mailed him stuffed animals. Someone offered New York Yankees tickets. Businesses wanting to capitalize on the attention have also come out of the woodwork as they try to profit from the story.
While it might be tempting to use the notoriety to get money for medical and household expenses, Anthony's mother said she is adamant about not turning the page into a for-profit operation.
"No one is benefiting other than just their own happiness. And that makes me happy right now," Kristen Lyons said. "This is honestly the best thing that's ever happened to us — ever. It's given us something to do besides lay around and wait for the next 'sick' thing to happen."
Anthony was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in July. He has been undergoing chemotherapy at Phoenix Children's Hospital but has a good prognosis, his mother said. Anthony said the photos that people have posted have helped him feel better. Pet owners have also shared pictures of cats and pot-belly pigs. Some have also posted photos of pets stricken with cancer.
"It's reassuring because you look at the pictures of the dogs; they're sick all the time but they're still happy. They're happy to be alive. I've never met a sad dog," Anthony said.
The teenager said he can easily pass half a day just scrolling through them. Sometimes he'll even choose picture-gazing over playing Xbox. He has been trying to go through the more than 500,000 images and is apologetic that he can't "like" and comment on all of them.
"If I see your dog, it's appreciated," he said. "I'm still trying to go through all of them. You have to realize, there's so many people posting."
The page was taken down Monday after someone posted a photo of a dead dog, but it was back up a day later. An alternate page was set up. So they will respond to both pages for now, Kristen Lyons said.
Lyons, a real estate agent who is currently not working, said Anthony will have to be on chemotherapy for the next three years. "But he's doing very well. You'd never know he was sick," she said.
Anthony wants the page to keep going so that it can help other people in similar situations.
"If it's just somebody else having a bad day, go through the page," he said. "You can see all these dogs and these hilarious pictures."
Follow Terry Tang on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/ttangAP