By Kathy Walsh

DENVER (CBS4) – They are smart, obedient and playful and Golden Retrievers are the third most popular dog breed in America. But sadly, they also have one of the highest rates of cancer in canines.

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(credit: CBS)

Now a foundation based in Denver is trying to figure out why.

The Morris Animal Foundation is gathering information on more than 3,000 Goldens across the country. According to the foundation, it is the most extensive investigation ever undertaken in veterinary medicine.

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(credit: CBS)

It’s also a time commitment for owners.

But they would do anything to prolong the lives of their big, lovable buddies.

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CBS4’s Kathy Walsh interviews Valerie Robson and Greg Vowels. (credit: CBS)

Valerie Robson and Greg Vowels can’t imagine life without gentle, gorgeous Golden Retrievers. These days, Romeo and Astro are on the run at their home in Conifer.

“They’re the sweetest, most lovable things around,” said Robson.

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(credit: CBS)

The boys are numbers five and six in this rabid retriever family. The previous four pups were Samson, Carmel, Kingsley and Charm. All, but Kingsley, died of cancer.

“It makes me cry a lot of times. It really is difficult,” said Robson.

“You know we don’t have children, our dogs are our children which makes it that much harder,” added Vowels.

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(credit: CBS)

That’s why the couple entered 7-year-old Astro in a national study of 3,044 Golden Retrievers.

The rate of cancer for the breed is 60 percent. The goal of the Morris Animal Foundation’s “Golden Retriever Lifetime Study” is to figure out why.

Robson explained that a veterinarian collects hair, nails, blood and more from Astro annually. And the golden wears what’s called a “whistle”, a sort of Fitbit for Fido to track his activity.

Once a year, Robson fills out a 60-page report.

“Where they sleep, what they eat, what we use to clean with, what we use on our lawn …” she said.

According to the Foundation, the extensive data will be studied to reveal potential risk factors that may lead to the development of four types of cancers common in Golden Retrievers – lymphoma and osteosarcoma, which are dramatically similar to the same cancers in humans, hemangiosarcoma and mast cell tumors.

“It’s really taking all that science and creating hope that … we will not lose our dogs at 5, 6, 7 years of age,” Robson said.

She and Vowels hope Astro helps researchers figure out how to keep these fun-loving dogs cancer-free and part of the family for much longer.

LINK: Morris Animal Foundation Golden Retriever Study

Kathy Walsh is CBS4’s Weekend Anchor and Health Specialist. She has been with CBS4 since 1984. She is always open to story ideas. Follow Kathy on Twitter @WalshCBS4.

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