Clover, the firehouse dog, may have stepped down from her duties in launching the annual Madeira Beach Fire Department fundraiser to support patients of Ladies First Choice, but she is still paws-up for the cause of breast cancer awareness.

Every year the Madeira Beach department designs a new unisex Breast Cancer Awareness T-shirt that passes Clover’s sniff test of approval, and from July through October it goes on sale.

This year’s T-shirt costs $20 and can be purchased at the Station 25, located at 250 Municipal Drive in Madeira Beach. Trish Eaton, the executive assistant to the fire chief, is the point person for this year’s fundraiser.

Pre-orders ended Sept. 1, so Eaton recommends that people interested in purchasing a T-shirt now through the end of October call her to confirm the availability of sizing at 727-391-3400.

A limited quantity will also be available at Ladies First Choice, so calling first to see about available sizing is also suggested (727-535-4446).

Ladies First Choice is a mastectomy product and apparel boutique located at 2337 Belleair Road, Suite E in Clearwater that opened its doors at that location in 2002. The Madeira Beach department began its fundraiser in 2017 to assist patients of Ladies First Choice in attaining mastectomy products not covered by insurance or due to lack of health insurance coverage.

Suzanne Samuelson, manager of Ladies First Choice, explained that many of their patients have high insurance deductibles, and some have trouble paying their premiums. “We do as much as we can for the ladies in need,” said Samuleson.

Back in 1985 when Ladies First Choice first opened, it “was the first company to do in-home fittings at no charge.” That is a service that Ladies First Choice still offers today with trained fitters certified to do so. The store carries the latest products from top suppliers in the industry, including breast forms, stylish bras, bathing suits and accessories.

“Throughout the years, the department has been able to make donations (each year) between $500 and just shy of $800,” said Eaton. “All the proceeds are kept local to be shared with patients that may need supplies which either insurance doesn’t cover or a patient is experiencing a hardship.”

Samuelson mentioned that the Madeira Beach firefighters are a generous lot, noting they often “kick in extra money” for the fundraiser since donations are accepted.

Eaton concurred.

“Many of our residents and out-of-state visitors look forward to supporting this fundraiser, and one of our biggest supporters as a group is Pinellas County 9-1-1 Dispatch employees,” she said.

Today’s statistics indicate a significant number of people will experience breast cancer, touching just about everyone’s lives.

“One out of eight women will develop breast cancer,” said Eaton. “That’s one of our neighbors on our street, one of the teachers in our child’s school, one employee behind the bakery counter, one of our friends … one of our family members.”

Even though Clover doesn’t get the headlines she did when there was a kick-off event called “Paws for the Cause,” she runs with the pack for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Eaton expressed Clover’s and the entire fire department’s sentiments about the fundraiser.

“Madeira Beach Fire Department is honored to be able to support local warriors and to continue bringing awareness to the fight against cancer,” she said.