Harford County's 25 veterinarians have been involved in community events that assist animals for some time.
But starting today with a pet walk-a-thon they've organized, Harford's animal doctors launch aneffort to become involved in civic causes that affect people.
The pet walk-a-thon, which starts at 1 p.m. at the Harford CountyEquestrian Center near Bel Air, will raise money for research on cerebral palsy, a muscular disease caused by brain damage that afflicts about 700,000 people in the United States.
"Knowing what a terrible disease it is, we decided to do something about it," said Dr. Richard P. Streett, an organizer of the walk-a-thon who operates the Churchville Veterinary Clinic on Route 22.
In the fall, the veterinarians plan a second walk-a-thon to raise money for diabetes.
To get today's event rolling, Streett and other Harford veterinarians who aremembers of the Harford Veterinary Medical Association asked pet owners to bring dogs, cats, horses, ferrets and other animals to the equestrian center where they'll be expected to walk one mile.
Participants are asked to donate $10 each.
Money raised will be given to United Cerebral Palsy of Central Maryland.
Streett, who has been practicing in the county for 20 years, said pamphlets were given out atmost veterinary clinics and pet stores.
To encourage pet owners to participate, a variety of prizes are being offered at today's event, including free T-shirts to the first 300 people to sign up. There will also be prizes for the biggest, smallest, best-dressed, hairiest and most unusual pets.
A prize will be presented to the pet and owner who look the most alike.
Other attractions include a canine display put on by the Maryland State Police and the Harford County Sheriff's Office and an information booth manned by Harford Animal Control and the U.S. Army Environmental Hygiene Agency to provide information about animal diseases.
If at least 300 people participate, the event will be repeated next year, said Streett. Participants in future pet walk-a-thons
will be asked to collect pledges to raise even more money.
Streett said veterinarians got the idea for the event because many of them know 12-year-old Kara Schmidt. Kara, a student at Bel Air Middle School, has cerebral palsy. "I've known her since shewas born," said Dr. Richard O. Cook of the Bel Air Veterinary Hospital, "She's like a granddaughter to me."
Kara's mother, Jeanne Schmidt, is a technician at Cook's office, and her grandmother Hazel Thomson worked there many years as an office manager.
Kara, described by friends and family as a bright but shy youngster, loves animals, particularly horses. She will be participating in today's walk-a-thon.
"My feeling is that I've been here since 1956, and this county has been good to me," said Cook. "So I try to be good to the county."
In addition to the fund-raising events planned for cerebral palsy and diabetes, the veterinarians have about 10 community outreach programs under way. They include an educational campaign held in April when the veterinarians go to public schools to educate fifth-graders on how to be responsible pet owners.
Veterinarians also participate in a program at Harford Vocational Technical School to train students as veterinary assistants.
Another program offered is free treatment for the first 24 hours to injured animals when owners cannot be found.
If the owner is found later, he or she is responsible for the bill. If not paid, the veterinarians absorb treatment costs before they give the animal to the Humane Society.
Additionally, they offerdiscounts on animal sterilization to pet owners who are indigent.
Harford veterinarians are planning a display at the Steppingstone Museum in Havre de Grace. The display will include vintage veterinary tools dating back to the turn of the century.
Streett said the tools belonged to Herbert Hoopes, who lived in the Bel Air Forest Hills area and practiced throughout the county.
Cook said the number and type of civic-oriented activities organized by Harford veterinarians is unusual.
"We have what we consider one of the most unique groups in the country," he said.
Cook said about four or five veterinarians in the county 35 years ago formed a group aimed at increasing veterinarians' involvement in community affairs.
Since then, the number of veterinarians has grown as the population has grown. Cook saideach new veterinarian that comes to town is encouraged to join the group.