Thousands of pets take over park

Dress-up contest, sunny weather draw record 5,000 to Maryland SPCA fundraiser

April 23, 2007|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,sun reporter

Clarence barely made it over the finish line yesterday after a mile-and-a-half jaunt around the lake at Druid Hill Park. Lying on his stomach in a pool of lapped water, mouth open and tongue wagging, the 2-year-old mixed terrier clearly needed a break.

It was, after all, no ordinary stroll in the park, not when you consider the crowd - an estimated 5,000 people who brought their pets for the 12th annual March for the Animals fundraiser for the Maryland Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Clarence seemed more tuckered out than his companion Stewie, also a mixed terrier but six months his junior. Stewie merely sat down.

"He usually doesn't pass out like this," said Jeff Grutkowski of Baltimore, who with his wife, Rebecca, owns the dogs. "And now he's being a bad influence on Stewie."

As the Grutkowskis waited for their pets to recuperate, a sea of dogs on all sides of them pushed forward, taking in the event's games and activities on a near-idyllic day.

Maryland SPCA organizers say the event set an attendance record. Under a sunny sky and with temperatures in the 80s - the warmest afternoon in months - Druid Hill Park turned into a virtual animal kingdom as turtles, ferrets, rabbits and even a few cats roamed with their people among the thousands of dogs.

The turnout had organizers expecting to top last year's mark when the walk raised $265,000, according to Maryland SPCA Executive Director Aileen Gabbey.

While some pet owners promenaded in shorts and T-shirts, many dogs were dressed in more ambitious wear - for the event's animal costume contest.

Janice and Joseph Bright dressed their dog, Chico, as Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, with a Civil War-style coat and hat made at Gettysburg, Pa.

The Brights are history buffs and hatched the idea for Chico's outfit after watching a Civil War re-enactment. Chico finished second in the contest - losing out to the entry of a couple of elementary-age children who dressed their two dogs as an angel and a devil.

But Chico - with threads made from the finest of materials, say the Brights - was the crowd favorite.

Chico's hat and buttons are from the 1860s, the Brights say. And it is just one outfit of many in their dog's wardrobe.

"He has a ton of clothes," said Janice Bright, an elementary school teacher who said they spent about $165 on Chico's Civil War coat. "He loves wearing clothes."

Keeping her clothes on during the contest proved problematic for Megan Cameron's rabbit, K.C. The 9-month-old kept slipping out of her Playboy Bunny jacket.

K.C., one of the few animals in the contest that was not a dog, is a dwarf rabbit, Cameron said, which means she will not grow much past the length of her owner's forearm. K.C.'s size made her hard to see in the contest. But those who could view her marveled at K.C.'s pink silk smoking jacket with black Playboy bunnies on top.

"I wish I could have shown her off more," said Cameron, also an elementary school teacher. "But she kept slipping out of her clothes."

The fundraiser also featured a pet look-alike contest, dog tricks, and games for the animals.

Katie Fulton of Baltimore took her golden retriever, Lexi, through an obstacle course, but the dog balked at one point - a weaving maze that a good number of other dogs also shunned.

Not that it mattered. Fulton said it was nice that Lexi got a chance to interact with so many of her kind.

"This really is a beautiful day," Fulton said. "A little hot, but beautiful."

brent.jones@baltsun.com

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