Pet Tales: After injuries and illness, marathon walker depending on his dog


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A Rhodesian ridgeback named Murphy is officially entered in the Pittsburgh Marathon, though he'll be walking, rather than running, as he helps Dan Kelly fulfill his goal of competing in a marathon in the "fifties" decade of his life.

Mr. Kelly, a Follansbee, W.Va., steelworker, has run in 19 marathons since 1977. He was de-railed in 2006 when he suffered broken bones and other injuries in an industrial accident. A stroke in 2007 nearly killed him and left him blind in one eye. After coming back from that, two years ago he sustained multiple injuries in a bicycle accident that left him with limited use of his right foot, and his running days were over.

Unwilling to give up the outdoor exercise that he loves, Mr. Kelly started walking, gradually stepping up his pace to race-walking in 5Ks. Last year, he race-walked in a half marathon in Wheeling "and that went really well" so he set his sights on a marathon.

His competitive nature dictated that Mr. Kelly would aim for an official Pittsburgh Marathon finish time -- six hours, max. He trains 50-55 miles a week, and his usual pace is 12-13 minutes per mile.

Through it all his training partner was Murphy, whom he describes as "100 pounds of pure muscle." His Internet research indicated that Rhodesian ridgebacks have incredible strength and stamina because they were bred in Africa to chase and kill lions.

Dogs are not permitted to enter marathons, but Mr. Kelly convinced officials that Murphy is his assistance dog, and he needs him in this race. The 57-year-old man must wear a T-shirt that says "assisted walker" and the 5-year-old dog must wear a shirt with the duo's official race number.

Murphy will wear an adult size "large" T-shirt with the sleeves cut off. Mr. Kelly will undoubtedly be the only marathon contestant wearing a dog bowl around his neck. Paper cups at the water stations wouldn't be large enough to give Murphy the amounts of water he needs to stay hydrated, Mr. Kelly explained.

There will be food for Murphy at the halfway mark in Oakland, and friends stationed at 18 miles and 21 miles will be available to take temporary possession of Murphy if Mr. Kelly feels he should be pulled from the race.

"I'm 90 percent certain we can do this," Mr. Kelly said, unless the weather is extremely hot. "This is my dream come true. I think God gave me this dog for a reason. I'm going to enjoy every minute of this marathon. This may be my last one, but I made it to my 20th marathon in my 50s decade."

Rabies clinic

Animal Care & Welfare volunteers are having a rabies and microchip clinic for cats and dogs from noon to 3 p.m. May 6 at PA Fitness West Gym, 650 Penn Lincoln Drive, Imperial (15126). A rabies shot is $10, a microchip is $30 and nail cuts are $8. Cats available for adoption will be there.

Dog nature walk

North Park is the setting for a free nature walk and advice session next Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon at the Latodami Environmental Education Center on Brown Road near the ice rink.

It's called "Good Dogs in the Park with Sheri Gitner," a certified dog behavior consultant. She'll teach participants how to stay safe in public parks.

The event is free, courtesy of the Allegheny County Parks Department, but pre-registration is required by calling the Latodami Nature Center at 724-935-2170.

K9 cancer walk a success

Memorial balloons were released while Sara McLachlan's haunting song "I Will Remember You" played in the background. Many tears were shed by people who loved dogs that died from cancer.

At the April 22 event in North Park, 293 walkers and their dogs raised more than $26,000 for research into the causes and treatment of canine cancer. I think that's an astounding amount of money for a first-time fundraising event, and checks are still coming in.

Mary Hummert of Penn, Westmoreland County, organized the first Chase Away K-9 Cancer Walk, which was held on the one-year anniversary of the death of her Irish setter, Chase. His full name was Champion Ohkom's Angel in Disguise, and he earned obedience titles and was a certified therapy dog. Chase, 12, died one month after being diagnosed with lymphoblastic lymphoma.

More than $500,000 has been raised since 2006 by the national organization. Information: www.chaseawayk9cancer.org.

Prayer Day rides

Cats named Waffle and Tirzah won hearts in Pet Tales and at a local cat show because they enjoy riding in a child-sized purple car. Now they are "prayer warriors" hosting a unique observance of the 61st annual National Day of Prayer on Thursday.

The cats and owners Gregg and Karen McCandless of Butler will be in the Holly Shelter of Alameda Park in Butler from 1 to 5 p.m. Although it looks like Waffle is driving for his passenger Tirzah, Mr. McCandless powers the car by remote control.

The couple will have prayers and a Q & A session about their Basic9 website, which uses the cats to fulfill their mission of teaching about "the nine fruits of the spirit" including love, peace, joy and patience (Galatians 5:22.23).

Basic 9 gifts in a basket will be given away, and there will be T-shirts and collectable plush kitties. Ten percent of donations will go to the Butler County Humane Society. Go to www.basic9.com for further information and to see videos of Waffle and Tirzah in action.

homes - pets

Pet Tales appears weekly in the Saturday Home & Garden section. Linda Wilson Fuoco: lfuoco@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3064. Got a pet health question? e-mail it to petpoints@post-gazette.com. It may be answered in an upcoming Pet Points column by veterinarians at the Point Breeze Veterinary Clinic. First Published April 28, 2012 1:30 PM


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