Dogs and their walkers aid Komen foundation

Paws for a cause


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It was cold. The skies threatened rain. Treats were rare and offered only if you sat down and shook hands.

But as members of what might be our planet's most optimistic species, the dogs at Hartwood Acres on Sunday didn't care, romping around with a careless abandon that their bundled-up owners could only watch and envy.

For the fourth time in as many years, more than 400 dogs marched their way though the Susan G. Komen Paws for the Cure walk, the canine counterpart to the larger race held in May for human beings. More than 700 people pre-registered for the walk, and organizers said scores more paid at the gate, though they couldn't yet release donation totals.

Hartwood Acres proved to be a good venue, a dog's heaven of open fields, obstacle courses and plenty of trees to mark as one's own. Hosting a United Nations of breeds, the walk warmed up with costume contests, a round of canine musical chairs and a miniature agility Olympics.

Seven-year-old Iggy won "Best Steelers Costume," patiently tolerating his pink jersey and Mardi Gras bead necklaces. In the final moments of competition, owner Linda Michling slipped on the coup-de-grace: stunner sunglasses.

"Poor Iggy is getting totally abused," the master of ceremonies crowed. The dog held up well, and Ms. Michling was glad for his good nature. As with many of the participants, the walk's cause hit close to home for her: "You never know when it's going to be you," she said. "And I've had some scares before."

The walk was the brainchild of Kathy Purcell, executive director of the Pittsburgh affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Over the years, she found herself turning away people who wanted to run with their dogs in the annual spring race, a no-no in a crowded event where a wayward leash could quickly trip a dozen runners.

So her organization started the dog walk as an alternative, giving cancer survivors a chance to bring along their four-legged supporters.

"Lots of people will say that while going through treatment, their dogs were a big help to them," she said.

The walk, whose proceeds support breast cancer research and education, has never had good luck with weather. Rainstorms thundered through last year's event, and every other year has been touch-and-go. But the skies held out Sunday, although temperatures in the upper 40s meant canine costumes tended to the warm and snug.

Owners had no trouble seeking out like-minded mothers and fathers to Pomeranians, poodles or pinschers. In the process, they found a strange coincidence: A surprisingly large number of dogs were named Bailey. (Or Bayley, in the case of O'Hara resident Donna Millburn's Bernese mountain dog, a stalwart sort who pulled along a miniature cart filled with pink flowers.)

But back to the costume contests. Best Pink Costume almost went to Sugar, a non-poodle in a poodle skirt who treated onlookers to a dance on her hind legs. But competitor Glory swept the field with a simple pink number, perhaps because the pooch is a breast cancer survivor herself. Best Overall Costume went to a dog dressed as a dinosaur. Go figure.

Shawn McDonald of Mars walked Primanti through his paces during the musical challenge, in which dogs trotted obediently to the tune of Baha Men's "Who Let the Dogs Out?" The duo was ousted when Primanti sat down too slowly during a pause in the music.

Yes, Mr. McDonald laughed, his dog is named after the famous local restaurant chain. When he was living in Colorado, Primanti was his only connection to home.

He and his pal braved the rain last year, and he believes in the cause: Cancer runs in his family, he said.

"My grandmother had battled cancer for years and beat it, my neighbor battled it and beat it," he said. "It's just good to come out and support a cause."

neigh_north - health

Andrew McGill: amcgill@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1497.


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