What could be better than walking a dog on a sunny spring day? How about joining 70 dogs to raise money for puppy mill survivors? That took the Friends of Jupiter Walk to a whole other level Sunday.
The canine crowd in Boyce Park was diverse in size and breeds, from 5-pound Jupiter to Cody, a deaf and blind Great Dane, and the eye-catching Thor, a Caucasian shepherd who weighs 160 pounds.
The leader of the walk was Jupiter, 7, a Maltese who spent three years of his life as a breeding dog in a large commercial facility known as a puppy mill. He was saved by Northcentral Maltese Rescue Inc. and adopted in 2013 by Nicole Orlando and her husband, Dustin Feher, of Plum.
They were not content to just give love and a home to a little dog who had never been loved or petted and didn’t know how to play or wag his tail. The couple organized the walk to help dogs like Jupiter. In 2015 and 2016, they raised $16,000, which was used to rescue 70 dogs. This year’s walk brought in over $5,000 in donations.
Most of the dogs and their people walked in the 1-mile non-competitive walk. The dogs had fun milling around, meeting and playing with other dogs. The people bought raffle tickets for 60 donated baskets. The event had 28 sponsors, 13 vendor tables and volunteers from four rescue groups.
Walking on her hind legs part of the time was Taffy, 3, a poodle/Cavalier King Charles spaniel mix with Janis Hoffman of Monroeville.
Norma Brizzi drove all the way from Atlantic Beach, Fla., with her three rescue dogs, including Julian, who is at least 11 years old. In 2007, she adopted Julian from the same group that rescued Jupiter, although the long-haired cream-and-white dog is a Lhasa apso, not a Maltese.
Originally from Donora, Ms. Brizzi plans her yearly visits with family to coincide with the Jupiter Pet Walk. Her father, James Brizzi, and sister, Marilyn Brizzi, both of Donora, helped handle her other dogs — Shih Tzu Sebastian, 8, and Malti-poo Eddie, 15.
Julian and Sebastian wowed the crowd by running through a mini agility course set up by the Western Pennsylvania Search & Rescue Development Center in Penn Hills. All three of Ms. Brizzi’s dogs have many titles and competitions wins in Florida, Alabama and Georgia. Eddie, who looks younger than his years, is “retired” from agility, his owner said.
For Baxter and many other dogs, it was their first time on an agility course. They scooted through a tunnel, ran up and down a ramp and an A-frame, leaped over jumps, and walked on a seesaw, guided by the search and rescue people.
Baxter, 2, a Havanese-poodle mix, wagged his tail as he navigated the course and seemed pleased with the treats and applause he received. Owner Karen Boros of McKeesport said she will be signing Baxter up for the classes in Penn Hills.
Participants in the sport of agility say it improves their dogs’ self-confidence. That’s why Ms. Orlando has been taking Jupiter to classes since January, along with his “sister” Penelope, 4, a Maltese. Both dogs love it, she said, so she asked the group to come to the Jupiter Pet Walk.
Cody, 4, is not able to do agility, but he did enjoy the kindness of strangers. The Great Dane’s size and color make him stand out in a canine crowd. People who stop to meet him learn he is deaf and blind because both of his parents carry what is called a “double merle” gene, which results in 25 percent of the puppies being blind and/or deaf.
Many breeders who knowingly breed double merles kill the puppies that are blind or deaf. Cody was saved by Pennsylvania Great Dane Rescue and adopted by Joyce Donovan of Bethel Park.
“I take Cody to as many events and fundraisers as I can. We are somewhere just about every weekend,” Ms. Donovan said.
It’s hard to imagine how a deaf and blind dog can process the world and navigate in it. His nose tells him when people are approaching. He leans into them and wags his tail when they pet him.
“He used to be scared, but now he enjoys going places,” Ms. Donovan said. “I want people to pet him.”
Linda Wilson Fuoco: email@example.com or 412-263-1953 or on Facebook.