There will be plenty of treats, costumes, contests and free heart exams. And that's just for the pets.

More than 5,000 people and their pets are expected to gather Sunday at Druid Hill Park for the 16th annual March for the Animals. The event, which starts with a 1.5-mile walk-a-thon and culminates with a festival, is the largest fundraiser for the Maryland SPCA. Last year's festivities raised $364,000. All money goes directly to fund animals housed in the adoption center, pet ownership education and care for homeless animals.

"It shows the importance of being nice to animals — especially in this area, where you hear about violence toward human beings and animals," said Tami Gosheff, special events and outreach coordinator for the Maryland SPCA. "You get to meet animals and learn the proper way to socialize around animals."

For the walk-a-thon, participants can enter as individuals or in groups, which are referred to as packs.

Shana Challmes and her pack, "Wags To Riches," have been participating in the walk for the past seven years. She estimates the group has raised more than $10,000. This year, Challmes, her friends and co-workers plan to raise more than $4,000.

"I have no doubt we'll reach $4,000," the Mount Washington resident said. "We raised $3,356 so far, and all of our money is not in yet."

Challmes, who adopted her first dog from the Maryland SPCA in 2004, participates in the walk-a-thon because she believes in the mission of the organization.

"The animals have no voice," she said. "I have to give as much as I can for them. That is what I live for — anything I can do to make this world a better place for them."

There are plenty of activities to keep the interest of the most spirited pet, including an agility course, training classes, pet demonstrations, a costume contest, several games and plenty of free treats.

"It's just great to see so many people gathered one day to see all the different types of dogs — breeds, shapes and colors — especially this time of year, when everyone is itching to get outside and do something with their pets," Gosheff said.

Gosheff's two pit bulls: Sebastian, 7, and Millie, 4, are regular attendees. Sebastian is a repeat winner of the annual musical sit contest, which tests the dog's ability to sit on command. The winner receives a food treat.

"Sebastian wins every year," Gosheff said with a laugh. "He'll do anything for a treat."

Challmes' 2-year-old pit bull, Valentine, loves interacting with the other dogs at the event.

"She gets very excited to see all the dogs and the excitement," Challmes said. "We definitely check out all of the participating vendors and get a bite to eat. It's usually a very nice day. I'm very excited."

Although the event mainly attracts dogs, it's not unusual to spot a potbelly pig, a number of cats being carted around on pedestals and at least one large turtle, according to Gosheff. The turtle, Darwin, is something of a celebrity.

"That turtle has been at this event as long as I can remember," said Gosheff, who added that Darwin is her favorite part of the event. "He's huge. They walk him around like a dog."

There will also be a number of services offered to pets and their owners. An SPCA dog trainer will provide free tips to owners. Terri Diener, a "pet communicator," will be available for private consultations to improve the communication process between pets and owners. Pets can receive a microchip identification for $25. The process is quick and relatively painless, according to Gosheff.

Another draw this year will be free heart exams for dogs.

The exams are part of the Mobile Dog Heart Health Tour, which will bring its soundproof medical unit to perform the heart screenings. Dr. Steve Rosenthal, a local veterinary cardiologist, will perform the exam and will also be available to answer questions and educate dog owners about the most common symptoms of heart disease in dogs.

john-john.williams@baltsun.com

If you go

The Maryland SPCA is hosting the 16th Annual March for the Animals at 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday at Druid Hill Park. Call 410-235-8826, ext. 138, or go to mdspca.org.

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