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Every dog (and tortoise) has its day at March for the Animals

MusicMichael JacksonSenator TheatreArthritis

A lot of humans had their hands full at Sunday's 18th annual March for the Animals in Druid Hill Park.

Adam Mittadam, 30, of Canton, held fast to the leashes of six French bulldogs — Mango, Kiwi, Coconut, Scooter, Vespa and Moped — all wearing colorful capes for the occasion on a nippy spring morning.

"Oh my God, they're the cutest things," said Catherine Roberts, 27, also of Canton, stopping to take a photo with her cell phone.

Martin Courtney, 37, of Hampden, asked Mittadam to pose for photos with the dogs.

"You don't get an opportunity like this every day," said Courtney, public information officer for the Baltimore City Department of General Services.

Mercy Hospital anesthesiologist Katie Amundson, of Annapolis, who weighs 103 pounds, held on for dear life to her Newfoundlands, Simon, 125 pounds, and Maggie, 100 pounds.

"I'm a Newfoundland, not a St. Bernard," read her T-shirt, which gave detailed information about the dogs.

March for the Animals, whose co-sponsors include the Baltimore Ravens, drew an estimated 4,000 to 5,000 pet owners to the park, and raised $355,000 for the Hampden-based Maryland SPCA, organizers said.

The money raised defrays the costs of spaying, neutering, medicine, sheltering and other SPCA services for 3,000 clients a year, said Barb Clapp, of Homeland, who chaired the event. The SPCA, a "no-kill" shelter, gets no state or federal funding, and faces costs of $300 on average for each of the animals they shelter and care for each year.

"This (event) is our main source of funds," Clapp said. "It's essential to saving dogs and cats."

The walk was an informal, 1.4-mile jaunt around Druid Hill Park Lake. Food trucks and tents for everything from microchipping to pet portraits were set up around the perimeter of the lake. Elianne Amstalden, owner of Belvedere Veterinary Center, opposite the Senator Theatre, had a tent to promote her practice and her own "Hound Hike," which is held on the second-to-last Sunday of each month.

Amstalden said the walk has drawn about 15 people since it began in February.

Many pets were dressed up by their owners for a best dressed pet contest, one of several contests after the walk. Other contests included one for best pet tricks and another for "Musical Sit," a variation on "Musical Chairs."

People came to March for the Animals from all over the region. Dan and Gina Wood, of Dundalk, brought their 6-year-old greyhound, Billie Jean, a retired racer, who is named for the Michael Jackson song.

"She loves to hang out with other dogs," said Gina Wood, 31.

Pat Mellon, 48, of Hanover, brought Chihuahua Bella, 10, but carried her a lot because she has arthritis in her front paws and was afraid of some of the other dogs.

Carrie Green, 45, of Oakenshawe, brought Trudi, a shepherd-chow mix, who is 14 or 15. Wearing a black, furry hat with ears that she found online, and a matching scarf with paw prints, Green tried to look like Trudi.

Both pet and owner were in their element.

"She's getting up there (in age) but she's got a lot of energy and she loves to walk," said Green, who works for a telecommunications company.

It was impossible to be sad at March for the Animals, unless you were Joyce Scull.

The southwest Baltimore resident and her grandson, Robert, 8, walked without pets of their own, just a makeshift poster that said, "R.I.P." to Scull's late niece, Shardeh Watkins, Watkins' husband, Gerrick, a U.S. Marine, and their dogs, Leila and Scout. Taped to the poster were photos of the young couple and their dogs, who were killed March 2 in a car crash in Oceanside, Ca., when they swerved into a pole.

The car exploded and the couple, who had been married about a year, were burned beyond recognition and were identified through dental records, Scull said.

Scull said she and about 30 other friends and family members, calling themselves Shardeh's Sassy Squad, walked in honor of the couple.

"It's bittersweet," said Scull, who usually walks in the March for the Animals for fun.

For most people and their pets, however, the day was joyous. No one was enjoying themselves more than Karen Chenowith, 46, of Parkville, owner of Darwin, a 22-year-old giant tortoise wearing a Ravens shirt and a flower on its head.

Chenowith, a dog groomer, said Darwin looked like an overgrown box turtle when she bought him and nobody knew what he was.

"I learned the hard way," she said.

Everyone was excited to see Darwin, except for Rosie, a pug owned by Hannah Brown, of Mount Vernon.

"We're hiding from the tortoise," said Brown, 23, of Mount Vernon, who works for the Scrub A Dub Dog dog wash in Mount Washington. "She thinks the tortoise is her mortal enemy."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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