Walkers at this weekend's March for the Animals won't just be helping rescue animals. They might help save the occasional human life, too.
Karin Schwartz is living proof. Thor, the black Lab she adopted as a puppy from the Maryland Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, alerted her to a fire about three years ago.
Schwartz was living in an apartment in Canton when a roommate's late-night meal caught fire. Both Schwartz and her roommate were in such a deep sleep that two buzzing smoke detectors didn't wake them up, and the flames filled the apartment with smoke. Thor ran to Schwartz's bedside, licked her and barked in her face until she woke up to put the fire out.
Thor's heroism earned him top billing with Mayor Sheila Dixon, whom he'll join for this year's Maryland SPCA March for the Animals ribbon-cutting. After that, he'll be just a face in the crowd. Organizers expect more than 4,000 walkers and their furry friends at Druid Hill Park this Sunday for the march.
It will be the event's second year at Druid Hill Park since it grew too large for its Johns Hopkins University location, March for the Animals coordinator Melissa Tracy said. Last year's walk raised $265,000 for the Maryland SPCA, and Tracy hopes to surpass that this year.
With two-time top fundraiser Julie Barber in the game, it might happen. Barber said she raised $5,050 in 2005 and $7,000 last year.
Barber discovered the event when she moved to the area in 1998. She said being a dog owner made her aware of just how much dog food $7,000 could buy. The experience was all the more gratifying, she said, because she could see its impact on the organization and the animals it rescued.
"I can't adopt and save every single animal," she said, "but I can contribute this way."
Tracy said participants in previous walks have brought along dogs, cats and potbellied pigs along with the occasional ferret or rabbit.
Teams of walkers (known here as "packs") are as much a part of the spectacle as the animals. Tracy said one of the largest packs in recent years has been the "Puggapaloozers," a collection of pug lovers who walk together with their wrinkly faced canines.
Tracy, who adopted her own pug, Rudy, a few weeks ago, walked in last year's march. This is her first year as coordinator.
Participants and spectators will start the day to the tune of live music by Naked Blue as they browse through exhibits set up by more than 40 area vendors and animal rescue groups. Tracy said an SPCA trainer will be on hand for a training session, and owners will have a chance to get their pets microchipped to make them easier to find if lost.
Pets can also suit up for the return of the pet costume contest, or they can enter a new contest this year: the pet-owner lookalike contest. Celebrity judges will decide both contests.
If the 1.5-mile walk isn't enough exercise, canine companions can have a go at an agility course. Less athletic pooches (and their owners) can sit back and watch the Mid-Atlantic Disc Dogs leap after flying discs in a short demonstration.
Participants who come to walk by themselves do not have to go home alone. Adoptable animals will be on site from the Maryland SPCA and other rescue organizations.
The Maryland SPCA March for the Animals is 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday at Druid Hill Park, 3001 East Drive. Donations or pledges for march participants are suggested. Entry in the costume or lookalike contest is $5. The agility course is $5 per run, and microchipping will cost $25. Call 410-235-8826, ext. 138, or go to marchfortheanimals.kintera.org.