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Posted on Mon, Jun 7, 2010 : 9:17 a.m.

Washtenaw County's first Bark for Life

By Magdalena Zenaida

The Ann Arbor Bark for Life let the dogs out in Olson Park Saturday. The event was sponsored by the American Cancer Society and the coordinator was Carol Yarrington. The event featured a walk similar to the ACS Relay for Life, and included many other canine-friendly games and demonstrations for pets and their pet parents.

At 9 a.m. the pets filtered into the pavilion to pick up large goody bags from Pet Supplies Plus, Wags to Wiskers, and the West Arbor Animal Hospital, while donning their purple Bark for Life bandanas. The group corralled together for a quick blessing by St. Joseph Mercy Hospital Chaplain Dave McNeil, and for Yarrington’s thanks to the participants and ACS liasons Jessica Harrison and Jennifer Ackley, before setting off to the walk or demo staging areas.

A fascinating display of working dog abilities, the St. Joseph’s K-9 bomb squad was on hand to showcase their various skills such as seeking out the dangerous liquid package from the maze of packages, attacking and releasing a threat, and following handler’s commands. Training is based on verbal and affectionate rewards. Cancer survivor and security dog handler Paul Adams said “the dogs are not motivated by treats because we would have fat bomb squad dogs … they thrive on praise.” Four of only six bomb squad dogs in the Southeast Michigan area, the dog and handler become a team, and after the dog retires, he continues to live a happy life in his handler’s home.

On the other side of the fence, the Ann Arbor Dog Training Club demonstrated the canine playful side with agility course runs. Tunneling German Shepherds, pole weaving Australian Shepherds, and an amazing leaping parsons Russell Terrier, ran the course to the applause of the crowd, before opening it up to all of the amateurs interested in trying it out.

Other games and demonstrations continued until 1 p.m., while more walkers and their pets joined in midday. “Many of our cancer survivors and caregivers rely on dogs to help them through a very difficult time, and this is something they and all of our dog lovers could participate in,” Yarrington said. “This is the first Bark for Life in Washtenaw County; we are already talking about next year.” With online registration, the location of Washtenaw Community College, and a planned date of June 26-27, Bark for Life hopes to return to Washtenaw County with an even bigger and better turnout in the future.

Magdalena Zenaida resides in Ann Arbor with her dog Dartie. She writes of their and their companion's exploits on The Joyful Dog, when she is not out pet-sitting for her business, The Joyful Dog. She would love for you to email her!