Man’s best friend is definitely not a steep hill.
The slopes surrounding the Grange fairgrounds provided a challenge for the two- and four-legged alike during Saturday morning’s 7th Annual Dog Jog, a 5K run followed by a 1.5K walk.
A motley collection of more than 50 canines and their humans turned out to raise money for Pets Come First, a nonprofit rescue organization based in Centre Hall that helps abandoned animals find new homes.
“Each year is getting better and better because a lot of our adopted dogs are coming back to run in the race,” Deb Warner, president and co-founder of Pets Come First, said.
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One of the dogs taking a victory lap was Zeke, a bullmastiff mix that is celebrating almost 8 months with his new owner, Emily Carrollo, a graduate student at Penn State.
Carrollo, who adopted Zeke and a bulldog named Izzie from Pets Come First last September, has made it a habit to open her home to animals in need.
“My family, growing up, we always rescued a dog. We never really bought a dog,” Carrollo said.
Initially shy and poorly socialized, Carrollo said that over time Zeke has become like a brand new dog — and a fairly decent runner.
“I was actually really surprised. He did really well,” Carrollo said.
Still, even the fastest dog in the world needs a water break. A hydration station was set up roughly 2 miles into the course, with cups for humans and buckets filled to the brim for their four-legged friends.
Dogs, owners dragging behind, rushed over to greet the volunteers working the station, perhaps eager to dispense with the formalities and get down to a nice, cold beverage.
Off to the side, a Labrador mix named River jumped into a nearby kiddie pool to cool down.
“The water tastes better if we swim in it,” Amanda Perez, River’s owner, said.
Perez saw a flyer for the dog jog at a local coffee shop and decided to give it a try, never expecting that her canine companion would be able to outlast her.
“She’s doing much better than I am. She wants to keep going and is still having fun,” Perez said.
Fun or not, this was still a competition — and the dynamic duo of Eric Marshall and a goldendoodle named Marley came out on top.
Marshall, who was just coming off of a foot injury, said that the course’s many hills presented a challenge, but that he and Marley came prepared, averaging nearly 30 hours of running a week in Rothrock State Forest.
“We do a lot of trail running,” Marshall said.
If Warner has her way, Saturday will prove to be a victory for more animals than Marley. Previous Dog Jogs have raised between $10,000 and $15,000 each.
“This is like a signature event for us now,” Warner said.