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Canines, companions make a run for it to benefit Pets Come First

Emily Carrollo hugs and kisses Zeke after the pair completed the 7th Annual Pets Come First Dog Jog at the Grange fairgrounds on Saturday, April 25, 2015. Carrollo adopted Zeke, a bullmastiff mix, and Izzy, an english bulldog from Pets Come First.
Emily Carrollo hugs and kisses Zeke after the pair completed the 7th Annual Pets Come First Dog Jog at the Grange fairgrounds on Saturday, April 25, 2015. Carrollo adopted Zeke, a bullmastiff mix, and Izzy, an english bulldog from Pets Come First. CDT photo

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.

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.

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