Glasgow Park was a doggone good time on Saturday, with the Cross the Finish Line event and wrap-up party of the Wag & Walkathon event hosted by the therapy dog non-profit PAWS for People.
Hundreds of local residents came out with their four-legged friends to participate in the 11th festival of its kind.
Melanie Sieber and Sue Good volunteered at the event, and Good had her two dogs on hand.
“We both have therapy dog teams,” said Good. “This is the first year we’ve done a cumulative marathon. We had one team do 1,700 miles. People got really excited.”
“This is our 11th year,” Sieber said. “It’s important for folks to come out today to see exactly what we do with our therapy dog teams. We have games for the dogs and vendors, such as rescues. We have several dozen vendors. It’s really important for people to come out and get to know us and see the dogs.”
This year was the first that the pet therapy organization had volunteers and walkers participate in a month-long cumulative marathon, with several dozen crossing the finish line in the morning.
Participants gathered at 10 a.m. to walk their final lap together, and relays and contests for the dogs brought out the pup’s competitive edge. Trophies and treats were awarded by a team of volunteer judges from WSFS Bank for events such as Waggiest Tail, Best Trick and Best Smile.
But everyone was a winner at the family-friendly event, and the dogs that didn’t go home with a trophy got plenty of treats and pets.
Attendees also walked a special pet remembrance lap, commemorating pets that have previously passed on.
Sheena Gladden and her dog Zeus, a precious two-year-old Bichon-King Charles Cavalier mix, participated in several contests.
“He loves people, which is why we signed up to do PAWS,” said Gladden. “He’s so good for therapy. We’ve visited a physical therapy rehab in Middletown. We’ve done the Paws for Reading, too. It’s been a great fit for him and will hopefully de-stress a lot of people. There are so many different events and places. The variety is amazing.”
Gladden knew her dog had a special talent for soothing people and a lot of love to give. She encouraged others to consider joining PAWS programs, as well.
“He gives us so much joy,” she said. “I want to be able to share that with other people.”
Traditionally, PAWS for People has held an annual Wag-n-Walk 5K Run, but the non-profit group decided to switch to the monthlong initiative due to slowly declining participation in the 5K and as a way to include people from the organization’s expanding service areas, according to Clarice Ritchie, director of events and operations for PAWS for People.
“We wanted to do something that people could do wherever they live because our programs are in Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania,” she said. “So instead of everybody having to come to Newark, we wanted to do something where people could have some fun and participate where they live.”
Funds raised through the event will benefit the pet therapy services that PAWS for People provides at hospitals, assisted living facilities, schools, libraries, drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers, and anywhere else in the four-state area that somebody could benefit from the affection of a pet, according to Ritchie.
Ritchie said therapy pets offer companionship to people in assisted living facilities and hospitals.
“In an assisted living facility, sometimes we hear we’re the only visitor someone may have, so it provides a friendly human along with a pet … [When visiting a hospital] it provides a great distraction from whatever they may be dealing with in the hospital — not just for the patients but also sometimes for their families visiting them and also for the staff,” Ritchie said.
According to Ritchie, the pet volunteers can also help children overcome their literary anxiety as they practice reading alongside a furry friend.
“We have a special PAWS for Reading program where children who are learning to read can practice reading out loud to the pets,” she said. “That way, it’s non-judgmental and they build their confidence with reading out loud and it’s not as scary as reading in your classroom or in front of an adult.”
Good said she was amazed by how all the dogs and people get along at the event.
“It’s my favorite thing,” she exclaimed with a smile. “To see all the dogs and even puppies getting along. It’s great”