Dozens of dogs will put their paws to the pavement this month, their tongues lolling happily as their two-legged counterparts work to keep pace during the 17th Annual Run with the Dogs 5K.
The 3.1-mile run/walk, slated to begin at 9 a.m. Saturday, March 18, starts and ends at Destin’s City Hall Annex, located at 4100 Indian Bayou Trail. The route takes participants along Indian Bayou Drive, onto Indian Bayou Trail and back, says Chuck Hopkins, an assistant with the city’s parks and recreation department.
Fort Walton Beach resident Caroline Levesque has run the race a number times, but she’ll be walking this year because her miniature pincher Molly “is very small and not very athletic.
“Some people get competitive, but the majority just enjoy having a fun day with their dogs and socializing with other people who love their pets,” she says, adding the sizes and breeds run the gamut from Great Danes “right down to little Chihuahuas and everything in between.”
The Parks and Recreation Department hosts the annual event, which not only gets hearts pumping and tails wagging, but also serves as a fundraiser that benefits dogs in a roundabout way.
“The money that’s raised from the event goes to the park and rec department, but the Destin Dog Park is one of the city’s parks,” so some of the funds are used to pay for maintenance and doggie bags, says Barbara Telford, a city employee and member of the Friends of the Destin Dog Park volunteer group.
Those funds are raised through registration fees, which are $25 for those who register through March 17, and $30 on the day of the race. To register online, go to www.runsignup.com. For more information, call 850- 650-1241 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
An informational leaflet stipulates that only one dog may accompany each runner or walker and each must wear a current rabies tag. Additionally, the dogs must be kept on short leashes throughout the race, and owners must bring their own bags to clean up any doggy waste.
“Nearly every year it seems, one of them stops and poops in the middle of the road,” Levesque recalls with a laugh, and all the runners and walkers have to do some fancy footwork to avoid both the pile and the runner or walker stooping to clean it up.
Registration on the day of the event will be held from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m., during which each participant will receive a free t-shirt, and each dog a gift.
Following the run/walk, an awards ceremony will be held at approximately 10:30 a.m. at the nearby Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. Awards will be handed out in eight different categories separated by sex, age category and whether the participant walked or ran.
Another category recognizes the fastest participant in a wheelchair, and two new categories have been added this year—Walker with Stroller and Runner with Stroller. A side contest also will recognize both the largest and smallest four-legged participant.
Pooch Palooza, another family-friendly fundraiser that’s held each fall, solely benefits the dog park and features vendor booths, food trucks, arts and crafts and dog demonstrations. The Friends group already has its sights set on another long-term project, but it’s “contingent on city council approval,” Telford says.
“The next big project that we would really like to do would be to add a third dog park adjacent to the small dog park,” she explains.
The group envisions an area about half the size of the small dog park that includes agility equipment for dogs to practice their running, jumping and spinning skills.
Not only would dogs have another place to run around when their respective areas are closed for maintenance or renovations, Telford adds, but having a third area would benefit dogs that may feel uncomfortable or overwhelmed when their areas are overrun with other dogs and people.