Dogs have their day in sun

Event at park organized by nonprofit advocacy, adoption group

By Jacques Von Lunen, Columbian staff writer

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Sunday's visitors to Esther Short Park seemed to thoroughly enjoy themselves.

They stayed hydrated with the help of water handed out for free, sampled the goods offered by 34 vendors — and sniffed each other's butts.

The annual Dogs in the Park event drew at least 100 dogs and their owners to the park in downtown Vancouver. The event was organized by Must Love Dogs NW, a Vancouver dog adoption and advocacy group.

The pooches came in all shapes, colors and sizes. There was a Bernese mountain dog weighing in at around 120 pounds. There were little poodles who fit in their owners' palms. Sheep dogs, Labradors, terriers and mixes of all stripes filled in the middle between those two extremes.

The dogs and their owners lounged in the shade and browsed the booths selling leashes, bandanas and pet food. There was a dog massage stand. And there was an agility course, where beginners could give the canine sport a try.

Katie High, a certified dog trainer and owner of High Expectations dog training, guided the dogs through the course of tunnels, jumps and weaving stakes.

In agility competitions, dogs navigate those and other obstacles. Training on the course is a particularly good experience for young dogs, because it helps them focus their boundless energy, High said.

It's also a good fit for timid dogs, because it teaches them that it's fine to follow their owners through scary situations, that they won't get hurt from doing so, she said.

Many of the dogs in the park had to relearn to trust after being rescued from irresponsible owners. Must Love Dogs adopts out about 300 dogs a year, said Alycia Hadfield, president and co-founder of the nonprofit.

The group also provides low-cost spay and neuter services to owners who can't afford the procedures for their dogs. For its adoptions, the nonprofit takes some dogs directly from the public, but mostly focuses on "death row dogs," Hadfield said. Those are dogs that are in line to be euthanized at a shelter, often because of health or behavior issues.

Must Love Dogs doesn't run a shelter building. All of its dogs — it currently has about 20 — stay at volunteers' houses. The group has 15 active foster homes right now, Hadfield said.

One of them is full up after the volunteers adopted their latest foster pups.

Eileen Kane and Chris Doty were in the park Sunday with four pugs in tow. They adopted two of the wrinkle-faced pooches from Must Love Dogs about two years ago, Kane said. The couple lives in a condo and was looking for a low-energy, mellow breed. The cuddly pugs fit the bill.

Their initial two dogs came from an abusive owner and were afraid of men, Kane said.

"I had to earn their trust, by showing them love and compassion," Doty said.

They warmed up to him quickly and the couple decided to foster dogs for the nonprofit that had delivered their new friends. This spring, they took care of two more pugs. Nobody came forward to give them a permanent home, so Doty and Kane adopted them as well.

Living with four pugs really is no different than living with two, Kane said.

"It's still easier than having kids," Doty said with a laugh.

Jacques Von Lunen: 360-735-4515; http://twitter.com/col_schools;jacques.vonlunen@columbian.com.