Old event, new tricks

Humane Society hopes to bring new attention to Walk/Run for Animals

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter



Walk/Run for the Animals 2014

What: 3-mile walk or 5K run in support of the Humane Society for Southwest Washington. Post race festivities include a vendor village, musical acts, animal performances and demonstrations.

Where: Begins and ends at Esther Short Park, 605 Esther St.

When: 7:30 a.m. registration, 9 a.m. walk begins, 10 a.m. to noon, party in the park. Saturday, May 3.

Cost: $25 per person to register for either the walk or the run.

Information:southwesthumane.org/ walk-run or call 360-693-4746.

If you see Mary Hitt-Edwards among the throngs of dog owners at the 23rd Walk/Run for the Animals this weekend, be sure to take a look in her wagon.

Each year she brings Mini-Tank, her pet tortoise, on a scenic ride during the event, which is a fundraiser for the Humane Society for Southwest Washington.

“I’ve been bringing her for six or seven years now,” Hitt-Edwards said. “My husband and I, we put sand in there for her, and she just loves it. People come up to visit. It’s a great time.”

The Walk/Run for the Animals was originally modeled after a large event in Denver. It helps the organization care for countless animals, said Denise Barr, who’s organizing it for the agency.

In its heyday, the event brought in more than $100,000 each year for the group, but it’s suffered a downturn in recent years. Barr said she hopes to bring the fundraiser, which begins and ends in Esther Short Park, back to its former glory.

“We put a lot more resources into it this year to make it more fun,” Barr said. “I would call this a rebuilding year. We’ve added a chip-timed run, more music, new vendors and lots of pet-related events in the park.”

There will be several dog competitions and showcases in the park, including an agility course, she said.

People can register for $25 on Saturday starting at 7:30 a.m., and they have a choice of a 3-mile walk along the Columbia River or a 5K run through Fort Vancouver.

People who just want to check out the vendors, animal performances, live music and other events in the park can go for free, although donations to the Humane Society are encouraged, Barr said.

Hitt-Edwards, a Vancouver resident who teaches at an Oregon middle school, brings Mini-Tank to the park so people can learn more about tortoises each year.

“She was in my classroom for seven years,” Hitt-Edwards said of the 19-year-old tortoise. “She got the name Mini-Tank because she likes to push things around — chairs, desks, things like that.”

Tortoises are typically land-based shelled animals that like heat and sunlight, whereas turtles are generally water-based creatures, she said.

She adopted Mini-Tank after her previous pet tortoise, Tank, was accidentally killed when a neighbor used pesticides on his lawn and the tortoise consumed some of it.

“I’m just passionate about animals,” she said, sadly reminiscing about Tank. “He was gifted to me when he was the size of my palm. I had no idea what I was getting into — he just kept growing and growing.”

Tortoises are often mistreated as pets, so part of her purpose in bringing Mini-Tank on the walk is to teach people about the abuse and the amount of work it takes to care for the animals.

“They need a warm climate, desert-ish, so Mini-Tank stays indoors, and we have it set up for her,” Hitt-Edwards said. “Some tortoises can get over 100 pounds, or even 300-400 pounds.”

Mini-Tank is a svelte 20-pounds because she was abused by her first owner before Hitt-Edwards got her.

“She was kept in a dark closet, never saw sunlight, was rarely fed,” Hitt-Edwards said. “She had been dumped in a pet store by the previous owner, and I was just bawling because Tank had just passed away. The store owner, who was a friend of mine, gave her to me but didn’t expect her to live.”

With the help of her sixth-grade class, Hitt-Edwards nursed Mini-Tank back to health nine years ago. And while she’s still very small for a tortoise, she’s healthy now.

“She needed to completely readjust to heat and sunlight,” Hitt-Edwards said. “They’re really curious and inquisitive animals. She follows kids around in the classroom. Anything new in her environment, she has to check it out. She’ll nibble things, too, to see if they’re edible.”

The event always has a large number of dog owners, since cats aren’t usually particularly enthusiastic about being walked. But it’s open to other creatures. Besides the tortoise, another woman brings a miniature horse each year, Hitt-Edwards said.

“I love the fact that it’s a walk for all the animals,” she said. “I just think it’s a great cause. They do a great job of organizing it.”

Last year, the event raised $79,000 for the Humane Society of Southwest Washington and drew a crowd of about 600 people. This year, Barr hopes to raise more. She expects perhaps 800 people to attend, she said.

“The money helps a lot,” Barr said. “While cats don’t participate, the money comes in for them, too. And we need that because kitten season starts in May, and last year it went into December. We’re already planning for a big influx.”

Hitt-Edwards said she loves seeing all the animals and people, walking together.

“If people could only see how all the animals get along,” Hitt-Edwards said. “There’s no fighting; they all just walk and have fun. It’s a good lesson.”