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SKANEATELES - Most people consider their pets an important part of their family, which makes the SPCA's mission that much more important.

Hundreds of people, the majority families with pups in tow, attended the 12th Annual Pet Walk and Festival in Austin Park Sunday, sponsored by the Finger Lakes Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of Central New York.

People rounded up pledges and then walked with their pets to raise money for one of the organization's fundraisers.

While it's one of a few fundraisers for the society, it's one that the workers are sentimental about, said Carol Russell, executive director of the SPCA.

“It's a tribute to the dogs and their owners, and it's a family affair. We want to get all the families together … and we consider dogs part of the family,” Russell said.

The event brings in money to help operation expenses, but also is a way of supporting not only the SPCA but its mission as well.

Besides the one-mile walk through the village, participants and their furry friends could compete in a variety of contests, such as the Frisbee and ball contest or the grand prix jump contest.

While the jumping contest may sound grand, 11-year-old Kara Traver only needed a bar perched on two lawn chairs to teach her 1-year-old cockapoo, Miley, how to jump in her Auburn backyard.

Kara and her mom saw the dogs compete last year in the agility course and decided to train their dog to do the same thing.

Step one was getting a dog, which is why they attended the pet walk last year.

“She wanted to come out and to look at the different breeds,” Teresa said of her daughter.

Two weeks ago, as the pet walk drew near, they began running Miley through the rigorous course of a bar between the two lawn chairs.

During the actual walk, Kara raised $50 and earned a T-shirt and a handkerchief for Miley.

The event was the first time Miley was around other animals.

On the other hand, it was the first time some people were around certain animals.

The Distinguished Doberman Rescue group had a booth, including a few of the rescued animals.

The Pittsburgh, Pa., group wanted to teach people about the dogs with a negative reputation, said Sue Szyklnski, president of group.

“It gets people face to face with Dobermans. Some people think Dobermans are violent or aggressive by the way they are portrayed in the media,” she said.

An Auburn owner of a rescued dog invited the group to attend the event, she added.

Most of the animals in the event were well-behaved dogs, when not distracted by grilled hamburgers, hundreds of animals, and the chance to run around an outdoor track or an inside arena.

The inside arena was the location of a costume parade later in the four-hour event.

Syracuse resident Vickie Holley paraded her fluffy Keeshond around as a dancer.

“You can't find good costumes for dogs so I just buy little girls' outfits,” Holley said as she pulled on a blue, glittery dress over her dog's head. She buys children outfits, like the dance recital dress, at garage sales and second-hand stores.

Her dog Pepper doesn't mind, since Holley has dressed him - yes it's a male dog - in outfits since he was a pup.

“He is a boy, but people always think he's a girl because I always dress him in flowers and dresses … so the tail can stick out,” Holley said.

Despite competing in the event for four years, Pepper hasn't won yet at the Pet Walk and Festival.

Vendors attended the event, catering to those who, like Holley, consider their dogs as another member of the family.

Booths lined the inside of the Austin Park Pavilion with venders and representatives from organizations.

These included a group talking about adopting horses, an animal communicator Janet Ridgeway, plenty of groomers, a quilter photographer, and pet caricaturists.

Most participants left with a bag full of goodies, and half-bitten puppy treats among the park grounds showed most dogs had treats of their own.

“I've gotten a lot of positive feedback,” Russell said. “I've seen people come back year after year, its not always with the same dog but with their family pet, and … I'm happy about (that).”

Staff writer Jessica Soule can be reached at 253-5311, ext 267 or jessica.soule@lee.net

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