COLUMBIA — Among the many dogs playfully gathered at Stephens Lake Park on Saturday morning, the attendees included Miles Davis Smith, a golden retriever who’s only "kind of blue" came from impending thunderstorms.
He and many other dogs and dog owners filled the park as a part of this year's Bark of Boone County, a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society. The event helped to raise money for Relay for Life and gave participants a chance to honor their canine companions, according to boonebark.org.
Booths and tents scattered across the hill were soon filled with dog owners, rescuers, breeders, groomers, trainers and dog lovers. By the afternoon, the sound of many different dogs barking echoed throughout the event.
Petting her rare white boxer, 4-year-old Luna, Lisa Key, a former boxer breed rescuer, described how she came to love boxers and how Bark of Boone County represents two of her favorite causes.
“White boxers are rare,” she said. “The AKC (American Kennel Club) said that they didn’t meet the breed standards, so people were encouraged not to keep them. Over time, there were less and less of them.”
In a process called culling, Key says breeders kill these dogs as puppies since it is against the American Kennel Club standards to show, sell or breed them.
“Fifteen to 20 percent of white boxers are deaf — Luna’s not — but its common within the breed," Keys said. "But they’re so smart, its just a special kind of care they need. And every dog needs a special kind of care, deaf or not."
Keys felt a special connection to the afternoon's gathering as a boxer lover.
“We’re here because boxers suffer from cancer more than any other breed," Key said. "We lost two of our babies — two boxers — to cancer.”
Lisa Attruia, owner of “A Dog's Meow” pet grooming and daycare center said she loves her pets unconditionally. Two of her three dogs are physically handicapped, but by no means disabled, she said.
Sophie, a bull mastiff, lost one of her eyes to glaucoma but has lived longer than most bull mastiffs. At 9 and 1/2 years, she has lived a year and a half longer than expected for her breed. Attruia desrcibed her as a “lil’ Cyclops.”
Sadie, a Cavalier King Charles spaniel, is deaf, but Attruia said she doesn’t miss a thing.
“We use sign language with her, and we make sure to go in front of her nose when we pet her or need to get her attention and not frighten her," said Attruia. "She’s really smart.”
Attruia, whose company donated several gift baskets to the event, also shares a deeper connection with Bark of Boone County. Two of her aunts lost their battles with cancer and one of her employees also lost his mother to the disease.
As a part of healthy lifestyle, for both owners and their dogs, Rebecca Johnson, author, professor and director of MU’s Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction, said that it is important for owners to exercise with their dogs.
Johnson suggested that dog owners take a walk with their dogs instead of running on a treadmill.
“The thing about treadmills is that they don’t offer positive reinforcement," she said. "With dogs, you get positive reinforcement, and it’s great for both ends of the leash.”
Johnson also, runs Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound, a program partnership between the Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction and the Central Missouri Humane Society that encourages local residents and adoptable dogs to get active every Saturday.