COLUMBIA — A cacophony of barks, squeals and splashes filled the air as more than 100 dogs raced around the Albert-Oakland Family Aquatic Center at the seventh annual Pooch Plunge Tuesday evening.
Two of the easiest dogs to spot were Isaac and Luna, massive Newfoundlands. Isaac had been to the Pooch Plunge before, but this was Luna’s first year, owner Rosemary Lewis said. Before the event started, the gates outside the Plunge grew dense with dogs waiting to swim, and Luna became overexcited, pulling hard at her leash.
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"When I adopted her, they didn’t tell me Luna was short for Lunatic!" Lewis said.
The Pooch Plunge began in 2008 and has since been a yearly event for dogs and their owners at the aquatic center. It marks the end of the summer season for the city's pools.
Beverly Heine, owner of a small white Maltese named Annie B, enjoyed her sixth Pooch Plunge.
"We come every year," Heine said. "I like for Annie to socialize and watch the action."
The Pooch Plunge is an event naturally suited to Columbia because the community is so dog friendly, said SJ Idel, recreation specialist for the Aquatic Division of the Columbia Parks and Recreation Department. This year, there were 116 dogs registered for the event.
Idel said attendees are loyal to the event and estimated that almost half return each year. Idel's own dog, Moose, an 8 1/2-month-old Lab and pit bull mix, took part in his first Plunge this year.
The owners seemed to agree that the best part of the Pooch Plunge is watching the intense playtime that occurs when so many dogs frolic in the two large swimming pools.
The frenzied energy surrounding the pool didn't faze Darcy Marlow and her three-legged dog, Jake, whom Marlow affectionately referred to as "my little tripod." Jake lost his leg after he was struck by a car on Interstate 70, but he still moves faster than Marlow's other dog, Auggie.
“He runs like the wind with three legs," Marlow said. "I honestly think a fourth leg might trip him up."
Midway through the event, a small skirmish between two dogs briefly threatened to become a larger fight. Bystanders moved in to break up the fight and owners tried to calm their riled-up animals.
"If the dog had gotten more aggressive, we might have asked them to leave," said Idel, who is in charge of making sure the event runs smoothly.
Flip-flops squelched as the daylight faded. Owners put their dogs back on leashes and streamed out of the gates, headed home.
"Jake had a great time," Marlow said, as she gathered her dogs. "Auggie was interested in the water, but Jake was interested in making friends."
Building community is central to the idea behind the event, Idel said.
"The Pooch Plunge helps people recognize that Parks and Recreation includes all elements of the community," Idel said. "Not just humans, but animals, too."
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