If it’s possible, the collective panting of more than 100 dogs is louder than the barks of a dozen. Such was the scene Saturday at Shuttleworth Park in Amsterdam, where record levels of heat and humidity had both human and canine seeking out shade at the 11th annual Montgomery County SPCA Dog Walk-A-Thon.
The no-kill shelter had done its best to lure people from the comfort of their homes. There were plastic pools filled with water for dogs to wade in and, of course, there was the cause. All proceeds benefit the nonprofit agency’s building fund for a new animal shelter.
“Unfortunately, it’s too hot for some of the dogs,” said Jan Zumbolo, president of the Montgomery County SPCA board of directors. “So they had to leave. People are leaving because it’s just too hot.”
The event usually draws a few hundred people each year, with one year drawing 500.
It was a sparser crowd this year, but still a loyal one. About 100 or so people had turned up by noon, when the event still had three hours to go. Sponsored by the David Wasserman Foundation, the Walk-A-Thon includes a host of activities — contests for best costume, best trick and best pet/owner look-alike; a blessing of the dogs by Deacon Michael Ryba of the Albany Roman Catholic Diocese; a showing of dogs up for adoption; a 20-minute walk along the scenic Chuctanunda Creek; an Amsterdam police K9 demonstration; and raffles and refreshments.
As a not-for-profit, the local Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals relies on outside donations and adoption fees to stay in operation. But with an aging shelter and a growing list of dogs in need of shelter, the MCSPCA began the Walk-A-Thon more than a decade ago as a way to raise money for a new shelter that would triple the number of dogs it could house. Its current 70-year-old shelter can only house 18 dogs at a time, Zumbolo said.
“Oh we need it,” said Zumbolo. “We have a waiting list for people who need to surrender dogs, and since we don’t get any money from any animal-welfare or governmental agencies, we have to raise it in the community. And since we’re an SPCA, we’re still going out on these cruelty investigations, and that takes a lot of your time. So we’re spread very thin and I think that’s why it’s taken awhile.”
In 10 years, they’ve raised $300,000 toward the approximately $2 million price tag of a new building. But things are looking up. The board just this year finished researching and came up with a floor plan for the new building, which would go up on 22 acres of land just down the road from its existing shelter on Route 5S. They hope for a groundbreaking sometime next year.
Over the last several years, she and fellow board members have traveled to various shelters around the tri-state area that had recently built new shelters. Seeking out advice, they visited the Saratoga County Animal Shelter, as well as shelters in Rochester, Ithaca and Berkshire County, Mass.
The Walk-A-Thon raised $17,000 last year. By noon Saturday, it had raised about $8,000, with more expected to filter in throughout the afternoon.
Maryann and Pat Mulchy came out to the park from their Perth home for the fourth year in a row. It was something to do on the weekend, and it gave their 9-year-old Husky shepherd mix and 7-year-old Siberian Husky a chance to socialize with other dogs.
“They like meeting and greeting other dogs and people,” said Pat Mulchy.
Many of the people who turn up each year are familiar faces to Zumbolo. Some of the dogs are, too, having been adopted from her shelter by local residents over the years.
“They are very supportive,” said Zumbolo of the community. “We have a following who come to all of our events.
Donations usually continue to come in after the event. But I’ll tell you, the heat’s kept many people away today.”
A DJ set up in front of home base began to blare “Who Let the Dogs Out?” by one-hit wonder Baha Men. Dog owners barked along with the chorus, prompting actual barks from small and large dogs alike and, for the first time, drowning out their collective panting.