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Walking the dogs

Oliver lifted his sleek head, tilting it a little to the side as the camera flashed. He was doing his best to show his good side, though the greyhound looked good on every side in the black tuxedo he was wearing.

Oliver wasn't all dressed up for nothing. He, his owner Max Johnson and nearly 2,000 other people and their pets crowded North Shore Park on Oct. 25 for the 13th annual Paws on Parade Pet Walk. The event raised $170,000 for the care and feeding of the animals waiting for adoption at the SPCA of Pinellas County.

Dogs of all shapes and sizes participated, from a Chinese Crested that was dyed pink to a Great Pyrenees shaved to look like a large white lion. Teenagers and kids also brought their pets along to support the cause.

Jessica Walton, 17, a senior at Seminole High, brought her Yorkie, Ginger. She was leading a team of walkers from her school's Spanish National Honor Society. "I think it's great to be out here raising money," she said. "So many homeless and abused animals need care."

Ken Swan, a 17-year-old who attends St. Petersburg Catholic School, agreed. "You've gotta help the animals."

Monica Grove, who attends Bauder Elementary in Seminole, volunteered with her fellow Girl Scouts by handing out plastic bags to owners to clean up after their pets. When asked why she was helping, Monica, 9, said, "It's important to raise money for the SPCA, for food for the stray dogs and cats."

Others, however, attended purely for the fun of it.

Patrick Ganle, 14, a freshman at Northeast High School, brought his Jack Russell-rat terrier mix Sparky so "(he could) meet other dogs."

Amanda Charles, a 15-year-old student at Pinellas Park High, and Alexia Milian, a 14-year-old student at Northeast High, were "just hanging out" there with Buzz, the golden retriever.

In addition to the walk, there were other activities for participants, from a Santa posing for pictures with pets to an amateur agility course. Using a chunk of hot dog, a volunteer handler tried to coax the dogs over ramps and through a hoop. Vendors were scattered throughout the park. There was even a costume contest for the best-dressed dog in attendance.

The SPCA of Pinellas County depends on fundraisers such as Paws on Parade because the agency does not receive any tax dollars. The money from fundraisers and donors "helps to sponsor our programs, such as the Spay and Neuter program, which spays and neuters animals for people who cannot afford it," said Nancy Friar, an SPCA board member. "There's also Pet Education, where we bring animals into schools to teach kids about compassion and how to handle animals. It teaches them to respect (animals) for life.

"It's important," Friar said, "because there's a linkage between animal abuse (by children) and domestic violence committed later on in life."

For K.C. Kennedy, 16, a sophomore at Seminole High, who brought her chihuahua Charlotte, participating in the walk was the right thing to do. "It makes people aware of dogs' needs," she said, "and it brings dog lovers together."

Meghan Godbout, 15, is in 10th grade at Seminole High School.