A Lap Around the Track, a Lick Across the Face
The gates opened early for dog-friendly activities like face painting and visits from mascots like Pacers’ Boomer, Colts Blue and Hink the Butler Bulldog. Other activities included dog relay races, live music, and sponsor booths offering free dog treats, food, clinics and other pet products.
The opening ceremonies were dampened by pouring rain and featured Grand Marshal Brad Stevens, Butler University’s mens basketball coach.
“The weather didn’t turn out like everyone had hoped, but it sure didn’t deter anybody from showing up and enjoying the day,” said Stevens, who attended with his wife, Tracy, and children Brady and Kinsley. “My kids are in heaven with all these dogs around,” he said with a smile.
For IndyCar driver Sarah Fisher, a lap around the track is usually done at speeds over 200 mph. But on this day, Fisher brought her racing team’s dog, Wrigley, along for a slow walk around the track. With umbrella in hand, Fisher noted that she had seen a lot of people prepared for the rain with jackets on themselves and their dogs.
Joining Stevens and Fisher at the starting line of the famed track were Fox 59 anchor Eva Pilgrim; Indianapolis Colts vice president Kalen Irsay; Harrison College president Jason Konesco; TheraPets of Indiana executive director Darlene Gosnell; St.Vincent Indianapolis medical staff president Dr. James Nevin; Grover the St.Vincent Seton Hospital rehabilitation dog; Joey the 2011 Mutt Strut “Top Dog;” and official Butler mascot Blue II.
Dogs and their owners lined up in pit row and followed the parade lap of celebrities around the 2-1/2 mile track, stopping for an occasional drink of water, rest, or pit stop at one of many Paw Stops sponsored by Harrison College’s School of Veterinary Technology.
Marvin Bailey, president of Harrison College’s Northwest Campus, was on the back straightaway assisting at one of these Paw Stops.
“The track surface is much tougher than a sidewalk on the dogs’ paws,” he explained. “As a result, we’re seeing some paw injuries along the way. We have about 30 to 40 students out here patching them up, checking them out, and sending them on their way.”
Perhaps the most popular dog in attendance was the Butler Bulldogs’ mascot, Blue II. Several participants were stopping to pose with Indiana’s most popular dog. Michael Kaltenmark, Blue’s handler, wants every dog to have a life like Blue.
“We’re happy to support the Humane Society in an effort to see that every dog has a chance for a happy, long life just like Blue,” Kaltenmark said.
Also on hand was the president of St.Vincent Indianapolis medical staff, Dr. James Nevin, with his wife Kat and his two dogs, Molly and Lance. St.Vincent was the presenting sponsor of the event, showcasing their TheraPet program.
“A lot of times people are in the hospital and they just need some companionship. Doctors will prescribe a visit from one of the 25 dogs in our TheraPet program,” said Nevin.
Jennifer Myer from St.Vincent Seton Hospital brought along Grover, a well mannered Labradoodle that assists patients during their rehabilitation.
“Grover works with our physical, occupational, and speech therapists,” Myer explains. “Patients do exercises with him without even thinking about what they are doing. They will stand for five minutes without blinking an eye with Grover, whereas when we go in without him, we’re lucky to get them to stand for 60 seconds.”
But patients at St.Vincent aren’t the only ones benefiting from the TheraPets program. Nevin admits that the staff at St.Vincent hospitals are also calmed by the presence of their four-footed counterparts. “When you get a nice warm lick across the face, it kind of breaks up the day.”
As Indiana’s largest pet walk, as well as one of the largest dog walking events in the world, the Indy Mutt Strut raises funds as well as awareness of an important cause and supports the Humane Society of Indianapolis’ vision: that all Central Indiana animals are treated with dignity and respect and live free from cruelty, harm and neglect.
“This is our biggest fundraiser of the year,” said John Aleshire, CEO of the Humane Society of Indianapolis. “Without the support of St.Vincent and all of our sponsors, we couldn’t put on this event.”