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City Living: Dog day afternoon at the races

Big dreams and high stakes came down to a battle between focus and what kind of mood the competitors happened to be in on race day.

Big dreams and high stakes came down to a battle between focus and what kind of mood the competitors happened to be in on race day.

Spike made his mindset quite clear as the rather rotund English bulldog chose not to bolt from the starting line in the Running of the Bulls dog race at Coopers’ Park last Sunday afternoon. If a yawn could be translated into a walk, Spike had it mastered as he crossed the finish line seconds after his nearest competitor — a feat in itself considering the race was a mere 20-feet long.

Going in, owner Jocelyn Ingram predicted Spike might not be the most athletic dog in Yaletown today: “Oh, he’ll probably be way more interested in the other dogs than going anywhere.”

Hippo, on the other hand, showed up to Pet-A-Palooza’s festival wearing his wrinkled game face and, if drool was any indication, had every intention of taking home the top prize of a year’s supply of dog treats. As any competitor (or in this case, competitor’s owner) would say, it’s all in the preparation.

As soon as Hippo’s owners Samantha Scigliano and Jamie Smyth heard about the Running of the Bulls a month ago, they started training Hippo in the park. They duplicated the race’s quick-burst format, sometimes incorporating resistance training by attaching a five-pound weight to Hippo which, surprisingly, drew some attention.

“People probably thought we were crazy,” admitted Smyth.

“But we had a lot of fans, too,” added Scigliano. “When we were out training people would ask what was happening so we let them know he had a race. He has a lot of fans here today.”

Hippo won his heat, but lost the championship by a hair to a fellow by the name of Carter. However, his owners were unfazed.

Smyth, the current Mixed Martial Arts heavyweight champion of B.C.’s Battlefield Fight League and Scigliano, who placed second in her division at this summer’s Northern Classic Bodybuilding and Fitness Show in Fort St. John, agreed it was a good race.

“We’re just going to keep up the good work because it’s working,” said Scigliano. “We needed Hippo to add some hardware to the trophy case and he did.”

While the English bulldogs took the headlining spot in the Running of the Bulls, the French bulldog openers seemed to win the popularity contest going by the sheer numbers that signed up for the noon races (at one point the announcer joked that things were going so well that, “we should be done by five tonight.”). While the fun races were limited to the bulldog breed, Coopers’ Park was a tangle of humans and leashes attached to every kind of dog imaginable from majestic great Danes, regal golden retrievers, coiffed poodles, and others that appeared more hamster than canine.

It’s Pet-A-Palooza’s first visit to Vancouver. Originating in Victoria the festival, compete with pet-related booths, wading pools,and photo booths, is run by not-for-profit Just Love Animals Society which raises money for free spay and neuter clinics for low-income families. The society, run by Jordan Illingworth and Lonnie Powell, plans to return to Vancouver next year with hopes of turning the festival into a dog block party, complete with a pool for a dock-jumping competition.

Dogs, you’ve been warned.

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