It's one of the biggest parties of the year and everyone and their dog is invited.
The Winnipeg Humane Society is shooting for an attendance record at this year's Fairmont Winnipeg Paws in Motion pet walkathon, the society's biggest fundraiser, being unleashed Sunday in Assiniboine Park in front of the Lyric Theatre.
Last summer, the annual walkathon drew about 1,200 owners and 900 dogs, raising $234,000, with all the cash going to the society's spay and neuter program, an effort to curb the rapidly rising number of stray pets in the city.
This year, the humane society's sights are set a little higher.
"We're challenging all Winnipeggers to come out this year," Christine Stoesz, the society's event officer for Paws in Motion, declared in a recent chat at their shelter at 45 Hurst Way. "We want 2,000 owners and 1,500 dogs all walking in unison.
"We're hoping to raise $250,000 this year. It's our biggest fundraiser. It all goes to our spay and neuter program. We wouldn't be able to fund our spay and neuter program without this."
The society's communications director, Aileen White, said the program is vital for reducing the number of homeless, unwanted pets the shelter ends up caring for each year.
"It's huge," White told me. "I don't think people realize we take in up to 9,000 animals every year, so there's enough animals out there. It's vital for the humane society to make low-cost spay and neuter accessible."
The society expects to conduct about 6,000 spay and neuter surgeries this year alone.
"We typically do 30 to 40 spay and neuters every day," White noted. "It costs about $30 for people with fixed incomes. In some neighbourhoods, there are outrageous numbers of stray animals wandering around the streets without a home.
"That's not a good life for them and it it's not the kind of community we should live in."
This Sunday will mark the third year cash from the walkathon has been earmarked for the spay and neuter program. In-person registration starts at 8 a.m. and the walk begins at 10:30 a.m. The registration fee is $20, up from $10 last year.
The full walkathon is three kilometres, but for pet owners like me with older or smaller dogs, there's a 1.5-kilometre shortcut. You and your best friend can walk alone, in a team, or just show up to watch all the fun.
Speaking of fun, organizers promise Sunday's event will be a howl, featuring a live band for the adults, mascots and face-painting for the kids and more goofy stuff than your dog can wag its tail at, such as:
-- An agility course so your hound can try its paw at darting through a tube or jumping over hurdles.
-- Doggie baths -- a network of about 20 plastic kiddie pools so overheated canines will have a chance to cool down along the route.
-- And what dog party would be complete without "bobbing for wieners"? Stoesz describes it as follows: "It's like bobbing for apples, but instead of apples, it's cut-up hotdogs, so your dog can bob for wieners out of a kiddie pool. We have to pull the dogs back because they don't want to stop. They love it! We have to make sure to save some wieners for the other, 1,199 dogs."
While the humane society handles pets of every political stripe, the walkathon is intended strictly as a dog party.
"We don't encourage other animals, but we have seen a few cats and ferrets and other critters," Stoesz confessed. "You don't want to stress out a ferret or a cat when there's 1,000 dogs there."
One thing you shouldn't expect to see at the party is a bunch of canine guests getting into a scrap. "I haven't heard of any instances (of fighting) at all," said Stoesz. "It's amazing how well all the dogs get along. They're so excited to be at the park."
Along with being on their best behaviour, dogs are expected to be on a leash. And it wouldn't be a party without a few embarrassing contests, including:
-- Sounds Like a Hound: Owners and their mutts climb on stage and attempt to howl in unison. The winner is determined by crowd applause.
-- Pet-owner look-alike: Having a face like a dog is an absolute asset. "There was a guy and his bulldog last year and he was in a muscle shirt and they looked really similar," Stoesz recalled.
-- Best Dressed: The prize goes to the walker(s) and dog(s) sporting the most outrageous costumes on the day. "There was one team that was dressed in Bomber jerseys and hats and all their dogs were in Bomber gear," noted Stoesz. "It was really eye-catching."
If walkers have any energy left, they can also shop until they drop at a market area featuring 20 different tents with vendors selling dog-themed products, including treats and toys and artwork.
At one tent, a humane society veterinarian will, for a $25 fee, install a microchip in your dog containing identity information making it easier to reunite lost dogs with their owners.
Best of all, you can stock up on road tunes for your next trip to the cottage. This is because, when I popped into the shelter last week, I spotted hundreds and hundreds of CDs leftover from the society's annual CD, DVD and book sale.
"You should sell these at Paws in Motion," I barked as loudly as I could.
"That's a great idea," chirped Sarah Smith, another society event officer. "We'll set up a table and sell them for a buck apiece. So people should bring cash because there's fun stuff to buy."
What more do you want, pet lovers? A good walk with your best friend. Contests. Music. It will be the best party ever, because no one will mind when a guest pees on the carpet.