By Jessica Tuggle
INDIAN RIVER COUNTY -- Riverside Park is known for hosting many happy events during the year, but next year, the park will also be home to a yappy event.
The inaugural Bark in the Park, a fundraising walk benefiting the Humane Society of Vero Beach and Indian River County, will take place on Jan. 19 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the park on the water.
Usually only service dogs are allowed in the city-owned park, but event organizers received a special permit from the city to hold the event, said Tim Swift, development director for the animal shelter.
Bark in the Park will include a dog walk, demonstrations by champion dogs and law enforcement K9s, music, vendors, food and beverages and a dog agility course.
The vendors will donate a portion of the proceeds to the animal shelter, but the major part of the fundraising effort will be during the dog walk, Mr. Swift said.
The event website has a donation button where people can make an outright donation or find their friends who are walking and donate to them specifically, he said.
In keeping with the doggy theme, individuals can walk the 1.5-mile course as "strays," or with a "pack," Mr. Swift said.
"Using the web page, you can send an email to all of your contacts saying support me and make a pledge," he said.
"I was amazed, I raised about $1,400 in two days!" Mr. Swift said.
The dog walk, or dog parade, idea has been used in other cities and states and met with great success in places such as Fort Lauderdale and Denver, where the walks are annual community events.
"It's a walk, not a race by any means. People are free to come and walk, they don't have to pay, but if they do raise money and sign up they get a T-shirt and a bandana for their dog," said Mr. Swift.
The credit for organizing the event goes to the Young Professionals Network of Indian River County or "The Yuppie Puppies" as the Humane Society staff has dubbed them.
"This is a new (fundraising) approach for us. This really is a tremendous effort by the Yuppie Puppies, the idea came from them and we're really lucky to have the volunteers because this is much bigger than we can do," Mr. Swift said.
During the event, participants and onlookers will be treated to exhibitions by The Disc-Connected K9s, world champion Frisbee dogs.
The dogs were rescued from animal shelters and trained to perform incredible tricks that require speed and agility.
Like the dogs and other animals at the county animal shelter, the champion dogs first had to have support from the community to keep them alive.
The Humane Society has to raise 43 percent of its annual budget, about $1.6 million.
"We're always trying to close that gap," Mr. Swift said.
To sign up, or for more information about Bark in the Park, call (772) 388-3826 or visit www.barkintheparkvero.org.