Bobbi Bruner walked her first Animal Care & Control Walk for Animals when she was in sixth grade. Her mother, a dog groomer, had heard the walk didn’t tend to attract many children, so she brought Bobbi to the event.
Twelve years later, Bruner, now 23, has participated in each walk since.
“I grew up with dogs and animals,” she said. “It’s a shame to see how they get treated, and I want to do everything I can to help them.”
Sunday afternoon’s event marked Animal Care & Control’s 25th Walk for Animals. Hundreds of dogs and their owners gathered at Franke Park to raise money for the group and walk the two miles through the park.
In recent years, the event has raised between $25,000 and $30,000, and Peggy Bender estimates this year’s walk met that mark.
“When it comes to helping animals, I think Fort Wayne is one of the most pet-friendly communities I’ve seen,” said Bender, Animal Care and Control’s community relations and education specialist. “I hear it time and again.”
Bender, who is in her 28th year with the group, started the walk a quarter-century ago to raise funds for the group’s education program.
As she talked about the walk, a woman walked past Bender and handed her something folded. “For Mom,” she said, and walked away.
The woman’s mother passed away two years ago, Bender said, and she enjoyed attending the walk to watch the animals. Since, her daughter has been donating extra money to Animal Care & Control for her mother.
“I keep a picture of her at my desk,” Bender said.
Despite the wind and threat of rain, walkers didn’t stay home, and Bender said she was pleased with the turnout.
Not all walkers hailed from Allen County. Pam Speidel, of Montpelier, saw an ad for the walk on television and made the hour drive to Fort Wayne to walk with her rescue dog, Lilly, who came from the Louisville Weimaraner Rescue in Kentucky.
“They make you meet her, and they decide who she goes to,” Speidel said. “I can’t imagine anyone not wanting her. They come and check out your home and decide where the animal will be best suited.
“She’s my girl. She’s my best friend. She sleeps with me. I go everywhere with her.”
Bruner and her family had a similarly close relationship with their pets. She and her mother, Lee Ann Bruner, wore matching shirts during the walk: bright orange tees with an image of Skyler, the skye terrier the Bruners walked with at their first walk. The front of the shirt read “In memory of Skyler, 1998-2008.” Across the back, with an image of angel wings, read “He went to the rainbow bridge.”
“He passed away two weeks after his last walk,” two years ago, said Lee Ann Bruner. “He did 10 (walks).”
At Sunday’s event, Bobbi Bruner walked two of her dogs, Jethro, a long-haired dachshund, and Eclipse, a shih-tzu. The latter will stand in as flower girl at her wedding next weekend, Lee Ann Bruner said.
Though the event is a week away, and though friends wondered if the two women wouldn’t skip the event this year, neither mother nor daughter wanted to miss the walk.
“Hopefully when they have kids, they’ll be pushing strollers in (the walk),” Lee Ann Bruner said.