When Princess takes the stage Saturday to defend her best bathing suit title, she will do so packing a few more ounces than last year.
Still, the Chihuahua/Japanese Chin mix has high hopes of a repeat. After all, she can still fit into her old bikini, the one that best displayed her girlish figure and captured the eyes of the judges in 2005.
“It was some tough competition,” says her owner, Stephanie Miller of Tempe. But when the day was done, it was Miller’s little girl that walked away with one of three “best” prizes. Other ribbons, each with a dangling bone, were awarded for best doggie beachwear and best doggie body.
The contest, part of the Walk for Kids & Doggie Beach Party put on by Gabriel’s Angels, a nonprofit pet therapy program, does have a sober side.
The event is held annually to raise awareness and funds for the pet therapy program for abused, neglected and at-risk children.
In 2000, just 30 people and their animals gathered for the first event behind The Bone Appetit Bakery & Boutique in Ahwatukee Foothills. The highlight that year was the kiddie pool doggie frolic.
In contrast, 1,500 dogs and their owners — a sellout crowd — will gather Saturday at Kiwanis Park in Tempe for the family-friendly event that includes a two-mile walk, a “best” doggie contest, live music, children’s activities, raffles and prizes.
Mesa resident Jeanne Shotton and Abby, an 8-yearold Labrador, will be there. They are one of 85 pet therapy teams that make up Gabriel’s Angels. Fundraisers such as this make their work possible.
“We go into shelters for abused women and children,” says Shotton of her and Abby’s mission. “Because of their situation, many of children just have the clothes on their backs.” And many times they have left behind a cherished pet. To have a trusting, nonjudgmental friend like Abby show up is comforting to the youngsters.
Pam Gaber, founder of Gabriel’s Angels, had no idea the organization would take on such dimensions when she first visited the Crisis Nursery in Phoenix in 2000 with her Weimaraner, Gabriel, dressed up as Rudolph. From that serendipitous appearance — “it was just for laughs” — Gabriel’s Angels has become highly regarded and effective violence intervention tool serving more than 15,000 Valley children last year. The Walk for Kids & Doggie Beach Party is one of three major fundraising events for the organization, others being a lunch in May and a golf marathon in November. Last year, despite rain, the Walk for Kids & Doggie Beach Party raised $25,000 for Gabriel’s Angels.
“People really go all out,” says Gaber.
You’ll see dogs in Speedos, hula skirts and scuba diving gear. Gabriel will be dressed in Pink Panther surfer shorts while his buddy Noah, Gaber’s other therapy pet, will be wearing a snorkel and mask. All dogs, even spectator pooches, must be leashed — no retractable leashes allowed.
“There are a lot of people who come just to see the animals and others who believe in the bond between animal and child and that no child should be a victim,” says Gaber. “Someday these little people the teams visit will be our leaders. We are very cognizant of the importance of what we do.”
While Princess and brother Beethoven, a Shih Tzu, are not yet trained, Miller plans to enroll them in the corps when they have spent their puppy energy.
But for right now, the Miller dogs as well as the Miller family show their support for Gabriel’s Angels through participation in the Kid’s Walk & Doggie Beach Party. In fact, the event is a favorite of Miller’s three daughters.
“It’s as much fun for them as it is for the dogs,” she says.
If you go
What: 2006 Walk for Kids & Doggie Beach Party When: 8:30 a.m. registration, 9:30 a.m. two-mile walk, 10:30 a.m. to noon beach party, all Saturday Where: Kiwanis Park, 5500 S. Mill Ave., Tempe Cost: $25 for adults, $5 for children ages 4 to 16 Information: (480) 460-5333 or www.petshelpingkids.com