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wags - National Dog Day

  By: Angelle Bergeron

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Colleen Paige likes to do everything on a grand scale. When she set out to establish an official day to recognize canines and all the wonderful ways in which they enhance humans’ lives, Paige didn’t want it to go the way of some of the presidents’ birthdays, bring-your-dog-to-work day or other lesser-known holidays. She wanted it to be something that would take root in American culture and flourish as an educational and active rescue vehicle that would eventually eliminate the vast population of abandoned and abused animals.

The first National Dog Day will be celebrated August 26, 2006 with a parade in New York City and, if all goes according to plan, the rescue of more than 10,000 dogs. In preparation for the big day, Paige has already obtained a presidential proclamation, some national sponsors, and a listing in “Chase’s Calendar of Events,” published by McGraw-Hill. She also established the non-profit National Dog Day Foundation. Her plans are to make National Dog Day an annual event that is held in a different host city each year, along with attendant parade and an influx of rescue efforts and funds for local shelters.
“I wanted it to be bigger than, hey, I have this wonderful dog,” Paige said. “I wanted it to be a platform for helping to rescue 10, 026 dogs.” The 10,000 represents what Paige felt was an achievable number of dog adoptions in a single day and the 26 was thrown in to remind people of the date of this year’s event.

Proceeds from pre-National Dog Day fundraisers and the parade will go to help animal rescue organizations, and shelters throughout the country that organize adoptions in conjunction with the day will receive a certificate from the Foundation.

“This is not an elitist holiday or event,” Paige said. “Any non-profit shelter or rescue organization can have their own fundraiser event in their own town or participate in the parade.”

Celebrity people and dogs from all careers will ride on the floats through the streets of New York. Jon Provost, “Timmy,” from the “Lassie” series, will serve as grand marshal and National Dog Day mascot, Tinkerbelle, will have her own special float. Each year the Foundation will honor a different rescue dog, who will ride on his or her own float.
The National Dog Day Foundation is also appealing to non-dog-owners by asking them to donate $5 for animal rescue. “We’re really trying to appeal to America for everybody to just send at least one dollar to save the life of a dog,” Paige said.

A canine lifestyle trainer, Paige is no stranger to the amazing qualities of dogs. “I want to honor all that dogs do for us in so many different ways,” she said. “I want the day to represent many different things, so I thought it should be sort of a patriotic name that would embrace all the different concepts.”

National Dog Day is a day to reflect on the many wonderful benefits that are already familiar to dog lovers. However, Paige also wants to pay homage to the working canines who dedicate their lives to helping humans who may not even have an affinity for dogs.
“Family dogs make us happy, laugh, provide company, lower blood pressure by being around us, but they’re not putting their lives on the line every day with unconditional love,” Paige said. “There are so many ways that dogs keep us safe on a daily basis that no one really focuses on.”

Whether trained as guides, bomb sniffers, search and rescuers, tumor detectors, hospice care or some other sort of therapy, dogs put themselves on the line literally every day to serve humans.

“When a man or woman decides to become a police officer, bomb detector, or SWAT agent, they are choosing to do that, but dogs don’t choose that,” Paige said. “When a police officer is killed in the line of duty, it is all over the media and they have a big funeral. When a police dog is killed in the line of duty, you don’t hear about it.”

Paige began mulling over the contradiction in the wake of September 11, 2001. “I bought a book with images of 9/11, and there wasn’t one single photo of a rescue dog,” she said “It broke my heart.” More than 300 dogs were engaged in rescue activities between ground zero, the Pentagon and Pennsylvania, Paige said, but only a couple of them have received national recognition.

“September 11 was so powerful, and the images are still so fresh in people’s minds,” Paige said. “The fact that they had such a large presence…. I feel they should be honored, to let them know that we are still grateful.”

There’s nothing worse than not knowing what exactly happened to your loved one, she continued. The recovery of the bodies during that disaster was monumental and wouldn’t have been nearly as successful without the search and rescue dogs. “I think the dogs are at least partly to thank for returning loved ones to families,” Paige said, “and a lot of people wouldn’t have been recovered if it weren’t for dogs.”

Dogs are constantly playing rescuer in the myriad of human dramas, even without such a horrible disaster to call attention to their service.

Colleen loves to tell the story of how Tinkerbelle, a Standard Chihuahua and National Dog Day mascot, saved the life of her husband, Stan Southworth, and brought the couple together. A brawny, 6’3” former football player, Southworth was reduced to thoughts of suicide while recovering from a painful back surgery. “There were times he was in so much pain he just didn’t think he could live anymore,” Paige said. “He’ll tell anybody his dog saved his life.”

When Southworth was about as low as he could get, some friends enlisted him to watch their new puppy, Taco Bell, while they went out of town. When they returned to claim the dog, Southworth had already fallen in love with her, so they let him claim the pup and change her name to Tinkerbelle. “If it wasn’t for her over-enthusiastic squirrel chasing, he would never have called me,” Paige said. With Tinkerbelle as his constant companion, Southworth had worked his way from a wheelchair to a walker and was on his way to a full recovery, but he was afraid he would lose his inspiration if she didn’t control her zeal for chasing squirrels.

He hired Paige and the trio embarked on eight weeks of training. “She helped him through his recovery and found me the love of my life,” Paige said. “She is an amazing dog with an amazing spirit.”

The Paige/Southworth household also includes Sailor, a black Labrador retriever that Paige rescued. Since she was a little girl, Paige has been rescuing insects and animals of every variety, and has built a reputation as “The Animal Whisperer.”

Her empathy toward suffering animals probably has a great deal to do with her own horrific experience surviving a car wreck when she was 18 years old. “I went through a windshield and landed 92 feet from the vehicle after hitting a pole face first and bouncing back on the curb,” Paige said. “I remember waking up and feeling so alone and knowing that I was going to die.”

A Good Samaritan came to her, scooped the blood out of her mouth and told her she wasn’t going to die. Other people covered her with blankets while the man kept reassuring her she wasn’t going to die. “When I see an animal lying in the road, I know how they feel, how scared they are,” Paige said “I don’t think it’s right for them to feel like that.”

Sometimes the animals are lucky enough to be transported to shelters, which often don’t have enough money to care for them. “Not only are the animals left in a shelter, cold and scared, they don’t have any medical care or food so they die,” Paige said. “We have people who pick up people from gutters and bring them somewhere, but the animals just lie there suffering and waiting to die.”

In addition to simply paying homage to dogs and their contributions to human society, Paige hopes that National Dog Day will increase awareness about the number of abused and abandoned animals and raise much-needed funds. Paige plans to bring the parade to a different city each year and increase the rescue goal each year.

Popular dog artist Ron Burns has created a special commemorative poster for the event. The poster, released at the end of February, will undoubtedly feature the signature bright colors and expressive eyes that punctuate Burns’ work. “This will be something that will get people’s attention,” Burns said. “For me, it’s one thing to make a living from painting these real bright colored dogs, but it’s really important to me to give something back.”
The National Dog Day Foundation has named “Reading with Rover” as this year’s recipient non-profit organization. The low-tech literacy program involves pairing children with dogs in reading laboratories. “The dogs are read to by the children who are assigned to them,” said Becky Bishop, executive director of the program. “Dogs are non-
judgmental listeners, and they build the kids’ confidence and self-esteem.”

Every child who has difficulty reading, or doesn’t have a joy for reading would love to do this, Bishop said. “The national publicity and the money from National Dog Day will help us put out a publication that lets people know about the program,” she said. The money will also help Reading with Rover purchase books for low-income children. “Kids with reading trouble often don’t have appropriate reading material in the home,” Bishop said. “New books are important to kids. They smell good and feel good when you turn the pages.”

Bishop is excited about appearing in the parade with her dog, Moose, a big chocolate Labrador retriever with a huge square head and droopy eyes, who has been practicing his parade wave. “I think a parade like this is overdue,” Bishop said. “I don’t think we honor dogs enough for all they do in our society.”

National Dog Day sponsors include Urban Dog Magazine, Midwest Airlines, Nutro Dog Food, Fido Friendly Magazine, American Greetings and You can support National Dog Day throughout the year by visiting the Foundation’s website at and ordering an e-card.

Photographs by Cami Johnson,