Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Dog Easter Egg Hunt

TROY, Ill. — Donna Elief planted her feet firmly in the grass, held the megaphone up to her mouth and yelled: "Three, two, one. Hunt some eggs!"

And with that, a hundred or so dogs — tiny ones, shaggy ones, old and young ones, from Chihuahuas to Shiba Inus to Great Danes — went scampering into a field, noses down and tails wagging, searching for Easter eggs.

When the dogs' noses touched the eggs — actually pastel-colored plastic ones containing dog treats — their owners picked them up, placing them in baskets or bags. The goal was to locate the "surprise egg," which entitles the finder to a gift basket with chew toys and a flea treatment.

"Someone called this morning and asked: 'Are they real eggs? What am I getting my dog into?'" said veterinarian Karen Selbert, surveying the pre-hunt doggy chaos. "But really it's just a fun way to be with your dog."

The Canine Easter Egg Hunt, held by the Hawthorne Animal Hospital and now in its fourth year, is a benefit event for the TreeHouse Wildlife Center near Alton, which takes care of wounded and orphaned wildlife. The event has cultivated some regulars, now veterans of the hunt, generating hundreds of dollars for the center.

"We come back every year," said Priscilla Briggs of Granite City, as Nellie the collie and Freddie the sheltie panted nearby. "They just like to go out and have fun."

Not that it's all fun and games. In past years, participants would steer their dogs toward the "golden" egg containing the gift certificate. This year, the hunt's organizers simply marked an "x" on a regular old plastic egg to avoid such manipulations.

"We'll see how many people cheat this year," said Selbert, moments before the hunt began.

As the hunters gathered inside the Hawthorne offices, a giant white Easter Bunny sat on a hay bale as a photographer snapped pictures of the bunny with dogs in its lap. (Admission to the hunt was $3 — and an extra $2 for the dog-and-bunny photo.)

Guinness the beagle bayed, puzzled at the giant synthetically furry rabbit. Alvin, a Chihuahua-terrier cross with a scraggly little beard, sat, happily curled in the bunny's arms. Jasmine, a West Highland white terrier, snapped. MORE ILLINOIS NEWS
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"It's like mothers at Christmas forcing their kids onto Santa's lap," said Cindy Weishaupt, a receptionist at the clinic, standing a few paces away. "Sometimes that can get ugly."

The bunny should know best. "It's hot," said Jennifer Davis, one of the clinic's veterinarians, from within her bunny costume. "I worry about getting bit. Some of them get really afraid of the head."

Moments before the hunt began, the dogs and their owners lined up at the edge of the field — organized into four separate hunting zones for different sized dogs, "so the little ones aren't getting stomped by the big ones," Weishaupt explained.

Peggy and David Bosick, of Fairview Heights, held onto Blackie, a beagle-Labrador mix, and considered their strategy. "We're just going to go out there and see if he can sniff some eggs," Peggy said.

Then Elief stepped out. "You've got to stay within your weight group," she cautioned. "Your dog's nose has to touch the egg. And the golden egg this year's not gold."

The dogs charged in, finding all the eggs within minutes.

A dog named Jasmine, an enormous Great Pyrenees-shepherd mix, found the winning egg in her weight group. After the hunt, her owner, Pam Shanley of Cahokia, went to collect her gift basket. "She found the special egg," Shanley said. "All 142 pounds of her."

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