It is clear, immediately, that this is no run-of-the-mill foot race.
Clue 1: The entry form warns that unruly behavior will not be tolerated. Too much snarling, growling or fight-picking and participants will be told they can take their own hike.
Clue 2: Entry packets include not one but two race numbers. And a pooper scooper.
Race organizers expect about 500 human-pooch teams to compete in next Saturday's Purina HiPro K9 Fun Run in Rancho Park. A 1-mile walk-run begins at 9 a.m., a 2-mile fun run begins at 9:30 a.m., and the costume contest is set for 10:15 a.m.
"We were going to have a cat in the pace car but decided against it," said Walt Walston, local race director, worrying even as he enjoyed his quip about how his tabby-fancying wife would react to his warped sense of humor in print.
He said that in lieu of a starting gun--which might set off ear-splitting howls--he is thinking about using a whistle, "a silent, high-frequency dog whistle."
The K9 Fun Run is the brainchild of Davia Gallup and her husband, John Hobbs, of Davenport, Iowa, both veteran marathoners. They also got some inspiration from Willie, their 8-year-old poodle-terrier and an experienced half-marathoner. Gallup, now national race director, staged the first canine run in Houston in 1982; this year 10 cities will host similar events.
Organizers believe this will be the first race in Los Angeles that stars dogs, not masters, though some runners regularly bring along their four-footed friends to area races. The recent Sea Breeze 10K and 20K in Ventura included a division for owners and leashed dogs.
In lieu of cash prizes awarded at most runs, goodies closer to canine hearts, such as food bowls for the 1-mile racers and winners in the costume contest, will be given away at next Saturday's event. The 2-milers will compete for dog food and fancier dog bowls, with 24 awards in male and female divisions.
(One race volunteer fretted about how she could possibly be able to distinguish girls from boys in their rush across the finish line, until an organizer assured her the divisions are based on the sex of the owners, not the dogs.)
Organizers caution that canine training is vital. Some participants have already taken that advice to heart.
"We're in serious training," said Paulette Weir of Marina del Rey, who walks and jogs 3 miles a day with her 2-year-old Jack Russell terrier, Theodora. At 6:30 every morning, Theodora is ready to go, even if her mistress isn't.
"There are no days off," Weir said with a sigh. "She's a good trainer and doesn't let me off the hook."
Chris Olmstead of Mar Vista uses a slightly different training strategy. Besides walking at least a mile three times a week with his 5-year-old golden retriever, Gimlet, he plays "fetch the tennis ball" for half an hour at least three times a week.
"It builds up her wind," he said. "She's probably in better shape than I am."
Race information: (213) 396-7727. Registration Friday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Cheviot Hills Recreation Center, Motor Avenue and Pico Boulevard, Rancho Park. Race day registration 8-8:30 a.m. Dogs should be at least 6 months old. They must be leashed, have a current rabies vaccination and not be in heat.