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Hikers Leave Only Paw Prints on the Trail

May 30, 1991|FRANKI V. RANSOM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

They call themselves the Woof Gang, a pack of mostly San Gabriel Valley residents who get together at least once a week to take their hounds on three- to five-mile hikes.

Most of them met in advanced dog obedience classes in Pasadena and Sierra Madre. They decided that the only way to walk their dogs safely was with a group.

Arcadia resident Marilyn Tilch, one of the Woof Gang's organizers, said the group was formed about four months ago. Dog owners from Pasadena, Arcadia, Monrovia, Sierra Madre and even Boyle Heights have joined. They heard about the walks through word of mouth, she said.

Not just anyone can join. Only members may invite a person with a well-behaved dog. Walkers are required to bring along a scoop to clean up after the dog.

"We're not an exclusive club, but we don't want a bombardment of people either," Tilch said.

That's why meeting times and places are hush-hush for outsiders. But if passers-by see the group at some of their favorite trails--Lacy Park in San Marino, for example, or Arroyo Seco Park in South Pasadena, or Old Town Pasadena--they may inquire.

"It's a group effort, no real organization, no dues, no club," said Pasadena dog trainer Larry Faulkner, who showed up on a recent Monday in Santa Anita Park in Arcadia with Tucker, his 6-year-old German shepherd.

Some dog-minded organizations were surprised and pleased with the idea. "Never heard of that before, my gosh, wow," said Harry Bryan, a local director of the American Dog Assn.

John Coleman, assistant executive director of the San Gabriel Valley Humane Society in San Gabriel, said that, although volunteers regularly walk dogs at the kennel, he knows of no other group that has mass dog walks.

For the Woof Gang, the Monday night sojourn was their first walk in Arcadia. Some of the gang wore black T-shirts emblazoned with a pair of dog paws and the group name in white letters. The trek started about 7:15 p.m., with the dogs sprinting.

The group of about 20 owners and 20 dogs circled Santa Anita Park and the golf course before crossing Campus Drive to Santa Anita Avenue and then up to Huntington Drive. The walks always include a stop for treats; this night, the two-hour hike ended at Monrovia ice cream and yogurt shops.

Some motorists stared, others honked, and a few made catcalls. But no one needed to be afraid. All the dogs were friendly, even the most vicious looking ones, like Lowin.

The 5-year-old Rottweiler, owned by Linda Wellbaum of Monrovia, has completed extensive on-and-off leash professional training. Lowin sits, walks and jumps on command. Wellbaum started training him when he was 10 weeks old.

"They don't have to be snarling vicious brutes," she said. "An owner needs basic control of a dog."

She said that the walks are a must because "exercise is important for a dog's mental and physical well-being. If a dog is bored, it can become destructive.

"It's the responsibility of the owner to not just buy a dog and feed it. A dog is unhappy without the social structure and quality time of being with you."

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