Dozens of bystanders and their four-legged friends gathered in front of a tri-level wooden podium on the back patio of a beautiful Rancho Santa Fe home, eagerly waiting to hear which furry participants would be leaving with a trophy.
“In first place for Scooby Says …” the emcee paused. “Stormy!”
An energetic, soaking wet 6-year-old Australian Shepherd trotted up into first place, his human counterpart beamed by his side. The second- and third-place pups stepped up onto the podium with their humans. These dogs spent the day competing in the Pup Olympics, and medaled in the obedience challenge — a feat that baffled Stormy’s owner, Encinitas resident Julie Manion-Flores.
“I never would have dreamed this ever could have happened in his entire life,” Manion-Flores laughed.
Nearly 100 people and their dogs attended the Aug. 18 games, which included a mix of agility and racing. This was the “Pup Olympics and Pool Pawty,” a fundraiser for the nonprofit organization Rescue Express. The group takes animals from high-kill shelters and overpopulated areas in Southern California and brings them up the coast to the Pacific Northwest, where Rescue Express founder Mike McCarthy says there is a shortage of adoptable animals.
“We can sort of solve two problems by taking these animals out of the shelters they’re going to be euthanized at and bringing them to an area where people can get the animals they want,” McCarthy said.
Since 2015, the organization has rescued more than 17,000 animals. They have a fleet of four refurbished school buses that transport about 150 animals each. Recently, they acquired a tractor-trailer that holds 250 carriers. This means they can take more animals up the Interstate 5 corridor at a time — but that, McCarthy explains, increases costs, which is why they held the Pup Olympics.
“That trip, which we make every weekend, is a $6,000 or $7,000 trip,” McCarthy said. “The proceeds of this will directly support those efforts.”
Rescue Express operates out of McCarthy’s home in Rancho Santa Fe, which is also where they held the Pup Olympics. It was both a fundraiser and a means for outreach, explains Executive Director Karen Moy.
“It’s a fun way to get the word out,” Moy said. “We’re trying to get our name out there for the local community to know what we’re doing.”
The event had a pool with a shallow end for the pups, a barbeque and several booths with helpful puppy products and services. Stormy and his humans came from Encinitas to compete after hearing about the event from McCarthy. Kentucky Gallahue of Point Loma brought his pal Derby to the event. Sporting sunglasses and a blue mohawk, the 6-year-old goldendoodle took home two first-place trophies, and a third-place trophy for Scooby Says. Kentucky and Derby travel all over the region competing in mostly dog surfing competitions.
“I don’t care what he does, as long as he’s out here having fun and putting smiles on people’s faces, that’s all we do it for,” Gallahue said.
Although this was the first fundraising event for Rescue Express, McCarthy was impressed by the high turnout.
“Ticket sales slowly grew, and I think we ended up with 150 people,” McCarthy said. “It’s great. It feels good to be supported.”
For more information on Rescue Express, visit www.rescueexpress.org.