The Osstifin family recognizes that they're in for some fierce competition.
Sure, they have faith in Hampton's perky personality and Casey's cute face. But because they know they'll be up against more than 130 other competitors, the Holland family decided to bring Bailey, their third adopted dog, as well.
The three rescued mixes will strut their stuff today for the chance to be the Toledo Area Metroparks' "spokesdog." The event, starting at 5:30 p.m. in front of the Manor House at Wildwood Preserve Metropark, was created to encourage dog owners to be responsible while enjoying their pets in the parks.
And the winner will find his or her slobbery mug on the cover of Metroparks promotional materials and maybe in a television spot or two.
"Even if ours don't win, they're still special to us, and it's still fun to go out and show their personalities," said Erin Osstifin, who with husband, Tim, and daughter, Camryn, 7, will attend the event. "People want their dogs to be a star. It's just a fun way to bring the message out."
Park officials said they hope the event will educate dog owners to keep dogs on leashes no longer than 8 feet, maintain constant control, and have a way of cleaning up after their pet.
Responding to user surveys that list pet waste as the most frequent complaint, park officials revamped their pet policy in March. Included in the new rules is a requirement that dog walkers "must be carrying at all times a visible means of collecting and disposing of waste properly in designated containers."
That means visitors walking pets should have a bag attached to the leash or hanging out of a pocket if they want to avoid being stopped by a ranger. As of July 1, violators can be ticketed.
To help spread the word, Metroparks officials decided to sniff out a spokesdog. As of yesterday, more than 150 dog owners registered their pets, said spokesman Scott Carpenter. He asked that those interested register by phone or online in advance.
"We thought it would be a fun way to call attention to the issue of responsible dog ownership," he said. "We realize most people are responsible and an event like this will bring them out."
Mr. Carpenter said that Wildwood will serve as a pilot location for the new policies. After gauging the success of the program, more parks will enforce the rules, he added.
John Gauthier, who frequently walks his beagle, Sadie, at Wildwood, said he supports officials' efforts to make the parks a positive destination for everyone. Head of a local marketing firm, Mr. Gauthier said he encouraged the parks to create a program that dog owners could support.
"There's plenty of room for everybody, bikers, runners, and if we clean up our act, dog owners, on the trails," he said.
To register, call 419-407-9700 or go online at www.metroparkstoledo.com.