In its latest announcement involving heightened security, the Boston Athletic Association has said it will not allow human volunteers on or near the course at next month's Boston Marathon. Instead, it says, trained police dogs will assume those roles.
The move comes on the heels of other changes, some of which have puzzled or angered runners. Previously the Boston Athletic Association had declared that bags and backpacks at Boston 2014 will be prohibited; police presence will be more than doubled; and spectators' bags may be searched. A decision to bar military "ruck marchers," for logistical reasons, sparked outrage among some runners.
"For us, the safety and security of Boston Marathon runners and spectators is paramount," said a B.A.A. spokesman in a conference call with journalists. "Hence our earlier decisions, regarding backpacks, police presence, and so on. Eliminating the human element was the next logical step. People can be unpredictable, disloyal, deceptive. All the things that dogs are not."
Canine units from as far away as Arizona and Washington state will converge on Boston in the days leading up to the race, held on Patriots Day, Monday, April 21. The dogs have been training for weeks with their handlers, learning to offer cups of sports drink to passing runners; drape medals around the necks of finishers; "herd" disoriented runners into medical tents; and identify unregistered runners, a.k.a. bandits, and chase them off the course.
Product managers at adidas heard this news late last week, the B.A.A. spokesman said, and are working furiously to design and produce up to 2,000 Boston Marathon volunteer doggy jackets in time for next month's race.
Asked whether seeing so many dogs along the course, many clutching Gatorade cups in their teeth, might seem "weird" and "jarring" to runners, the spokesman replied, "Not at all."
"As we've stressed every step of the way, the character of the race will not change," he said. "The 2014 Boston Marathon will be the same event that runners and spectators have grown to love, with the same storied history, the same legendary course, the same rousing crowds. Only this year, no human volunteers. Just lots and lots of dogs. Who doesn't love dogs?"
In an act of solidarity with this year's volunteers, who only recently learned that their services will not be needed, the spokesman ended the conference call by announcing that he himself was "handing over the reins" to a German shepherd named Max, who will serve as B.A.A. spokesdog pro tem, through early May.
"Woof," said Max, before ending the call.