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One morning only, dogs rule the beach

 “Soggie Doggie Day” brought out about 65 dog owners. The event raised money for a new dog park.

By CHANDRA BROADWATER
Published September 10, 2006


Paw prints dotted footprints in the sand.

At Alfred McKethan Park at Pine Island on Saturday morning, dog owners and their pets frolicked on the beach for the first  “Soggie Doggie Day.”

For the estimated 65 people who came with at least as many dogs, the three-hour event — full of dog swimsuit contests, owner and pet look-alike beachwear contests and races for the fastest dog swimmer — was nothing but smiles and tail-wagging.

Entry and contest fees — $10 per car and $2 per event — along with donations, will go toward helping pay for Hernando County’s first dog park at Rotary Centennial Park in Spring Hill.

“We had no fights or bites,” said Sally Ortiz, a dispatcher with Hernando Animal Services, who was at the park to monitor the events. “Everything’s gone very well.”

Normally, animals aren’t allowed to come hang out with their owners like this, Doggie Day organizer Linda Christian said. She is also the aquatic specialist and events coordinator for the Hernando Parks and Recreation Department.

In recent months, Christian has been busy visiting other cities to see how similar dog-related events are handled. She got the idea for “Soggie Doggie Day” and the upcoming “Mutt Strutt” at Anderson Snow Park on Nov. 19 from other occasions held in various community parks.

Saturday’s sunny, cool weather was perfect for the event, she said. And everyone who came was good about picking up after their dogs, keeping the animals on leashes and leaving by 10 a.m., as required.

“We really want to help the Rotary (Club of Spring Hill Central) get cracking on that dog park,” Christian said.
A ceremonial groundbreaking took place in August at the 8-acre site at Landover Boulevard and Sandlor Street.

The Rotary Club hopes to begin construction on the first phase of the project, the dog park, this fall.

The area will be fenced off into three sections, so small, large, and guide and other therapy dogs will have their own places to roam.

Rotary Park director Laurel Predmore, who was also at Saturday’s event, said donations for the park are still being accepted. The group has about $40,000, or a tenth of the total goal, in hand. Other groups have given $100,000 over a five-year period to the park.

“We’re making progress,” Predmore said. “Another company recently donated land-clearing services, and the silt-fencing is up.”

The county also has a permit to relocate about a dozen gopher tortoises with dens on the site. The endangered animals can’t be moved without permission from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.

The plan is to move the tortoises in the next month to a 50-foot buffer zone that will surround the park, Predmore said.

Sitting with her dog, Junior, at the Pine Island beach Saturday, Brooksville resident Deborah Figarola said she looked forward to the opening of Centennial Park. She’s looking forward to having more dog-friendly places to go and things to do with her pets. Two other dogs stayed home Saturday so Junior, a miniature dachshund, could have the spotlight to himself.

“They should have a lot more of these,” Figarola said of the day’s event. Junior watched the other dogs and owners still playing in the water.

Wearing a studded red leather collar, he was taking a break after winning second place in the small dog swimming contest. Junior trained for the event in the family’s horse troughs.

“It’s a good way for dogs to mix,” Figarola said. “And it’s been really fun.”

Chandra Broadwater can be reached at cbroadwater@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1432.