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Paws in the park

The Nature Coast Pet Expo lets pooches play where they usually can't.

By LOGAN NEILL
Published March 16, 2007


BROOKSVILLE - If Joanne Schoch had her way, Hernando County would have long ago established a dog park, a designated open space where folks and their four-legged friends have the opportunity to run and frolic - just as children do.

Although plans for a permanent dog park remain on the drawing board, Schoch, who is executive director of the Humane Society of the Nature Coast, continues to pour her heart into a temporary solution.

When the third annual Nature Coast Pet Expo opens Saturday at Tom Varn Park, Schoch will no doubt be among the happiest of revelers.

"It's turned into a wonderful event that people seem to get a huge kick out of," said Schoch, whose agency sponsors the Pet Expo. "Seeing people, dogs and kids in a park sort of reminds you of a time when that was what parks were all about."

Tom Varn Park is normally off limits to pets, even those on leashes. However, two years ago Schoch and her organization managed to persuade the city of Brooksville to temporarily waive its no-pets ordinance in exchange for the promise that pet owners would be responsible for their animals' behavior.

"We've never had an incident," said Schoch. "People are very responsible about picking up after their pets. That's how important this event is to them."

Attendance at last year's event was nearly double the previous year's turnout, with attendees coming from as far away as Hillsborough and Citrus counties to take part in activities such as a "Doggy Fun Zone," a photo contest and a pet fashion show.

And although the event provides pets and owners with a weekend of fun, Schoch thinks its most important goal has been to shed light on the ever-growing population of adoptable animals in need of good homes.

"Awareness is what we're all about," Schoch said. "We offer any nonprofit shelter free space in our Adoption Alley. And it's worked well. Dozens of animals have been able to find homes as a result of people seeing them at the show."

Although Schoch admits that the event is mostly "dog-centered," other pets are welcome as long as they are on leashes.

"I've seen some cat owners who have braved it very well," she said. "And there are several bird lovers that come, too. We like to think that it's an event that has something for just about everybody."

A variety of vendors of pet-related items will be on hand, as will veterinarian care specialists. In addition, there will be a demonstration of soccer-playing border collies.

"The nice thing is that it's a wonderful time, even if you don't own a pet," Schoch said. "And certainly for anyone who's been thinking about adopting a pet, it's a nice opportunity to get your feet wet."

Logan Neill can be reached at lneill@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1435.

IF YOU GO

Pet expo

The third annual Nature Coast Pet Expo will be 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at Tom Varn Park, off W Jefferson Street (State Road 50A) in Brooksville. Admission is $5. Ages 10 and under are free. Proceeds will benefit the Humane Society of Nature Coast. Call 796-2711 for information.