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Sniffing out Tampa Bay pet event culture? Try the Talking Animals Festival at Lowry Park

There are moments of crystalline clarity that come when you get a dog.

For one, you realize that urine is on everything. That fire hydrant? Urine. That bush? Pee. That bench leg? A dog marked it.

For two, pet culture is real. Sure, you've watched Best in Show, seen Paris Hilton toting a chihuahua in a purse, heard about weekends at the dog park.

But actually treading into Tampa Bay's vibrant pet community is different. There are "yappy hours" for cosmos with your terrier. Street festivals. Beach days. Outdoor concerts rife with Milk-Bones.

This month, American Idol winner Kris Allen serenaded pooches at Play 98.7's Pet-A-Palooza at Coachman Park. And Sunday, WMNF will host its second annual Talking Animals Festival at Lowry Park, a free event complete with $10 microchipping, animal-themed music and dogs playing soccer.

I talked to Duncan Strauss, host of the Talking Animals show on WMNF. I was a new dog owner, I told him. I wanted to break into the pet world, but wasn't ready for a hand-painted T-shirt bearing my dog's face. Not to worry, he assured.

"With any little world or subculture, there are going to be animal nuts," said Strauss, who owns a Labrador named Daisy and four cats. "People who love animals at the very least can be a little eccentric, but in the best way. Then there are people who are like, 'I have a dog. I like the dog. The dog is important to me and my family, but I don't build my life around the dog. I don't dress up the dog. I don't dye their fur.' "

This stuff is tricky.

I've been a dog owner for three months. My boyfriend and I had considered getting a dog for a while, but the only pets I'd ever owned were fish. I once bought a basil plant, put it behind a curtain and forgot about it until it was dead. With living things, I had to proceed carefully.

We found Stuart through a friend who fosters dogs. One of his owners had just died. Stuart was 4, a chow-corgi mix who looked like an elderly man with Smurf legs. He slept about 18 hours a day. He didn't know how to play. He stared at balls as they rolled by.

Perfect.

We researched food and exercise and medicine, took him to the vet and dog parks and PetSmart. We were even so lame as to open a Twitter account for him (@adognamedstuart). But we avoided official pet events.

Then we decided to try the sixth annual Clearwater Pet Festival on Cleveland Street. Stuart, a nervous little homebody with a predilection for tossing his cookies in the back seat, hopped in the car with ease. Good start.

Dogs of all variety were there, ready to sniff butts. There's an awkward human reaction to this in which we talk to each other via our canines:

"Ha-ha-ha-ha. Say hi, Fido!" Sniff. "Good boy!"

We saw greyhounds, German shepherds, pugs, golden retrievers and a stately champion poodle with puff ball ankles. One woman pushed a wagon of purse dogs covered in bows. One man walked a spotted Great Dane and carried a thick snake around his neck.

The big attraction was a skateboarding sheltie named Twig. I had visions of Spuds MacKenzie doing backside ollies in a Hawaiian shirt. It was, of course, not that death-defying. But it was adorable. Twig even rode the skateboard down a set of stairs.

Stuart sniffed more butts. We listened to Twig's trainer Sandy Clark give advice.

"It's a wonderful day to build a relationship with your dog!" she said.

At a booth of handmade dog clothes, I pondered how Stuart might look in a bow tie. We met some hedgehogs that had been rescued and talked to some women from Keystone Kennels Pet Resort in Tarpon Springs.

"What are you?" Woodie Hall squealed at Stuart. "Oh, my gosh." He nuzzled her.

Everyone seemed genuinely, sanely enthused about their pets. Over-the-top folks were few, though we did spy a yorkie in a University of Florida cheerleading uniform complete with shoes and sunglasses. When we pointed, her owner just shrugged.

Maybe events like this were for people, not pets. The vaccination truck and demonstrations and free treats were great, but how can you tell if a dog is actually having fun?

The most we can hope for is a community of people who try their best.

On the way out, Stuart made a love offering all over the street. I cringed and ran to the nearest booth, hosted by a pet insurance company. A woman handed me a red plastic leash contraption full of plastic bags.

We traded knowing nods.

Stephanie Hayes can be reached at shayes@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8857.

Pet facts

47.7
billion dollars:
Estimate Americans
spent on pets
in 2010.

200 to 1,800 dollars:

The average a
pet owner shells out
on care annually.

62

percent:

United States. households that
own a pet.

Does your dog have an
account on . . .

Facebook: 14 percent

Flickr: 6 percent

Twitter: 6 percent

YouTube: 27 percent

How often do you pick up after your dog?

Always: 53 percent

Most times: 25 percent

Rarely: 9 percent

Never: 13 percent

Sources: National Pet Owners Survey, American Pet Products Association, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Lab 42 survey.



. This weekend

Talking Animals Festival

Local musicians at WMNF's fest have been tasked with performing songs (both covers and originals) about animals. So, we thought we'd list a few possibilities: Duran Duran's Hungry Like the Wolf, the Tokens' The Lion Sleeps Tonight, the Baha Men's Who Let the Dogs Out, the Beatles' Blackbird, Toby Keith's Beer for My Horses, and Cake's Sheep Go to Heaven, Goats Go to Hell. More than a dozen acts will pay homage to our furry friends between pet trick showdowns and owner/animal look-alike contests at the second edition of this free and fun festival. Bands include Dirty Spoons and Trash Revue, Sandy Atkinson and the True Loves, Ronny Elliott, Bird Street Players, Lauris Vidal, Kelly McCrae, Dog Peter Pat, Rayzilla's PBS, the Sun Society, Damon Fowler, Tribal Style, Sons of Hippies and, of course, Magadog. It all starts at 10 a.m. Sunday at Lowry Park, 7525 N Boulevard, Tampa. Free. (813) 238-8001.

Carole Liparoto,
Times correspondent

. Pet play dates

Plenty of events cater to pets and their people. Page 20W

Sniffing out Tampa Bay pet event culture? Try the Talking Animals Festival at Lowry Park 03/30/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 30, 2011 11:20am]

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