CLEARWATER — Tony Hechler, who designs television systems for car headrests, spent Saturday night building a kissing booth for a pig.
He cut the wood, lined it with red trim and hung pink curtains. Beside the window, he hung signs with scribbled letters reading, "$1 Kisses."
On Sunday afternoon, he opened the booth. There sat Hamilton, a house-trained hog that sleeps in a bed.
People do strange things for their pets. At the Pet-A-Palooza adoption fair in Coachman Park, one didn't have to look far for a glimpse of puppies wearing miniature jackets or cradled in purses. One large man in a cowboy hat sat silently on a lawn chair, petting a tiny chihuahua.
Hechler's kissing booth was a bit different. The glass jar of dollar bills would be a donation for Community Concern for Animals, the pet rescue group where he volunteers. Pig kisses would pay to save more dogs.
Each rescue group at Pet-A-Palooza seemed to have a tale of odd devotion.
Hechler's group was trying to find homes for a dozen Catahoula puppies, flown via private jet from Alabama by Pilots N Paws, a group fighting crowded shelters' practice of euthanasia. Others talked of loading their cars for cross-state drives with a half-dozen yipping dogs in the back seat.
One particularly committed woman was Lori Hoffman, the president of Heidi's Legacy Rescue Network. She started the group in 2002 after the death of her rescued German shepherd, Heidi, and now cares for 100 dogs at her 10-acre home in Lithia. Prospective owners must complete a clipboard questionnaire and submit to home inspections.
Hoffman told of one owner who, volunteers learned, was keeping his adopted pit bull puppy in a dank and dirty shed. Volunteers raced to West Palm Beach at 2 a.m. to recover it. "We don't mess around," she said.
The fair held booths for cats and birds, though Pet-A-Palooza — with groups specializing in little dogs, big dogs, pit bulls, pugs, Dalmatians and Siberian huskies — was chiefly a canine affair. There were hundreds, if not a thousand.
Controlling all that poop required a collective human dedication and fistfuls of Dogipot waste bags. In one corner of the park, volunteers filled kiddie pools so the pups could clean their paws.
"I haven't stepped in anything," said Kate Thompson, a coordinator with the Pug Rescue of Florida and foster mom of Starsky, Kiwi, Oscar and Taz. "Yet."
Contact Drew Harwell at [email protected] or (727) 445-4170.