TAMPA — Candyman waddles around the park, a long, pink tongue dangling from his jowls. He favors the shade, avoids the small, plastic pool and loves to munch on the weeds that peek through the fence.
Candyman is a pit bullterrier with the scars of a past most likely spent fighting.
He's what Hillsborough County Animal Services call an investigation dog, meaning his owner is facing charges of animal neglect or abuse. The dogs are held by Animal Services until the case is resolved.
He could either be returned to his owner or put up for adoption.
But the case is dragging, Animal Services spokeswoman Marti Ryan said. He's been living in the kennel since 2006. Part of that time, he wasn't able to frolic in the sun or munch on the weeds. Before Karyn Ringhaver raised money for a park, the investigation dogs had to remain caged all day.
About 18 months ago, Apollo Beach resident Ringhaver, 60, visited the shelter on Falkenburg Road. She saw a German shepherd that had been starved, and she knew she had to do something.
One day, she asked the shelter workers what they needed, and they said a park. So she sent out an e-mail to her friends asking for money. "I could not believe the response that I got," she said.
She didn't need all of it to build Jagger Park, named after her yellow Lab who died from cancer in November. Much of the landscaping and materials were donated.
Ringhaver decided to earmark the remainder for a medical fund.
Many of the animals who come to Animal Services have medical problems, from heartworms to spinal injuries. Often, people don't want to adopt them because there will be expenses right away, she said.
"The county can only do so much because they don't have the funds to do special surgeries," she said.
So she started the Jagger Park Fund, which has already helped treat several dogs.
The South Shore Gallery is hosting a fundraiser Aug. 30 from 3 to 5 p.m. to raise money for the Jagger Park Fund.
Riverview artist Stephanie Grimes will have pet portraits available of some of the dogs at Animal Services' shelter. All proceeds will go to the Jagger Park Fund.
But Ringhaver, and her daughter, Shannon Sawyer, 39, of Carrollwood, didn't just donate money. They're at the shelter each week, doing routine chores and taking the investigation dogs out for runs in the park.
One warm Thursday morning, Sawyer has Blue out in the park. He's a roly-poly pit bull with stunning blue eyes. Though he has the whole park to himself, he sticks close to Sawyer. When she sits on the wooden picnic table, he climbs up and snuggles against her.
"They crave the companionship," she said.
Right now, there are 19 dogs that can be taken out into the park and about five volunteers. These volunteers are specially trained to handle the sometimes difficult dogs. There are 143 active volunteers in total at the shelter — a huge increase from two years ago when there weren't any.
And knowing that, Sawyer and her mom can rest easier when they leave the shelter. It was tough at first. "We were very upset that we couldn't be here all the time," Sawyer said.
Ringhaver even decided to take a vacation to North Carolina this summer. But Animal Service workers noticed.
"Everyone's been asking 'When's your mom coming back?' " Sawyer said. "She's amazing. She's a little powerhouse."
Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 661-2443.