TAMPA — Sure, the skateboarding shelties and long-jumping dogs wowed the crowd. And yes, the water-skiing squirrel elicited oohs and ahhs.
But, for many at Pet-A-Palooza, there was a much cooler attraction waiting.
As temperatures climbed into the 80s outside Raymond James Stadium on Saturday, dogs of all shapes and sizes flocked to the plastic kiddie pools scattered across the property.
"He loves to swim," said Matt Will, of Tampa. "Every time I try to tug him out of there, he doesn't want to come."
Standing firm, Rue, a 2-year-old pit bull mix the color of chocolate, waded in the shallow water with his tongue hanging out.
Hunter, a black and white border collie, had the same idea.
"We saw this as soon as we walked in and he went straight for it," said his owner, Kristi Albright, of Plant City, as Hunter splashed around at her feet.
After a quick dip, though, it was back to the free event's main entertainment, including a show by Twiggy, the water-skiing squirrel.
Just like in her cameo in the movie Anchorman, Twiggy glided across the water on two legs as a remote-control boat pulled her along.
Lou Ann Best of Deltona has been training squirrels (all named Twiggy) for 33 years. What started as a joke has turned into a job that has taken Best and her squirrels around the world.
"It's kind of like training a dog or a husband," Best said. "You just give lots of love and affection and tell them the same thing over and over."
After her husband's death in 1997 due to a boating accident, Best tweaked the show to include information on water safety for children.
Twiggy wears a red, white and blue squirrel-sized life jacket to help demonstrate the point.
Also popular Saturday were Twig and Chili, the skateboarding shelties, and the Dock Dogs competition where anyone could enter a dog for the chance to see if it could jump the farthest into a 40-foot-long pool.
The day was also a chance to socialize — for dogs and their owners.
Members of the Chihuahuas of Tampa Bay Area group met up and visited the various organizations' booths while pushing their tiny pups in strollers.
"Events like this allow them to get used to the big dogs and keeps them socialized and well-adjusted,' said Debbie Flamboe, of Seminole. Her dog, Isabella Rose, has her own leopard print stroller that helps keep the small dog out of harm's way.
And for groups such as Heidi's Legacy Dog Rescue of Lithia, it was a chance to teach others about the importance of adoption.
"We have 132 dogs of every breed and size who need homes," said the group's president Lori Hoffman. The dogs all currently stay in foster homes, she said.
Shelley Rossetter can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3401.