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Hungry dogs fetch big prize

Stephen Rochefort got the ultimate surprise birthday present.

On Oct. 30, his 51st birthday, an unsuspecting Rochefort opened a can of Pedigree beef and liver dog food and won a new Chevrolet Blazer.

A $21,000 silver, two-door sport utility. Not a bad deal for a can of Choice Cuts that sells for 49 cents.

"They can do that for every birthday," said Rochefort, who shows pedigree dogs with his wife, Amanda.

Now, instead of clunking to work in the 1988 Nissan Pulsar, Rochefort cruises to Williams Office Supply on U.S. 19 in the sleek Blazer, which he and his wife picked up Tuesday from Sunshine Chevrolet in Tarpon Springs.

"It's a vehicle I would buy for myself," Rochefort said, "if I could afford one."

The folks at Pedigree in Los Angeles are simply thrilled for the Rocheforts, who live in Spring Hill, and the other Blazer winners in Oregon, Texas and Pennsylvania. Of 60-million cans of chow in 1994, only 50 had this coveted saying under the lid:

"You are an instant winner of a 1995 Chevrolet Blazer."

Alice Nathanson, spokeswoman for Kal Kan Foods, said the company has offered the promotion since 1993. But don't expect to find any can wrappers that say: "Look under the lid. You could win a Chevy Blazer. Instantly!"

The promotion has ended.

However, the Rochefort's passion for Pedigree has not subsided.

They'll never forget that day last year.

It was 5 p.m. on a Friday. Mrs. Rochefort was working at the West Hernando-Staffordene T. Foggia Library. Mr. Rochefort was at home in Spring Hill. He opened one of the 24 cans of Pedigree dog food they buy every two weeks to feed Penny, a Lhasa Apso; Dancer, a Saluki; and Kruger, a Weimaraner.

Under the lid, hidden under brown splotches of liver and beef, were words. He first fed the dogs, then, wondering what the lid said, Rochefort ran some water over the splotches and saw those winning words.

It can't be, the Rocheforts thought.

"I didn't ever pay attention that there was a contest on," Mr. Rochefort said. "Seriously. Nobody ever wins those."

"I thought it was a game," Mrs. Rochefort said. "I said "Do we put gas in this thing or do we pedal it?' "

That Monday, Mr. Rochefort called Los Angeles. Sure enough, they had won.

"The girl on the phone had to convince me I won," Mr. Rochefort said. "I figured I won a bag of dog food. She had to tell me four or five times for me to believe her."

To verify the win, Mr. Rochefort mailed the can lid and notarized some papers. It took a while to get the Blazer because there was a strike at General Motors. When the Rocheforts drove to Tarpon Springs, there was no Pedigree party, no year's supply of dog food.

Just the silver Blazer.

"The funny part is I went in and didn't have to argue about price," Mr. Rochefort said. "I just drove off."

The Rocheforts have put only 158 miles on the four-wheel-drive. Their longest jaunts have been to Bushnell and Floral City to see some breeder friends, and of course, show off the new wheels. Now, instead of the Nissan or the Aerostar van, the Rocheforts will travel in the Blazer to dog shows.

Does Mrs. Rochefort get to drive? Well, not quite yet.

"Let him have it. He opened the can," Mrs. Rochefort said. "He gets to drive it first."

Nothing's ever free, though. The Rocheforts will have to pay income tax on the Blazer.

That's okay, they say.

"It rides beautiful," Mr. Rochefort gloated.

If you see a silver Blazer with a plate that says "The Dogs Won It Really!!", it belongs to the Rocheforts.