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Animal shows and contest to pump up fair fun

Parrots will race. Dogs will compete for titles like Best Wag and Fastest Eater. Tigers will star in a high-wire act.

It's all about the animals at this year's Pasco County Fair, which starts today at the fairgrounds on State Road 52, about 8 miles east of Interstate 75.

New this year is the "Happy Hookbills Show," which features a couple who travel the country with their five parrots trained to paint, sing and do animal impressions. Also new are "Brunon Blaszak's Tigers," a show that is a mix of high-wire tricks and facts about the endangered animals.

Fair organizers also decided to resurrect an old offering with the Dog Gone Dog Show, which will offer titles to dogs judged to have the best smile, shortest tail or most "Ear-istible" ears.

The fair, which is in its 59th year, used to have a pet show, but interest and entries dwindled over the years, said Carol Hedman, a member of the Pasco County Fair's board of directors. The board decided to revive it after people started asking for one, and because it perfectly suited this year's theme, "It's Dog Gone Fun."

"We'll just start with dogs, and if we have the participation, maybe next year we'll add cats," Hedman said.

About 25 people have registered their dogs to compete in 14 categories. The winners of each will then battle for the Best of Show title.

"We tried to make it fun," said Linda Frassrand, co-chairwoman of the fair's Dog Show Committee. "We didn't want it to be something serious.

"We didn't want people to think they had to have purebred dogs," she said. "We wanted people to bring their family dog and have a good time. That's basically what fairs are all about."

Fairgoers also will get a chance to see a celebrity.

Rusty, the hypnotized parrot, is one of five birds performing daily in the "Happy Hookbills Show." He and owner Mark Obarka were featured on the Late Show with David Letterman as part of a "Stupid Pet Tricks" segment. Obarka was the one doing the hypnotizing.

The show also features a parrot who can fire a cannon, two birds that race and another that reads minds and then uses the images to paint a picture.

Mark and Debbie Obarka have owned parrots for 22 years and worked at several different theme parks before deciding recently to take their show on the road full time.

They bought a recreational vehicle and travel around the country performing at big and small fairs, libraries, parties and other special events. They plan to sell their home in Winter Haven.

"I like doing fairs because you get to see a lot of different people," Debbie Obarka said.

Her favorite so far was in Clay County, Iowa, where people were just fascinated with the parrots, unlike in Florida, where they've become so commonplace, she said.

You'll also find the usual suspects at this year's fair: about 30 rides on the midway, 75 food vendors, beauty pageants and traditional animal shows featuring bulls, steers, goats, rabbits and poultry. More than 30,000 people are expected to go through the gates during the seven-day run.

County Commissioner Ted Schrader may even show up to defend his title in the Celebrity Milk-Off contest set for 4 p.m. today.

Heather Urquides can be reached at (813) 909-4613 or toll free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 4613. Her e-mail address is hurquides@sptimes.com.

IF YOU GO

WHAT: The Pasco County Fair

WHEN: The fair begins today and ends Sunday.

HOURS: General hours are 3 to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 3 p.m. to midnight Friday; 10 a.m. to midnight Saturday; and noon to 7 p.m. Sunday. Some special events start earlier. Check the fair's Web site for more details at www.pascocountyfair.com.

WHERE: The county fairgrounds on State Road 52, 8 miles east of Interstate 75.

COST: $6 for ages 13 and older, and $3 for ages 12 and younger.

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