Owners, pets invade park for PawFest

LAWRENCEVILLE - Chuck and Angela Smith of Lilburn were led all over Rhodes Jordan Park on Saturday by Indy, the couple's pet pooch.

They were two of about 2,200 people, nearly all being led by one or more dogs, who attended the 15th annual PawFest celebration.

The trio meandered past countless leashed dogs and 90 exhibitors offering a menagerie of pet-related products and services.

"We learned how to deal with the vet to get the bloodwork done to find out what kind of breed Indy is," Chuck Smith said.

The Smiths discovered PawFest after glancing at the local newspaper.

"We'd never heard of it until we saw it in the Gwinnett Post," Angela Smith said, tucking a new water/feeding dish under her arm.

The yearly festival is sponsored by the Gwinnett Humane Society, a nonprofit organization founded in 1979 whose mission is to combat overpopulation and alleviate animal suffering. Volunteers accomplish that through rescuing and finding homes for unwanted animals and strengthening the pet-human bond through education and assistance.

PawFest is its largest fundraiser, having raised $16,000 in 2007. That cash goes to support its daily operations and educational programs. Doting families foster animals until homes are found and, throughout the year, volunteers hold in-school programs that teach students about dog bite prevention, the importance of spaying and neutering, and awareness of illegal chaining and dogfighting, said Jennifer Nicholls, PawFest's co-chair.

Emily Costner brought Yogi, her massive 1-year-old Great Dane, from Roswell to PawFest to meet up with members of a Great Dane club.

"I learned about pet therapy," she said.

Saturday's PawFest increased the number of exhibitors from last year by 30, Nicholls said. Alongside sales vendors stood service organizations dedicated to improving the lives of animals, like Dogs Deserve Better, a national nonprofit group that gives owners options to unchain their dogs.

"Chaining is against the law in only 15 of 159 of Georgia's counties," said Pam Cheatham, regional manager.

Iris, a Borzoi from Cumming, led her owner, Marcia Obregon, past Ahimsa House, a nonprofit group that shelters pets whose owners are victims of domestic violence.

"When someone has to go to a shelter, many times those shelters won't take pets," Nicholls said.

Programs such as onsite rabies/microchip clinic, therapy dog testing and pet first aid/CPR demonstrations led up to the pet parade with its array of awards for best costume, best trick, dog/owner lookalike and ugliest dog.

With about 2,000 dogs all in one place, the park was quite calm.

"We've had no fights at all this year," Nicholls said.

There's still time to purchase tickets for the Gwinnett Humane Society's annual raffle at $2 per entry or 12 for $20. Prizes include an obedience program, beach retreat, golf package, AirTran tickets, a bicycle and more. The drawing will be held Saturday. For

more information, visit www.gwinnetthumane.com.