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PugFest an ode to odd, lovable dogs

Photo: Geoff Smith Diane and Madison O'Kelley, of Athens, with their dogs Spirit and Coal dressed as salt and pepper during Saturday's PugFest.

Photo: Geoff Smith Diane and Madison O'Kelley, of Athens, with their dogs Spirit and Coal dressed as salt and pepper during Saturday's PugFest.

Were you Spotted?

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Ask a pug devotee what's so lovable about the furry little barrels on paws, and this is what they probably won't say: The nonexistent snout. Eyes like tiny fishbowls. The curlicue tail. Or the general face, head and posture of creature born in George Lucas' mind.

It's the spirit of the toy breed -- that dazed, funny glee -- that moves owners to champion pugs, and makes an event like "PugFest" a continued success.

What began as a small gathering 21 years ago on a Lawrenceville llama pasture has swelled to an annual convergence of about 600 pugs at the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds -- the only fest of its kind in the Southeast. Sure, it's a paean to the breed's many quirks, but PugFest is also the chief fundraiser for Southeast Pug Rescue and Adoption, or SEPRA, which aimed to raise $20,000 on Saturday. They rescue 200 pugs per year, most of them surrendered by owners.

PugFest has morphed over the years into a national draw, as dogs on Saturday came from as far as Pennsylvania.

"It's a fun outing to see other pugs," said Karen York, of Atlanta. "It's a tradition."

With PugFest falling so close to Halloween, and with a hilarious costume contest at stake, two pugs came as Honey Boo Boo, all blonde locks and frilly dress. The pug dressed as Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte donned a blue Speedo and a shirt boasting, "I pee in the pool." Other costumes leaned on puns, most notably the butter-and-tinfoil "Pug-tato" and techy "iPugs."

Earlier contests crowned champions for having the most wrinkles, curliest tail, most gray hair, best kiss and longest tongue. For SEPRA president Brenda Megel, the pug races were the highlight, replete with a starting gate and some confounded contestants that stood still.

Stuffy Westminster this is not.

"They're just such comical little dogs, and they're very, very owner-oriented," said Megel. "All they want to do is please their owner."

Another pug attribute, said Marietta resident Rachel Gilliam, is laziness.

"They don't require a lot of activity," she laughed.

Jessica Laney made the four-hour trip from Waxhaw, N.C., with her family and dogs Pudgy and Willie, dressed as "Pugosaurus" twins. In her eyes, such a unique breed warranted an entire pug-centric weekend.

"I love the wrinkles," said Laney, "and I love their personalities."