Dogs, pigs and pythons, oh my!

Published 10:37 pm Monday, May 7, 2018

Hundreds of pet owners brought their prized pooches — along with other beloved pets — to Bennett’s Creek Park on Sunday for the 10th annual Mutt Strut Dog Walk and Festival.

This was the third year that the annual Suffolk Humane Society fundraiser has been held at the park, which drew more than 500 attendees, according to Suffolk Humane Society board member and event co-chair Kerri Shallcross. The festival is one the organization’s largest fundraisers.

Shallcross said at least $15,000 had been raised towards the $35,000 goal as of Sunday. The overcast rain played a part in smaller turnout compared to previous years, but people still made their way through the mud and bugs to enjoy food vendors, beer, cornhole and live music from the band Rio, plus dogs as far as they could see.

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“Because of the weather, it’s not as good as it’s been, but I’m very happy with the turnout that we have,” Shallcross said.

Huskies, terriers, Pembroke Welsh corgis and countless other breeds enjoyed kiddie-pool “water stops” and had their fill of treats from vendors.

Owners got their fill of information, as well, from the likes of Virginia German Shepherd Rescue, the Cove Center of Vet Expertise in Suffolk and other organizations, along with merchandise for sale.

Dawn and Mike Woods walked by the tents with a small but lively red Shorkie named Viper and Annie, a Walker hound-pit bull mix.

“They get to socialize with other dogs while we check out the different vendors,” said Dawn Woods, who enjoyed learning about the K-9 Pawsibilities dog training facility in Windsor.

About 20 pups participated in the Frosty Paws eating contest, Shallcross said. There was also a canine talent show, demonstrations by the Suffolk Police department K-9 unit and lure chasing, in which dogs ran after white plastic bags — the “bunny” lures — attached to lines and operated on a pulley system.

“The bags take off, and it’s the dog’s natural instinct to chase it,” Shallcross said.

It wasn’t just dogs walking around the park, either. Dawn Cowell of Courtland brought her pigs: the lighter-skinned pig Valerie and darker-shaded Miley, named after singer Miley Cyrus. Cowell argued that pigs are just as good as dogs, if not better.

“They both go through doggy doors and go outside to use the bathroom,” she laughed.

Volunteers for VIPER Inc. — short for Virginians Interested in Protecting Every Reptile — introduced people to bearded dragons, ball pythons, crested geckos, a savannah monitor and a bright-yellow, 65-pound Burmese python named Bubbles.

“They’re different than any other pet,” VIPER Inc. Vice President Jeff Welsh said about reptiles. “They’re cool to watch eat live or frozen prey.”

“I like to look at people’s faces when they see them,” volunteer Mark Campbell added.

Alyx Dear, 10, happily volunteered with the scaly animals. He said he wanted to grow up to be a herpetologist, an expert on amphibians and reptiles.

“They’re just like people, because they have their own personalities,” Alyx said about reptiles. “They give me a warm feeling in my heart.”

The people walking with their big Great Danes and holding their pugs in their arms have their own opinion on what makes the best pet.

Daniel and Victoria Jones, who brought their 4-year-old Alaskan Malamute named Titan and 7-year-old pit bull-hound mix named Obie, said loyalty makes dogs winners.

“I’ve had (Obie) since he was 6 weeks old, and he’s still my puppy,” Victoria Jones said.

Dr. Jana Boyd Federici, who owns a dental practice in Suffolk under the name Jana Boyd, was at her tent with her 11-year-old grandpa of a Basset Hound. His name is Baby Doll Louie Bayou Boyd Federici, or Baby Doll for short, and he’s a “kept man,” Federici said.

“He just gives complete, unconditional love,” she said. “He’s one of the great loves of my life. My husband likes to say that when I wake up in the morning, I kiss the dog first.”