Denton celebrates furry friends and their families at annual event

Denton celebrates furry friends and their families at annual event

Denton celebrates furry friends and their families at annual event
October 10
21:58 2017

Visitors greeted each other excitedly across a sprawling green field. They met new and old friends, danced, sang and even sniffed each other’s butts.

Welcome to the 24th annual Dog Days of Denton.

On Saturday morning at the North Texas Fairgrounds, dogs and their owners gathered for the annual event to celebrate man’s best friend.

The festivities began at 9 a.m. with a Canine Couture costume contest, a dog dance-off and an ongoing “Glam-fur” photo booth.

“Our typical attendance is about 7,000 [people] for the day,” event organizer Kevin Lechler said. “Everybody looks forward to it every year because it’s planned completely around dogs.”

Aside from the fun, the event also aimed to educate and provide resources for attendees. Presenters led talks throughout the event addressing issues surrounding dogs’ health. Several Denton organizations set up their booths to provide information on their outreach.

The DFW chapter of Texas Great Pyrenees Rescue was led by Becky Petrusky, an administrative assistant at UNT. Petrusky currently houses eight adoptable dogs in her home, prepping them for a lifelong family. 

“We take Great Pyrenees that are in need of rescuing, whether it be from the shelter, surrenders [or] on the street,” Petrusky said. “We bring them in, give them time, love and care, and then we hone them back out to approved adopters.”

Many people swarmed Petrusky’s booth, but she said there is a lot of responsibility that goes with taking care of a dog like a Great Pyrenees.

“They’re cute [and] wonderful, but there’s a lot of hair, and they bark,” Petrusky said.

The main event was the 2017 Spokesdog pageant, where pooches of all shapes and sizes flaunted their best costumes and tricks to take home the title.

Participants enter a picture and at least one paragraph about their dog and why they’d be eligible for the honor.

“We choose a representative to not only represent Dog Days of Denton but [also] the city of Denton throughout the coming year,” Lechler said.

Freja the beagle-dachshund mix is lifted in the air by owner Kimberly. Freja participated in the Dog Days of Denton Spokesdog pageant. Rachel Walters

There were 15 entries this year, which is a new record. With the help of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, Lechler said the Spokesdog has risen in popularity.

“Social media has taken it to a completely new level because there’s all these social media outlets that the Spokesdog has,” Lechler said. “So the Spokesdog has gotten even more popular these past few years.”

For a full year, the chosen Spokesdog will participate in community events and fundraisers around Denton.

Ice, a six-year-old Siberian Husky, won the title this year. 

“My friends pushed me to [enter] because they convinced me that it wasn’t about me, it was about having a well-trained dog be an upstanding member of the community,” Ice’s owner Lyndon Villone said.

Villone, who is a veteran, named Ice in honor of Sgt. Wesley J. Rice, his best friend who died during a military training accident.

Villone and Ice volunteered therapy dog services for children and at-risk youth. Later on, Ice trained to become Villone’s personal service dog.

“He became my service dog in 2014 when I got vertigo spells, so he traveled down from New York to Texas,” Villone said. “Now he’s like a mentor trainer for other dogs that come [into Heel the Heroes].”

Heel the Heroes is Villone’s veteran-centered nonprofit that aims to provide animal-assisted therapy for veterans adjusting to civilian life. The organization offers activities like yoga and art as a part of their program.

Villone says he hopes to incorporate horse therapy in the future.

“We started in 2015 [as] a very young and small nonprofit organization,” Villone said. “Our mission right now is to help veterans recover, reclaim and reconnect to society and families.”

Last year’s Spokesdog, a terrier named Cody, also made an appearance in his signature plaid shirt and bow tie.

Now that is his reign is over, owner Lauri Sulewski said she will miss all the festivities that they attended together.

“We’re very sad, but we had a lot of fun doing it,” Sulewski said. “We had a lot of community events, and Denton is a part of us now since we did so much as a Spokesdog for the community.”

Although the other participants varied, each had their own unique story. 

Longtime attendee Angela St. John entered her dog, knowing how much it helped her through a rough patch. 

“She came to me two weeks after I was hit by a drunk driver and saved me because she got me up and walking again,” St. John said. “We needed each other, and she came into my life at the right time.”

Now, she said she spoils her dog rotten. Coming to events like this has been one of the ways she and her dog have been able to have a fun time together.

“We love Denton, and we love supporting our community in any way we can,” St. John said. “We’ve come to [Dog Days of Denton] every year, and we’d love to support our community more in any way.”

Featured Image: Owner Al Petrusky presents Sunny the Great Pyrenees as “Pyrenella” in the Spokesdog pageant. Al and Becky Petrusky work with Texas Great Pyrenees Rescue to foster and rehabilitate dogs. Rachel Walters

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Amy Roh

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