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Julie Saetre | Jun 13, 2017

A police officer and police dog demonstrate their skills at a Florida Kiwanis club's fundraiser. A police officer and police dog demonstrate their skills at a Florida Kiwanis club's fundraiser.

Anyone who has ever walked a dog knows that kids are drawn to canines. So when Lisa Hurley, a member of the Kiwanis Club of Largo-Mid-Pinellas, Florida, began researching fundraiser ideas, it wasn’t surprising when she discovered that events featuring dogs pay off. Pawfest made its debut in 2007 and since has become the club’s main fundraiser, attracting 2,000 to 3,000 guests each year.

“We advertise that it is a ‘Carnival for Kids and Dogs,’” says Bruce Blazej, the club’s president, “and a fun day for the family.”

Dogs are the stars, so they are far more than mere spectators. On the Activity Midway, a canine officer (purchased by the club for the Largo Police Department) demonstrates working skills, while a dog-training club leads four-pawed participants through agility and obedience demonstrations. A “lure chase” allows dogs to dash across a specially designed course in pursuit of a target.

Children get into the act too, interacting with new furry friends by playing T-ball with border collies. (The kids bat a whiffle ball off a traffic cone; the collies retrieve).
In the Play House, the family pooch can take home a prize for doing tricks, wearing the best costume or being the largest/smallest dog in attendance. Not to be left out, children compete in musical chairs, sack races and hula hoop contests and work off more energy jumping in bounce houses supervised by members of the Largo High School Key Club.

Kids get crafty at the Art House, while dog owners browse for supplies in the Doggy Mall or visit the Bark Cafe for a bite.

The City of Largo co-sponsors Pawfest, cutting down on the club’s expenditures and maximizing the money raised for service projects, animal rescue organizations and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Funds come from sponsorships, donations, vendor fees, prize drawings and bounce house admissions, allowing the club to collect around US$8,000.

It’s no wonder, then, that the event has become a publicity hound: The New Barker, a lifestyle magazine devoted to Sunshine State residents who love and live with dogs, called Pawfest “one of the best dog-friendly events of the year in Florida."

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