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Sun, April 05

Find a friend at Pet-A-Palooza

If Joe Sowerby had his way, "Meet Your New Best Friend at Pet-A-Palooza" would fold. Strange words for someone who founded and organizes this annual outdoor animal adoption event in Sedona and Michigan.

In his eyes, if humane societies closed their doors, it would mean the homeless animal epidemic is resolved. Until people become responsible pet owners and spay and neuter their pets, however, he said this won't happen, making events such as this necessary.

"People are behind bars because they committed crimes," said Sowerby, a Michigan commercial real estate broker and part-time Sedona resident. "These animals are behind bars because they're homeless of no fault of their own."

Sowerby is again spearheading the third annual Pet-A-Palooza on Saturday, Oct. 14, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., at Sedona Red Rock High School football field where 11 humane societies and animal rescue groups will gather with hundreds of adoptable kittens, puppies and cats and dogs.

Nearly 2,000 people are expected this year, making it the largest adoption event of its kind in Northern Arizona. When it debuted in Sedona in 2004, 104 homeless animals were placed. That number grew to 149 last year. This year's goal is to place 200 adoptable cats and dogs.

Last year's event accomplished in one day what usually takes about a month to do, said "B" Skielvig, executive director of the Humane Society of Sedona. The shelter reported 21 adoptions that day followed by three more dog adoptions the following Monday, she concluded. The Verde Valley Humane Society (VVHS) placed five cats and 18 dogs, according to Cyndi Sessoms, the shelter's executive director.

"It was a lot of work the day before, the day of and the day after, but it's worth it," Skielvig recalled. "We like bringing back empty crates."

VVHS plans to bring about 20 dogs and 10 cats on Saturday while the Humane Society of Sedona plans to bring more than 20 dogs and at least 30 cats.

"This is the greatest adoption day of the year," said Sessoms, adding that the facility has been busy spaying and neuturing animals for prospective owners.

"I can't wait until Pet-A-Palooza happens. We need the space," Skielvig declared. "We still have a waiting list of owner-surrendered animals needing a home. We are really going to push foster care programs for the future in hopes of saving more lives. We have seen it work in other municipalities."

Educating the public about being a foster family to homeless pets is a major focus at this year's event, Sowerby emphasized. A foster cares for an animal temporarily when a shelter is full. The animal remains in foster care until cage space becomes available or it is adopted.

United Animal Friends, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, is a foster program supported only by volunteers and donations. Currently there are 50 dogs and about 150 cats in 35 foster homes, said Nancy Vargo, president of UAF.

This Prescott-based nonprofit doesn't believe in shelters because of the jail-like environment.

"If some are there too long they get 'cage rage' Š they go crazy," Vargo explained. "That's why fosters are so important. Every foster saves lives. Foster one animal and that's one less that's put down at a shelter."

Vargo said many dogs are returned because they jumped on the couch or got in the trash.

"When they live with a foster they learn house rules and that makes them more adoptable."

To become a foster family or a foster helper (someone who transports animals to adoption events, the vet or just for a walk), call UAF at (928) 778-2924.

UAF plans to return to Pet-A-Palooza this year bringing about 50 cats and dogs.

Why?

"Because 149 animals found homes last year," Vargo declared. "We adopted out 19. That's the biggest number we've ever adopted out in a one-day event."

This year's Pet-A-Palooza continues to be family oriented with its open, fair-like atmosphere, a children's jumping castle, food and beverages, and numerous commercial vendors offering items related to pet ownership. Yavapai Broadcasting also will broadcast remotely from the high school football field.

The event has doubled in size with more groups participating under 6,000 square feet of tent space. This year's participants include the Verde Valley Humane Society, Humane Society of Sedona, Camp Verde Animal Shelter, Morning Starr Animal Sanctuary, Payson Animal Shelter, Coconino Humane Association, United Animal Friends, Second Chance Animal Sanctuary of Flagstaff, Tara's Babies, a new local grassroots rescue organization, as well as Basset Hound Rescue and Beagle Rescue, both of Phoenix.

The event's major sponsors are Jackson Hewitt and Rice Accounting and Dr Pepper.

Donna and Rowan Pierce found a playmate for their 7-year-old rottweiler at last year's gathering. Within half an hour, the Cornville couple adopted Anniken, an 8-month-old male boxer/lab mix that was brought to Payson Humane Society as a stray. They have changed the dog's name to Andy and said that the match is a success.

"They're like best friends. They hang out together," Donna Pierce said recently. "I can't imagine any other dog that would be better than him. He's the classic American dog."

Donna said the adoption process was easy and saved time and money in searching for the right pet.

Pet-A-Palooza proves how one person can make a difference, said Sowerby.

"This event is a seed of an idea that I pursued."

Spurred by the nation's abhorrent euthanasia rates, Sowerby took action in 1993. On his own time and his own dime, he approached the Detroit Zoo about hosting an all day pet adoption event called "Meet Your Best Friend at the Zoo." Ninety-seven animals were placed that day.

Since then, nearly 20,000 animals have been adopted, a number that makes Sowerby proud. Of those, he estimates based on national statistics that 14,000 would have been euthanized.

"We call them man's best friend but every year we euthanize 8 to 10 million healthy cats and dogs. That's a helluva way to treat man's best friend."

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