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Animal shelter hosts event to pair cats and dogs with prospective owners

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By Chris Van Ormer

WHAT: Second annual Best Friend Fest.
WHEN: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.
WHERE: Citrus County Auditorium, 3601 S. Florida Ave., Inverness.
INFORMATION: 352-746-8400.
ON THE NET: www.citruscritters.com.

INVERNESS — Whether you want to adopt a dog or cat or not, it could be hard to stay away from Saturday’s Best Friend Fest at the Citrus County Auditorium. It’s going to be a party for pets from the shelter at Citrus County Animal Services.

“The dogs and cats will be brought back and forth by volunteers from the shelter,” said Kelly Gill, volunteer outreach coordinator, on Wednesday. “The dogs will get to walk around and get some exposure. The cats will be staying on the stage, where a few of our volunteers will be with them to assist people interested in adopting them.”

Adoptable animals will come not only from the county shelter, but also from pet rescue groups for this “adoption extravaganza.” Groomers, trainers and veterinarians will be present to talk about pet care.

The event also will be like a fair, with food vendors, face painting and a silent auction to benefit Animal Services’ Special Needs Fund that pays for animal medical care. People who bring in and donate pet food for needy pet owners will be entered into a drawing for a prize. A bloodmobile will be there. Citrus 95.3 will do a live broadcast.

“Oreo will be there, of course,” Gill said, about Animal Services’ dog ambassador, or “ambassadog.”

“She just passed her Canine Good Citizen’s test this morning,” Gill said.

Passing the test means Oreo, who was surrendered to the shelter because she was an escape artist, is now a well-behaved pet.

“Which is the case with a lot of our surrender dogs here,” Gill said. “They’re fence climbers or they dig out.”

When owners can’t keep dogs safe, they give them to the shelter, where new owners are encouraged to train them.

“We don’t feel they are not adoptable,” Gill said. “I would suggest they always walk their dog on a leash and don’t leave it in the yard unattended. That’s when they escape. They’re bored. They’re lonely. That’s when they get into mischief.”

Adoptions at the event will follow the same procedure as adoptions at the shelter, which is nearby. Those dogs that are going to the auditorium will be tested ahead of time for such problems as heartworm and observed to make sure they will behave in public. Anyone who doesn’t find a dog or cat to adopt at the event can go to the shelter at 4030 S. Airport Road.

“That’s our goal — to bring more awareness and say that if the dog of your dreams is not here, we have more wonderful dogs in the shelter that’s right around the corner,” Gill said.

Animal Services used its new bus, a mobile adoption unit, for the first time at the recent grand opening of the Walmart in Lecanto.

“We adopted out seven animals at that event,” Gill said. “Five dogs and two cats. We brought the bus, set up a tent. All the dogs and cats we had at that event were already spayed and neutered, so people adopted right on site and took their animals home.”

A few of the adopters asked if their new pet could stay on the adoption bus while they went inside Walmart to shop.

“They’d get their pet’s food and toys and whatever they needed and come back,” Gill said. “One lady adopted a small puppy, put the puppy in the cart and pushed her little dog in her cart with all her supplies.”

That day, Animal Services had a total of 14 animals adopted, seven from the shelter and seven from the bus.

“We did as well as the shelter did,” Gill said. “We doubled our numbers because we were able to get out and get into the community. That’s our goal.”

The bus will be at the Best Friends Fest. The goal for the bus at Saturday’s event will be to fill it up with donated dog and cat food for needy families.

Adoption fees will be the same as those at the shelter. Cats, which have been spayed or neutered by Dr. Julie Rosenberger, shelter director and veterinarian, will be available for a $5 county license fee.

Dogs, which are spayed or neutered through a voucher program, have a fee of $60 that includes the voucher to have the pet spayed or neutered by a participating veterinarian. The adopter chooses the veterinarian and the shelter schedules the appointment. The voucher covers the cost of the surgery. Dogs that already are spayed or neutered are half price, at $30.

Chronicle reporter Chris Van Ormer can be reached at cvanormer@chronicleonline.com or 352-564-2916.