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Pets and owners dash to Third Flavia Casas | Fri, Jun 25 2010 01:39 PM

Barking, yelping and the sound of leashes jingling everywhere filled Third Avenue last Sunday when man's best friend took over Memorial Park.

Animal lovers across the city celebrated their furry friends at the ninth annual Pet Fest in Chula Vista. Kicking off the festivities at 8 a.m., Pet Fest was a charity event put on by the Third Avenue Village Association.

The park's amphitheater and its surrounding areas were transformed by the event's many booths, offering anything from shaved ice to on-site dog adoptions and spaying and neutering services. The festival also included a race, contests, special presentations and even a blessing of the pets.

Pet Fest organizers distributed fliers throughout the city, successfully drawing in more participants than last year, said Heather Marshall, administrator for the Third Avenue Village Association.

"I saw an ad for it and I thought, this year I was coming," said Rosemary Rodriguez, first-place winner in the women's category of Doggy Dash and a Chula Vista resident. "I brought my sister and her friend; we made it a family affair."

For many, the event looked like a good opportunity for their pets to socialize with other pets.

"We thought it'd be interesting for the dogs," said Elba Pe–a, Chula Vista resident and owner of chihuahuas Buddy and Emma. "They're not very good with other dogs, but we're trying to get them used to it."

The event's goal was to raise money for the Chula Vista Nature Center Foundation, HEART and the Chula Vista Animal Care Facility, Marshall said. In addition, Marshall said the festival intended to make the park and Third Avenue, more dog-friendly.

"We just wish that Chula Vista would have a dog park in this part of the city ... where they could be let off the leashes and play," Rodriguez said.

Of the festival's many activities, Doggy Dash and the blessing of the pets attracted the biggest crowds.

Doggy Dash was a two-lap run/walk around the park's perimeter, and required pets to be on leashes to participate. First-place winners in the men's and women's categories were Ricardo Abril, accompanied by chihuahua Tiny, and Rosemary Rodriguez, accompanied by boxer-pitbull mix Samson. They won gift certificates for the Dog Gallery, a pet grooming and washing service in Chula Vista.

"It was a rocky start. When we took off he wanted to be the leader and I was unprepared," Rodriguez said. "I Iost the leash and I felt like a bowling ball, but we got in control and low and behold we made it!"

The blessing of the pets was offered in both the Protestant and Catholic religions.

"The pet blessing is actually really popular," Marshall said. "They (owners) just love it!"

Also a hit were the pet contests, some of which included prizes for cutest, ugliest, smallest, biggest and best trick.

Holding a 7-year-old, 2.2- pound chihuahua, Bonita resident Vivian Torral, who is currently studying to become a veterinary technician, was signed up for the smallest pet contest.

"I'm just really curious to see if there are any smaller dogs," Torral said.

Torral's pocket-sized pup, however, lost the title for smallest pet to a girl and her hamster.

With the collaboration of sponsors PetCo, the Third Avenue Village Association, the city of Chula Vista, Cox Communications, and HEART, Pet Fest organizers and volunteers were happy to say the event ran smoothly.

"Of course we plan on helping out again, as long as we're in the area," said volunteers Lori-Anne Wheeler and Christina Aragon.

City residents also appeared to have enjoyed the event, making promises of returning the coming year.

"Will we come back? Oh yes!" Rodriguez and her family said.

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