LARGO — The Tampa Bay SPCA knew that pairing puppies with pirates in the Tampa Bay area was a recipe for a full-on invasion, but they never expected that hundreds of mangy mutts would arrive to pillage and plunder the inaugural GasPAWrilla event Sunday.
“We’re going to need some more hotdogs,” said Thamzen Waller, training manager at the SPCA’s Sniff University, as she held a slimy, treat-covered hand to her bandana to survey the incoming crowd.
The hundreds of dogs and their owners lining the streets around the 10-acre facility may have been a bit of a surprise, but the pirates running the organization, which operates primarily off donor support, couldn’t have been happier with the turnout. As dogs posed for pirate-themed pictures, explored the SPCA’s free indoor dog park, played tug-of-war and made paw print paintings, their owners heard about everything the organization provides to the community, as well as ways they could help join the cause.
GasPAWrilla was a free event, but the Tampa Bay SPCA is always taking monetary and in-kind donations, said SPCA trainer Amelia Moore. Pebble’s Food Bank is in need of dry or canned cat and dog food that can be given out to low-income pet owners. The SPCA only serves Hill’s Science Diet to its own animals but the food bank accepts any kind of food except Old Roy. Also in high demand are old blankets and towels that the animals use to keep warm during the colder months, Moore said.
“We’re always in need of donations, but mainly we wanted to host a fun doggie day so the community could find out about all the ways we can help them,” Moore said. “We’re kind of out of the way, so we really have to work to make sure people know that we’re here.”
In addition to the pet adoption services that many associate with the SPCA, pet owners can also attend training courses for about $15 through Sniff University. The classes are offered for dogs and cats, and focus on everything from socialization to “doga” — yoga for dogs. Other courses help dogs exercise their noses and practice problem solving, such as the most popular activity at Sunday’s event. Dogs sniffed through cardboard pirate ships, rummaged through “treasure boxes” full of crumpled papers, and even dunked their heads in mini pools to find hot dog pieces Waller scattered throughout the grounds. Each treat was met with licks, barks and appreciative scally-wags.
“We wanted people to realize that in addition to all our basic training we’re also offering classes that work on agility and that sort of thing, and the dogs really respond to it,” Waller said. “Even today, they’re sniffing out the hotdogs as soon as I put them down.”
The courses are a life-saver, said Largo resident Missy Tygar, who adopted 7-year-old boxer-lab Elmer and 2-year-old shepherd-mix Bud from the shelter. The dogs are high-energy, Tygar said, and love to run even in the Florida heat. At Sunday’s event Elmer and Bud couldn’t be pulled away from the dog massage table, where Tygar learned a few tricks to calm her dogs down at home and target specific muscles to help them relax.
Because of the overwhelming interest from the community, the SPCA is already buzzing about making GasPAWrilla an annual event. For new pet-owners like Largo resident Kara Winston, the event was a perfect introduction to the training services offered by the SPCA, as well as an excuse for Chloe, a 1-year-old toy poodle, to break in her black and gold sequined tu-tu dress.
“She’s young so I’m still working on socializing her,” Winston said. “Knowing everything I know now, I’ll definitely be back.”