Kathrine Haldorson and her 11-year-old dachshund Oscar came to the 10th annual Pet Fest on Saturday to win. Oscar competed in the Wiener Dog Dash, an event where animals race across the floor with the quickest to reach their owner being the winner. As soon as the race started, Oscar zipped down his lane, straight to Haldorson and victory.
“He doesn’t like to be far away from me," Haldorson said. "I knew as long as he could see me, he would come running as fast as he could."
This year, due to popular demand, Pet Fest expanded its dog races, which normally are only open to dachshunds, with another classification for dogs of all breeds so long as they are under 20 pounds. The dachshund “wiener dogs” competed in three categories based on their age: Little Smokies, Frankfurters and Bratwurst.
The races were not the only part of Pet Fest that expanded this year. After the event moved into the University of Montana's Adams Center from Caras Park last year, organizer Linda Baumann said there was room to invite even more animal adoption agencies to attend, including organizations based in Idaho and Washington. Of the animals brought to Pet Fest, more than 90 percent end up getting adopted.
“What we do is make the event fun to drive people to come down, and they end up seeing the animals and taking one home,” Baumann said.
The Humane Society of Western Montana all but shut down its shelter on Saturday to bring animals out to Pet Fest. Nicole Nolte, director of operations, said the organization had 15 cats, 15 puppies and three other adult dogs with them for the event. By midday, all the puppies had already found new homes, along with five of the other animals.
“We love Pet Fest," Nolte said. "People come out ready to adopt, and it’s fun to see all of the other adoption centers in the area."
The Humane Society also brought out several of its special-needs animals to raise awareness of the Emily Kantor medical assistance fund that helps pay for their care.
RezQ Dogs, started about eight years ago by Anita Wilke, works almost exclusively to rescue dogs from the Fort Belknap and Rocky Boy reservations.
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“There really are no other shelters in the area,” said Wilke, who is based out of Dodson. “We help those dogs that don’t have another option.”
She said many of the animals on those reservations end up being killed, even if they are healthy, unless they are rescued. RezQ will take any animal from those reservations, so long as it doesn’t have a violent history, and transfer it to another shelter in the state.
“These puppies here, they were found in a dumpster at seven weeks old,” Wilke said, pointing to one of the cages RezQ had brought to Pet Fest.
Peter Rork, president of Dog is My Copilot, set up a table at Pet Fest to raise awareness of his nonprofit organization, which has flown almost 3,000 dogs from shelters in Arizona, New Mexico and California that euthanize adoptable animals to no-kill shelters around the Pacific Northwest. The organization’s plane, based in Polson, can carry up to 84 animals on a single flight.
“The hardest part is finding shelters to take them,” Rork said. “Missoula has been great. They have taken hundreds of animals over the years.”
Rork's organization will be buying a bigger plane to increase capacity later in the year. The group does not charge for its services, using fundraising to gather all the money it needs to continue to operate. Until leaving his practice three years ago to focus on Dog is My Copilot full time, Rork worked as an orthopedic surgeon in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
“I’ve seen probably a half a dozen dogs here today that I remember flying up here, and have come by to say hello,” he said.
Animal Wonders, which has had a table at Pet Fest for years, provided a special presentation of some of its more exotic and unusual creatures. The group rescues animals and then uses them to spread information about the importance of wildlife.
Jessi Knudsen Castaneda, who founded the organization with her husband Augusto Castaneda, had eight different species to show off, including a prehensile-tailed porcupine named Kemosabe, Pearl the a Columbian black-and-white tegu lizard, and Ecuador and Loulou, a pair of conures.