Tails go waggin’ in Pasco County’s parks

The Tail Wagon Adoption bus rolled into Crews Lake Wilderness Park with a special cargo to unload on a Saturday morning in April.

Volunteer dog handlers hooked leashes to Hercules, Luna, Poe, Prince and Zeus for a daily constitutional that wasn’t the usual routine for these four-legged residents of Pasco County’s animal shelter.

Hercules, a mixed-breed, leads the way as a volunteer holds the leash during the Pasco Park Walk at Crews Lake Wilderness Park in Spring Hill. (Fred Bellett)

Once a month, however, selected canines get to go on a field trip — when Pasco County Animal Services and the county’s parks, recreation and natural resources department team up for Pasco Park Walks.

A handful of adoptable dogs trot and stroll through one of four Pasco parks beginning at 9 a.m., on the first Saturday of every month.

The public is invited to bring their dogs for the “pack walk.”

Or, visitors can come without a dog to simply enjoy a community walk in the park.

And, those who are so inclined can adopt a dog on the spot.

Sometimes, people are visiting a park they’ve never seen before.

So, in addition to finding some permanent homes for pets that need them, the walks also help showcase county parks.

“I see a lot of bright new faces,” said Rachel Stever, education coordinator for Pasco County Animal Services. “This is awesome.”

During the recent event, roughly a dozen people pulled into Crews Lake in Spring Hill bringing along all sorts of dogs.

Land O’ Lakes residents, Amanda and Melvin White, took Amelia, their 6-year-old Papillon, on the Pasco Park Walks event in April at Crews Lake Wilderness Park.

The dogs were big and small, and medium size. Some had long hair. Others, short hairs. There were short legs or long legs.

They had one thing in common, though: Their tails were wagging.

Shady Hills’ resident Teresa Simmons brought her long-haired dachshund, Shelby. “I wish there was one (walk) every weekend. It’s nice to get out and be with others.”

Besides showing off their personalities to possible future owners, the shelter dogs have a chance to hone their pack walk manners.

Stever said the dogs selected for the walks are usually larger and older dogs that are less socialized, and harder to place.

“There’s a place they fit in,” said Stever. “But, these dogs are skipped over because they don’t look great in the shelter.”

On the walks, she added, “They’re learning how to better manage their issues.”

Palm Harbor resident Libby Bryant works as a veterinarian’s technician. She brought her 9-year-old black Labrador, Apollo.

The park walks are for a good cause, she said.

“It gets (the dogs) out of the cubicle setting. It’s kind of making a different mentality and lets them know it’s OK to be around other dogs,” she said. “Most are rescue situations.”

This was Bryant’s first visit to Crews Lake.

“I didn’t even know where it was located,” she said.

Tarpon Springs’ resident Nancy Boyce volunteers at Pasco’s animal shelter. Without volunteers, she said there are dogs that don’t get a daily walk.

Pasco Park Walks are held once a month, on a rotating basis, at four Pasco County parks. The walks showcase the county’s parks, while homeowners walk their pet dogs and animal shelter volunteers walk adoptable dogs.

She has three dogs, including one she is fostering.

At Crews Lake, she started the walk with Zeus, a young, mixed breed dog that tugged at his leash, full of eager energy.

“I love dogs,” Boyce said. “We need volunteers so badly.”

Hercules is a mixed breed that has been at the shelter the longest, and is a favorite of volunteers and county staff members. He was adopted and returned to the shelter when he didn’t get along with the adopter’s other dog. He isn’t fond of cats.

He probably would do best in a home as the only dog, Stever said.

On the walk, he is friendly and very approachable, pausing to sniff plants and flowers along the trail.

“He’ll cuddle with you like a couch potato,” Stever said. But, she added, “It’s hard to find someone who wants an only pet.”

Lutz resident Alba Parise walked 4-year-old Poe, a mixed breed stray that came to the shelter in December. “She’s shy,” said Parise.

She enjoys volunteering as a dog handler.

“I can spend quality time with the dogs at the shelter and let them see what it’s like to be loved,” Parise said.

There are happy stories that come from the shelter when dogs are adopted, said volunteer Brenda Gale.

There are other benefits as well.

“I’ve made dozens of friends with people who share the same passion, a passion for the pups,” she said.

One dog on the Crews Lake walk was an international rescue.

Kathy Jeffers saved 16-month-old Piper from a South Korean meat market. The country has about 17,000 dog farms that supply meat to restaurants and groceries.

Piper, a Jindo breed, was days from going to the slaughterhouse. Jeffers picked him up in Atlanta in February through the South Korean nonprofit Save Korean Dogs.

The dog walk event benefits both dogs and potential owners, said Jeffers, who is fostering Piper.

“It’s a good thing to get him socialized with other dogs and people,” she said.

It also gave her a preview of what Piper will be like when he is adopted.

“I’m really proud of him. He did really good,” Jeffers said.

What: Pasco Park Walks
When: May 5 at 9 a.m.
Where: Withlacoochee River Park, 12449 Withlacoochee Blvd., Dade City
Cost: Free
Details: Walks last 45 minutes to an hour. Park locations are rotated monthly.
Info: PascoCountyFl.net

Park Walk Rules and Guidelines

  • Bring secure 6-foot leashes with collars. (Note: No retractable leashes are permitted).
  • No prong or electrical collars are permitted.
  • Respect everyone’s space. No face-to-face contact permitted among dogs.
  • One handler per pet is required.
  • Be sure to bring poop bags.
  • Be sure to bring water.

Published April 25, 2018

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