Friday, April 12, 2002, Vol. 116, No. 72

By JENNIFER MURLEY Festival fosters future for four-pawed friends By JENNIFER MURLEY The Daily News There are countless reasons to own a pet. Dog owners say mans best friend is more loyal than the average person, and provides "unconditional love." Cat owners boast its hard to beat the good company and low maintenance of their feline companions. But, local animal shelters say the real reason to own one of their pets is simple. There are just too many homeless cats and dogs to go anywhere else. "When you have six puppies to place, you can go out and get six friends," said Ken Childress, Memphis Animal Shelter manager. "But, you know what, every month Ive got 1,500 (animals). How can we find 1,500 homes every month?" The dilemma has inspired a unique family event known as the Gimme Shelter Pet Adoption Festival 2002, sponsored by PetFinder.com and Petco, which will take place 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 27 at Patriot Lake in Shelby Farms. The event is free and open to public, and its leashed pets. Up to 50 local animal shelters will descend upon the park, offering dogs and puppies, cats and kittens, even exotic pets such as snakes for adoption. Average adoption fees begin around $45, and include all shots and sterilization. Veterinarians also will be hand offering discounted vaccinations and microchip implants, a form of pet identification, for existing pets. "Animal and pet overpopulation is a societal problem," Childress said. "The failure is the community, not us because theyre the ones who are turning these animals out." For example, Childress said the Memphis Animal Shelter, which has operated for more than 30 years out of an airport warehouse, takes in roughly 15,000 animals each year. About 60 percent of those animals were picked up on the streets, he said. The remaining 40 percent were willfully dropped off by their owners, he said. Although some of the animals are old, diseased and ill-tempered, about 75 percent of them, regardless of health, age or breeding, are destroyed each year between 30 to 50 a day, Childress said. Michelle Buckalew, co-organizer of the adoption festival, hopes the event will steer people away from buying animals at pet stores, or from "backyard breeders," which she said contributes to the problems faced by local shelters. For each animal acquired through breeders or pet stores, an equal number of healthy animal shelter pets that couldve been adopted are destroyed. Any money raised at the event will be divided among the participating shelters, she said. "Whether we write everyone a $100 check or a $200 check, its still going to bring awareness," she said. "The only way we are going to get a handle on all the millions of animals that are destroyed each year is if we start going to the shelters, and thats what were trying to inspire and educate the public about." In addition to numerous pet-friendly vendors, the festival will feature live music, face painting and barbecue. The Memphis Police Department dog squad and K-9 unit will be on hand, as well as cable televisions Animal Planet stars Anne Marie Lucas and Timothy Stack. City councilman E.C. Jones, a consistent supporter of local funding for a new city animal shelter, will dole out distinguished service awards to individuals and organizations who have made a positive difference in animals lives. Linda Jones, co-owner of the gourmet animal health food store Three Dog Bakery, has hosted several dog rescue groups at her Collierville store and is one of the festival vendors. As an active member of the Memphis Golden Retriever Rescue group, Jones said the adoption fest is a prime setting for numerous local shelters to simultaneously get much needed exposure. "I think its a nice way for everyone to cooperate," Jones said. "Ultimately, their aim is all the same, which is to help dogs find a good home and provide sanctuary for those who in the meantime arent ready to be adopted, and hopefully keep them alive."