Sid Cranston of Wilson and his 2-year-old mixed breed, Benson, won the owner look-alike contest for their matching grey beards.
Becket Panfil, 13, of Angola and his Yorkiepoo, Horton, won best trick when the dog rolled to his side and played dead.
And Christine Feliciano of Buffalo took home the best costume award for dressing up her beagle, Lola, in a pink dress and baby’s hat.
But if there was a throne for a top dog Sunday at Dog Days of Kenmore 2013, it surely would have belonged to Phoenix, the Jack Russell terrier puppy who narrowly survived being doused in lighter fluid and set on fire in October. Two Buffalo residents were convicted in that attack.
Cheers and applause from a cluster of about 100 people heralded Phoenix’s arrival in Mang Park as he proceeded to hold court at the tent for the Kenmore Village Improvement Society, which organized the afternoon event.
“He is doing wonderful,” said Judi Bunge, Phoenix’s new owner and the Buffalo Small Animal Hospital veterinary technician who provided his primary care. “As you can see he has some scars and those will remain but his leg is totally functional. He is a happy, young, playful puppy.”
In between posing for photos and nuzzling small children, Phoenix’s regalness was on full display as he romped under sunny skies around the park’s perimeter, leading a parade of Irish setters, border collies, greyhounds and countless other breeds.
Bluegrass band Creek Bend changed the lyrics to marching tune “McNamara’s Band” to fit the occasion: “Oh, me name is Little Phoenix, I’m the leader of the band.”
“It still amazes me,” Bunge said of Phoenix’s celebrity status. “I can’t believe the following that he has and how emotional people get when they meet him.”
Animal rights advocates have seized upon Phoenix’s popularity to push for their agenda. Phoenix and Bunge were in Albany recently for Animal Advocacy Day.
State Sen. Mark J. Grisanti updated the crowd of dog-lovers Sunday about bills he supports that address animal cruelty. One such bill – a strengthening of “Buster’s Law” that he co-sponsored and passed the Senate last week – would create a registry of convicted animal abusers and require them to undergo a psychiatric evaluation.
“It is incumbent upon owners and pet stores to check that particular registry – it’s very easy to do – because those individuals are not supposed to be owning dogs unless they’re cleared off the registry first,” said Grisanti, who was a judge at Sunday’s contests and brought his own dogs – a white bichon named Fredo and black schipperke named Kody, both wearing Hawaiian shirts.
Another bill that has passed the Assembly and Senate would allow local governments to enact their own laws and ordinances to regulate the “puppy mill” industry. Right now, Grisanti said, federal and state laws don’t provide adequate oversight leading to deplorable conditions at these commercial facilities. Local governments and non-profits are left to foot the bill of caring for animals after raids, he said.
“We’re confident – hopeful – that the governor’s going to sign it,” Grisanti said.
And a third would mandate training for animal control officers.
“It’ll help them to be better equipped to handle situations not only to protect themselves but protect the animal from having undue harm done to them,” said Grisanti, who pointed to a 2009 case of a Lackawanna animal control officer who shot to death a mother cat and two of her kittens and was cleared of criminal charges.
The Kenmore Village Improvement Society holds the event not only to offer dogs a chance to socialize but also to spotlight adoption groups that work to find good homes for pets, said the organization’s president, Melissa Foster, who estimated turnout Sunday at around 5,000.
“That’s the whole reason that we do this,” said Foster, whose civic group presented donations to five of the agencies on hand Sunday. “We really value dogs as being a wonderful part of our families.”
As for Phoenix, who turns 1 at the end of June, his social calendar continues to fill up. Those who missed him Sunday will have another chance to meet him July 13 at the “Bark-B-Que” fundraiser for the City of Buffalo Animal Shelter.
“I hope he can return the favor to the public as they did to him,” Bunge said. “Because he has a great fan following.”