Pet festival entertains, educates

Six-year-old Alysa Hamilton pets Pat Olcott, a retired racing horse, during Petstravaganza at the Stock Pavilion on Saturday. Adam Babcock

Six-year-old Alysa Hamilton pets Pat Olcott, a retired racing horse, during Petstravaganza at the Stock Pavilion on Saturday. Adam Babcock

By Andy Seifert

Outside the Stock Pavilion Saturday afternoon, a bloodhound, anxiously sniffing the ground, suddenly took off running.

Twenty or so children, most of them no more than 3-feet tall, closely followed the dog, devotedly running to keep pace.

And, after a 10 second pause, a herd of parents followed, walking just fast enough to keep sight of their respective children.

The bloodhound was a main attraction at Petstravaganza, an ACES-sponsored animal festival.

Amy Fischer, co-chair of the event and University staff member, said the event was intended to educate both kids and adults about animals. Attendees learned everything from keeping pets healthy to interesting animal trivia, like “do horses burp?”

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The answer is no.

“So many issues with animals are negative,” Fischer said. “These problems could be fixed with just a little education.”

Fischer estimated that 40 to 50 “well-behaved” animals filled the pavilion. Most were dogs, but horses, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, hedgehogs and a snake also entertained visitors.

During the event’s highlight, a volunteer from the crowd was chosen to act as a “lost child” for the bloodhound to find. The bloodhound picked up the scent of the volunteer and lead the crowd to the child, who was tucked away under a pine tree.

Other attractions included the CARE center, where kids were able to see, hear and smell the way pets do. One child, with a paper funnel to his ear allowing him to hear as dogs do, pointed at his parents’ shoes and proclaimed, “I can hear you step!”

Gail Schmall, of Urbana, brought her two cousins, Bobby, 12, and Katie, 9, to Petstravaganza, and all three of them found the bloodhound and the event as a whole to be “cool,” though Bobby was disappointed two of his favorite animals – elephants and bald eagles – were not there.

“We had an afternoon to do something and they like animals,” Schmall said, “And the bloodhound was a very neat idea.”

Fischer said the animals were all very cooperative, and even co-existed well in the Stock Pavilion.

“The two horses came early and there was a lot of vocalization between the two,” Fischer said, “But really, other than that, all the animals have been very well-behaved. No complaints.”

Fischer said the best thing about Petstravaganza was the numerous groups that contributed to the event, including Champaign County Animal Control, the University’s Pre-Vet Club, and the Champaign County Humane Society.

“The neatest thing is that we have so many diverse groups working together,” Fischer said. “The community is really being represented.”