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Four Freedoms goes to the dogs

By Staff | Nov 13, 2011

Dog owners and their canine companions had an opportunity Saturday afternoon to socialize and participate in a variety of games at the sixth annual LabFest in Cape Coral.

The festival, held from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Four Freedoms Park, featured vendor exhibits, contests and demonstrations. There was a blessing of the labs and a remembrance ceremony, and the Calendar Girls performed. Event organizer Lou Simmons estimated that approximately 500 turned out for the festival.

“This was great,” he said. “Best one in six years.”

The event typically attracts between 150 and 200 canines.

Simmons explained that the festival is designed to bring dogs and their owners together.

“It’s just the camaraderie between the dogs,” he said.

Bonita Springs resident Sue Carew was in attendance Saturday with Gabby, a 5-year-old Labrador retriever, and Izzy, a 10-month-old yorkie. She said the festival sounded like fun for her dogs.

“She’s a lab, and she’s sociable,” Carew said of Gabby. “She needs to get out.”

It was their first time at the Cape event, but they have been to similar ones, she explained.

Admission was free, but a $5 donation was suggested per dog. All proceeds, including funds raised through a raffle, benefit the Labrador Retriever Rescue of Florida and the Wagging Tails Dog Park.

The city’s Parks and Recreation Department co-sponsored the event with the Cape Dog Bakery.

According to organizers, the festival raised approximately $3,000 last year.

Two-year-old Sadie, a rescue dog herself, dropped by Saturday with her owners, Dave and Robyn Holmes, and their children, Sam, 8, and Hannah, 6. Robyn Holmes said her family attends each year.

“We love LabFest,” she said, adding that the event provides Sadie with a chance to socialize.

“Any time you can get out with your dog is a good day,” Holmes said.

The family likes to check out the vendors at the festival, but they also enjoy watching some of the activities for the dogs, like the peanut butter eating contest. Other games scheduled throughout the day included Simon Says, the Longest Stay, the Great Lab Sleep Off and a six-legged egg and spoon race.

“And the opportunity to swim is always good,” Holmes said, referring to the Bimini Basin at Four Freedoms Park and the fact that some dogs like to go swimming while at the festival.

As for improving on the event, the family suggested longer hours and food and drink vendors.

According to Simmons, there were 20 vendors in attendance Saturday. Some of those present were dock diving dog groups, pet boarding facilities, a mobile groomer and dog food manufacturers. Labrador Retriever Rescue of Florida also had a booth with several labs on hand that were available for adoption.

Former City Manager Terry Stewart, a Cape resident and the current Fort Myers Beach town manager, picked up a gift certificate Saturday from one dock diving dog group for his lab, 4-year-old Tia Maria. He explained that she does not really swim, and that his family has a pool that they wish she could enjoy.

Stewart brought Tia Maria with him to the festival.

“I wanted to have her be around other animals,” he said, adding that she was behaving well.

Stewart explained that LabFest is a community builder, which is why he attends.

“It’s a community-building event,” he said. “It’s another way of bringing people together.”

Four Freedoms Park is at 4818 Tarpon Court.

For more information about the Cape Dog Bakery, visit: www.capedogbakery.com.

Labrador Retriever Rescue of Florida is a non-profit organization dedicated to placing purebred Labradors in loving permanent homes. The organization also provides foster care, veterinary care and microchips for the labs in its adoption program. For additional information, visit: www.lrrof.org.