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A Christmas celebration for the dogs

MANATEE -- Before he hits up shopping malls across the country, Santa made a pit stop in Manatee this weekend.

He had hundreds of “good dogs” sit on his lap for a photo at the 13th annual Canine Christmas on Saturday at Bishop Animal Shelter.

Indy, a Chihuahua mix, got a photo.

“He was good,” said Laurie Repke, Indy’s human. “I’m going to put the photo on the Christmas tree.”

Thousands were in attendance, making it one of the event’s busiest years, according to Laurie Crawford, president of the Animal Network.

People and their dogs, who were dressed in their holiday finest, visited booths with information on dog shelters, adoptions, fostering and more.

David Shoemaker and his family even did some Christmas shopping.

“This is our first year and we’ll definitely be back,” said Shoemaker, as he held a bag of dog scarfs emblazoned with the Pittsburgh Steelers logo. His parent’s dogs will be the proud recipients of those.

Shoemaker even got a scarf for Max, his mixed breed, who became a Steelers backer after the family adopted him earlier this year.

Crawford said one of the event’s missions this year was to promote Manatee’s move toward becoming a “no-kill” county. And the best way to do that, she stressed, is to adopt, foster and volunteer to care for these animals.

“We need the community to step up and share their talents,” Crawford said. “They can volunteer or go to a shelter and take photos of the dogs.”

Behavior is the number one reason pets are given up to shelters. So, in response, organizers tried to get more than 100 dogs to simultaneously sit on command in hopes of breaking a world record. Other activities included a talent show and a 50-50 raffle. Some organizations even set up kissing booths, where people made a donation to smooch a pooch.

For Repke, the day also came with a special mission: find a friend for Indy.

“We might adopt another dog,” she said. “We see a few Chihuahuas here that we like.”

Overall, the day was a success for Mary Lupi, president of Safe Haven Animal Rescue, and others who went in with the intention to adopt out as many animals as possible.

“I think we adopted eight or more,” Lupi said.

She said they also got several applications from people who requested specific breeds, and several foster pet parents applications.

“You can see all the animal lovers,” she said. “To me this is a wonderful event.”