Millions of dollars in fees and pedigrees are at stake in the 15th annual Boca Grande Womans Club Dog Show.
But priceless island pride is at stake in the popular pooch parade and awards show.
"A lot of people bring in beautifully bred dogs. We've had Westminster winners and we've also had the mutts," publicist Charlie Field said. "The difference is, in this dog show, personality counts a lot. A mutt will go by the judges and wink at them and he'll be the Boca Bowser (Best in Show). And whomever gets Boca Bowser has breeding rights and they go for millions of dollars. (laughs)"
Two judges - Bill Heisel and Boca Grande Womans Club President Marjorie Webb - will preside over the competition in a move designed to save time in what has become a three-hour show. Four judges had previously been used.
Field said the popular event, which starts with a 10 a.m. parade Saturday, March 23, at Boca Grande Community Center, is mostly played for fun although serious dog owners do compete.
What: 15th annual Boca Grande Womans Club Dog Show
When: starts with a 10 a.m. parade Saturday, March 23
Where: Boca Grande Community Center
Why: Vie for prizes in categories such as tricks, costumes, owner-dog lookalike and musical chairs. Best in Show: Breeds only win "Boca Bowser" and Oldest Dog in Show named "Boca Geezer."
Breed categories: sporting, Hounds, working, terrier, toy, non-sporting, herding, miscellaneous, designer (usually poodles bred with other breeds e.g. "cockapoodle").
Entry fee: $25
Deadline: March 11
Admission: $10, youths under 16 free
A maximum of 75 dogs can be entered for a $25 entry fee by the March 11 deadline. Canines must be owned by Boca Grande residents, houseguests or island workers.
Volunteer "good shepherds" led by Margo Freeman of the Woman's Club work to keep the various breeds on a short leash and prevent any doggie disruptions.
"Margo does a lot of work," Field said. 'She's been the one."
Julian Keevil replaces the retired Dick Lyman as the show's front man this season, Field said.
"He's the interviewer who interviews the dogs as they come on," Field said with a wink. "He interviews the dog owners."
Field said the biennial dog show was held in consecutive years beginning in 1997 but interest suffered as the same dogs competed. Going every other year helped mix up the competition and kept it fresh, he said.
"We tried every year the first couple of times and it bombed," Field said. "We had the same dogs and same people and there wasn't any excitement about it."
Special events include: tricks, costumes, owner-dog lookalike and musical chairs. Admission $10 with youths under 16 free. (Kids under 16 free). Best in Show: Breeds only win "Boca Bowser" and Oldest Dog in Show named "Boca Geezer."
The best trick last year involved a dog fetching a beer for his owner in the crowd.
"It was a beauty," Field said. "The woman said 'I think daddy is thirsty' and handed the dog a beer. He jumped off the stage, jumped into the crowd, looked around and found his master and gave him the beer. He won the tricks right there."
Proceeds go to the Suncoast Humane Society and the Boca Grande Woman's club Scholarship Fund. Field said little less than $2,000 was raised last year.
"It's a lot of fun," Field said. "I enjoy it. It keeps me young."