First published in The Record, April 14, 2018
Yes, in Fact, the pet expo was super.
We didn't even have to walk inside. The moment we drove into the parking lot we knew the 2018 Super Pet Expo was going to be fantastic.
There, in a spot near the entrance, sat a Ford pickup wrapped in an ad for Brewbiscuits, “beer grain biscuits for dogs.” Nearby a van advertised a company called Doody Calls, and the corporate tagline, “We Scoop Poop!”
“In many families you have both parents working, and the kids are all in activities. People don’t have time to clean up after their dogs, and it spirals out of control,” said Lynne Midtgaard, who co-owns the Doody Calls franchise of Middlesex County with her husband, Mark. “That’s where we come in.”
Excellent. Because if you need anything for your pet – literally anything you can possibly think of, plus a bunch of stuff you can’t, like professional pooper scoopers, sequined cockatiel tutus or doggie bow ties made of turquoise silk and knotted with Swarovski crystals (retail price: $225) – you might find this expo particularly super.
“A lot of this stuff you can find online,” said Taylor Simeon, 27, a Somerset resident who attended the show with Nova, her 1 year-old German shepherd. “But most of it I wouldn’t even know to look for. I didn’t know it existed until I saw it here.”
Very, very exciting
The convention started Friday at the New Jersey Convention & Expo Center in Edison. It ends Sunday.
As exciting as it may be for humans, this news is even more exciting for dogs.
Standing near the entrance, Nova squatted on her hind legs, yelped, and lunged at a golden retriever, who seemed equally eager to meet.
“Boba!” yelled Simeon, using her dog’s nickname. “Get your attitude right!”
Milo, another 1 year-old German shepherd, stood in front of Fido’s Fancy by Pursonal Hang Ups, a stall that sells dresses, raincoats and onesie pajamas for dogs. Every time another dog walked by, Milo barked, leaped into the air, crouched on the concrete floor, and attempted to mash his black nose against the other dog’s face.
“This is his first time,” said MIlo's owner Ronald Reyes, 27, of Matawan, “and he’s losing his mind.”
Other species proved less enthusiastic. Beast is a Maine Coon cat who resembles a mountain lion and weighs 30 pounds. Beast’s owner, Chris Kolenz, carried the cat in her arms like a mother holding a squirrelly baby.
“He’s a chill cat. He likes belly rubs,” said Kolenz, 45, a Warren County resident who founded Only Maine Coon Rescue, a group that finds homes for abandoned members of the breed. “But he gets so heavy!”
When her arms grew tired, Kolenz set the big cat on the floor. A line of people formed, hoping to meet Beast and take his picture.
The line included people with dogs. Kolenz wasn’t having it. Using her calves, she blocked three dogs from getting too close.
One especially nosy pup named Sandy got her face so close to Beast’s rear end that Kolenz lifted her foot and shoved the dog away.
“It’s OK," said Sandy’s owner, Ted Kloza, 53. “She just likes to play.”
Kolenz wasn’t worried about Beast. She worried about Sandy’s face. If the dog ever succeeded in getting Beast’s attention, Sandy would meet an animal as friendly as a bull and cuddly as a porcupine.
“If he gets into a fight he might tear out a dog’s eye,” Kolenz said. “That might end in a lawsuit, which is all I need.”
Events, planned and not
Touring the wide aisles of the expo center on Saturday provided a constant stream of spontaneous events, as hundreds of dogs sniffed one another's bottoms, got into fights or fell asleep in baby carriages.
“She doesn't care about much of anything. She just wants to sit on your lap and lick you,” Kelly Moyer, 34, said of Hattie Mae, a dog with the face of a Chihuahua and a body like a sack of coins. “She’s ridiculous. She’s so fat!”
The expo also included a schedule of planned events, many focused on different breeds’ agility (or lack thereof). There were demonstrations for dogs, naturally, and for cats, whose agility doesn’t seem to require further demonstration.
Also there was Puddin’ Pie, a chubby black potbellied pig who wore a chain of plastic pearl earrings around her neck and a sunhat tied to her head.
Even without her costume, Puddin’ Pie is not a particularly agile animal.
But with coaxing and treats from Kim Miller, an agility trainer with the Pig Placement Network, a rescue group, the pig managed to spin in circles, tap the keys of a children’s piano, and open and close the lid of a toybox.
“They learn tricks a lot quicker than a dog,” said Miller, who has rescued abandoned pigs since 2006, and now keeps 26 pigs on her 10-acre farm in Auburn, Pennsylvania. “They’re highly food motivated.”
For many people at the expo the biggest event came in the middle. The competition for "best dressed pet" started at 1 p.m. on the expo center's main stage. Contestants included Beast (dressed like a unicorn, obviously), 17 dogs and a bunny named Victoria, who was carried onstage wearing a pair of fuzzy blue fairy wings.
Bella, a beige Shihpoo, came dressed as a ladybug. Giselle, a Chihuahua, wore a dress of black and white feathers beneath a faux fur shawl with white sequins.
Baxter, a Yorkshire terrier, took the stage in a black top hat, white cuffs and a sparkly black tuxedo.
“Metallic colors are really big right now,” said Ada Nieves, one of three judges for the event. She earned a certificate in pet fashion design from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, and creates pet costumes for "Saturday Night Live" and the Oscars.
“You try to make the pet fashion as trendy as can be," she said. "This spring flower prints are very popular.”
A dog named CC wore a green dress with a silvery veil.
“That green color is just divine for spring,” said Dana Humphrey, the event’s emcee.
Humphrey is a resident of Manhattan. She travels the country as “The Pet Lady,” offering advice on TV shows and at pet conventions.
Given her small living quarters and busy schedule, Humphrey was asked how she manages to keep a pet.
“I have a frog,” she said.