Amid fire, upheaval, Pet Alliance uses Orlando event to thank community

Paws in the Park takes place at Lake Eola Park Saturday

A boy and his dog at Paws in the Park in Orlando. (Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando, Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando)

ORLANDO, Fla. – One of the biggest pet events of the year takes place this Saturday at Lake Eola in Orlando -- the 28th Paws in the Park.

It’s the second largest fundraising event for Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando, the animal shelter that is still in a state of flux since a fire ripped through its main shelter facility last year.

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The shelter’s services are scattered in different parts of Orange and Seminole counties. Work on a temporary facility in the Parramore area of downtown Orlando to house offices and adoptable cats is going slower than executive director Stephen Bardy hoped.

Bardy says they’re being meticulous about electrical permitting, which is slowing things down. It’s understandable -- Pet Alliance believes the accidental fire that destroyed the shelter in September, killing 17 cats, was electrical.

“Once we get that, it should be about eight weeks to get (the shelter) situated. The city’s been helpful where they could be,” Bardy said.

The dogs will be housed at PAGO’s Seminole County shelter, but off-site adoption events will be held on the weekends at the temporary shelter once it’s opened.

Also, once the new shelter is built to replace the one lost in the fire, PAGO plans to turn the downtown facility into a low-coast vet clinic.

“I believe we have a good solid vision from that. We’ve really taken a huge batch of lemons and turned it into a long-term batch of lemonade,” Bardy said.

Meanwhile, PAGO officials are starting the initial design work with its team next week. The earliest the new shelter on John Young Parkway will open is in winter 2023, but Bardy says if they open in 2024, he’ll be impressed.

So far, PAGO has raised $4 million for the new shelter, out of $14 million needed, but for now, Bardy says they still have a shelter to run, and they need to keep that going.

That’s what Paws in the Park is for.

“You know, we do the peer-to-peer fundraising, but this is also our thank you to the community,” Bardy said. “It’s kind of that thanks, we’ve been here since 1937.”

The event around Lake Eola promises to be bigger than ever -- certainly bigger than last year because of the pandemic. A dock platform is back for dock diving, along with a new foam experience where dogs can play in foam, lure courses, and more vendors and food trucks, along with the wildly popular beer garden.

The costume contest is also back and has been expanded. Adoptable dogs will be on-site from PAGO and some partner rescues. There will also be a mobile vaccine unit.

The event is free to the public, but the event is also a fundraiser for operational expenses. The shelter is trying to raise $150,000 -- so far community fundraisers have raised $133,000.

“The people love it, the dogs love it, and you’re helping out Pet Alliance,” Bardy said.

Paws in the Park is Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

About the Author:

Christie joined the ClickOrlando team in November 2021.