BUNNY IN THE CITY: Savannah Kennel Club's third-annual Wagfest

I pull up at Guy Minick Park to check out the Savannah Kennel Club’s third-annual Wagfest on Saturday, Sept. 14 and 15, and I'm greeted by the effusive energy of SKC board member Jackie Tatum and volunteer Staci Stover. As the chatty ladies sell tickets for doggie activities, I chat with them about their day jobs.

Staci, an Atlanta native, has a full time gig at the Savannah Convention Center while Jackie, a Savannah native and Beach High School grad, shares, “I own Critter Sit Doggie Daycare.” Our conversation is cut short because City of Savannah Alderman, Nick Palumbo, has arrived and graciously agrees to pose with Gus, a five year old basset hound and his dad, Chris Lunsford.

It’s a perfect start to a Saturday when I see Savannah Chamber of Commerce’s Conni Reynolds and her marvelous daughter Reagan. I may have spent a lot of time with Conni at the Air Dominance Center for the William Tell 2023 competition last week, but I have not had enough face-time with her precocious nine year old!

Looking like a future superstar in her tan booties and silver star shirt, Reagan tells about her life plans. “I can see myself as an actress. I already sing and dance, plus I love doing makeup and performing,” shares the Savannah Christian 4th grader. Alert: Reagan is a walking superstar right now!

Making it into the park, I see my Step One Automotive team giving out some good looking patriotic T-shirts. Hugging the only dude in the trio, I ask Savannah State University student, Aaron Walker, how he is enjoying his internship. “I love how many events I have gotten to attend, the videos I have gotten to do and how fast paced the automotive world is,” shares the social media content producer.

Standing with him is Cane Corso, owner Natasha Federico and Step One Automotive group’s powerhouse marketing director, Weslyn “Mahogany” Bowers. Hitting the ground running in her new role, Weslyn is excited about her new relationships with Habitat for Humanity. “Zeril Samples and his team do amazing things in the community. Partnering with Habitat for our four year anniversary is the step in the right direction,” shares Mahogany.

Walking up is Savannah Kennel Club’s vice president, Donna Merkle, who excitedly shares, “This is the third year for Wagfest and the fourth year for Fast and Furriest, a 5K race that sold out with 175 participants. We are also delivering our second AKC disaster relief trailer to Effingham County later this month.” 

Passing by the Royal Canin sponsor table, I make my way over to talk with Bright and Shine Dental Cleaning’s Harold Nelson. We discuss his “non-anesthesia deep cleaning for cats and dogs” and his love of sports and coaching. Harold has three of his own dogs—a French bulldog, an American bully and a pit-bull terrier.

In the tent next to Harold are four ladies, all representing Northern states. Jessica Pollack, Callahan Card, Taylor Davis and Kristin Welch chat with me about opening in Hardeeville last June and being the only regional 24-hour emergency hospital for cats and dogs.

After a mini posing session with the ladies, I march over to meet the Coastal Therapy Dogs team led by the fierce Sheila Phillips. With 35 human volunteers and their therapy dogs, Sheila tells me, “I wanted a local therapy dog group so I started CTD. We go to nursing homes, schools, hospitals, especially the Children’s Hospital and hospice.”

Walking by their tent are the "Friedman Twinkies," four young brothers who had appearances in the movie, Oppenheimer. Attempting to corral the spirited little dudes proves to be impossible, so I follow the sound of music and head over to a loudspeaker tent where Jim Fox is holding court. 

Collecting tickets for the rally, the obedience obstacle course behind him, Jim sets out to prove my theory of meeting my most fascinating person last. The Air National Guard’s Chief Master Sergeant is the real deal! Knowing how cool the 165th Airlift Wing is, I grabbed a chair and learned the guy sitting in front of me had his own frisbee dog team!

“My ‘Border Pawtrol Disc Dog Team’ has two Border Collies and two Australian shepherds-three boys and one girl dog, and they are all rescue dogs,” shares Jim. He tells me about meeting a Georgia peach (his wife), turning into a full-blown Southern country boy himself, and the possibility of retirement.

The convo gets a little bit more amped when he shows me a video of a dude I keep hearing about. “Have you listened to the podcast ‘In the Red Clay?’ It’s about Billie “Sunday” Birt, the most dangerous man in Georgia history. I just happened to be in Winder, Georgia and met the son of this southern mafia legend. I ended up riding around town with Stoney Birt in a souped-up muscle car and you would not believe the things I heard! You talk about a character! You have to meet this guy,” exclaims Jim.

By the time Jim has finished telling me his story, I have asked for Stoney’s cell number, planned my next trip to include Winder, Georgia and have downloaded the podcast to my phone! Because I have spent the last hour yapping away, I have missed lunch so I head over to the Naked Dog to grab some elote fries from the benevolent Jim and Patsy Hood before heading out for the day.

During my last lap past the barn hunt and agility course, I chat with Donna and learn that the money they raise will help finance another AKC disaster relief trailer for the Lowcountry, provide enrichment equipment for Chatham County dog parks, and fund the purchase and training of police dogs through the AKC adopt a top program.

Check them out next year, same day, September 14 and 15, and same place—Guy Minick Park off Sallie Mood Drive!

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