HARKER HEIGHTS — The pool at Carl Levin Park was the place to be Saturday morning for humans and their four-legged family members alike.

“Working today is definitely more fun than a regular day,” said Danielle Nelson, a lifeguard for the city of Harker Heights. “It’s definitely been a different experience watching both dogs and people in the pool.”

Dogs of all shapes and sizes converged at the park for the fourth annual Puppy Palooza, put on by the Harker Heights Parks and Recreation Department.

“Being able to swim with your dogs in the pool is a big incentive for us to keep coming back,” said Linda McNabb, who has been coming to the event since its inception. Her dogs Buddy, 5, and Bradshaw, 2, both Saint Bernards, were a big hit with children.

“We call Buddy our Walmart greeter because whenever we go to a dog park, he will go over to greet the humans before entertaining the dogs,” she said.

The festival booths offered food, dog training, medical information, swimming, an agility course and several pet adoption and rescue agencies.

“This is a great opportunity for people in this area to come out and meet other

dog lovers, to socialize their dogs and to visit some of the vendors and maybe even contribute to some of the nonprofits and adopt a pet,” said Nichole Broemer, the city’s recreation and events coordinator.

Several dogs found their forever homes before the event wound down.

Highlights of the festival included a dog fashion show and several contests: Best Trick, Smallest and Largest Dog and Best Dog-owner look-alike.

For Nick and Amy Siwek, the festival is a family affair for them and their four Great Danes.

“Since we don’t have human children, these are our children,” Amy said, adding that her pack is all related. “They are as much a part of our family as children would be and all dog owners should treat them that way instead of leaving them tied up outside.”

Family ties also run deep for Harker Heights K-9 Officer Chris Villella.

Era, a 9-year-old Belgian Malinois, has been his partner for the past 8½ years.

“The city of Harker Heights may own her, but she comes home with me every night,” he said. “I always have someone to talk to and to keep me company when I’m out on a patrol. She’s the best partner I could ever ask for.”

Along with helping to judge the day’s contests, Villella and Era were on hand to do meet-and-greets.

“I love Puppy Palooza because I love dogs,” said Villella’s oldest son, Andrew, 5, who was quick to show off his new puppy, Ace, a 10-week-old Chihuahua mix who came dressed as a prisoner. “I feed him and walk him and love on him. Dogs are the best.”

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