August 20, 2011 9:27 pm  •  By GWEN FLORIO of the Missoulian

Mocha didn’t dress up in a fancy new costume at Pet Fest on Saturday. Even her collar was second-hand.

She didn’t lick peanut butter from a plastic spoon clenched between her owner’s teeth. She doesn’t have an owner.

And she didn’t sprint across the Caras Park stage during the Wiener Dog Dash. The chocolate Labrador’s legs are way too long, and besides, she only has three of them.

But Mocha’s the reason Pet Fest exists – Mocha and too many other dogs and cats like her.

The annual Caras Park event staged by Marketplace Media showcases pet businesses and also encourages people to adopt pets from shelters.

Mocha, for instance, was there along with a couple of other dogs and several cats from the Thompson River Animal Care Shelter in Thompson Falls.

The big, brown dog with the take-me-home eyes has been at the shelter for four days now, after recovering from surgery to remove a front leg injured in a swimming accident, said the shelter’s Roseanne Lundberg.

Mocha’s previous owners no longer wanted her, but 9-year-old Skyler Stead does. The Stead family is in the market for a new dog because their old one, a 150-pound chocolate Lab named Walter, died recently at the age of 13. Skyler ran his hands again and again across Mocha’s back before Lundberg returned her to her crate.

“I especially want to adopt that one,” Skyler said softly, even after his dad explained that, with a 5-month-old baby, the family might wait a little longer before adding another new member to the household.

But Lundberg remained hopeful on Mocha’s behalf. One of Mocha’s kennelmates had already been adopted Saturday, she said. And down the row, the Humane Society of Western Montana was doing brisk business in cat adoptions, in addition to placing three puppies.

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VIDEO: Wiener Dog Dash

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The adoption theme continued during Pet Fest’s premier event, the Wiener Dog Dash, with its Li’l Smokies, Frankfurter and Bratwurst age categories.

Mayor John Engen, who called the races, reminded competitors and onlookers that all of his own pets are adopted, including Moose, a Siamese cross cat the Engens got last year at Pet Fest.

They also have Odie, a Labradoodle, and Artie the greyhound, both of which – like Mocha – were way too big for Saturday’s races for dogs described by the mayor as “tiny, powerful canines.”

“Their bodies are long, their legs are short, and their hopes are high,” the mayor intoned as a whole string of sausage-shaped dogs strained at the starting line.

Across the stage, the dog’s handlers tried to attract their charges’ attention. Some held up treats, or waggled stuffed toys. One woman called, “Do you want to eat tonight?”

But when the announcer shouted “Go!” not all the dogs went. A few did indeed dash, stubby legs churning. More than one ambled over to the mayor, or Hoovered its way deliberately around the stage, seeking remnants of the peanut butter lick held earlier.

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About that: Owners bit down on plastic spoons dabbed with peanut butter and knelt before their dogs. Quickest clean spoon won.

The eventual overall winner, a mutt named Maverick belonging to Keely and Ryan Markuson of Missoula, finished his peanut butter so fast that he shoved aside the dog next to him and started in on that pooch’s spoon.

“He’s our garbage pail dog,” Keely Markuson said. “He eats anything. He ate our air conditioner and our wheelbarrow.”

Oh, and by the way – Maverick? He’s a shelter dog.

Reporter Gwen Florio can be reached at 523-5268, gwen.florio@

missoulian.com or CopsAndCourts.com.