Story by Laura Cortez Denton Live Fall-Winter 2015 Photos courtesy of Sheila Wilson

I take center stage, wearing nothing but my hiking backpack and a bandana tied around my neck. Self-conscious? Naw. I’m feeling good. It is, after all, a warm September day. The sun even makes me glow, and everybody’s looking at me. Hey! I smell a corndog –ack – sorry! Getting back in line now. Still drooling though. Corndog… corndog. Ack – gee, that’s a short leash, Ashley!

I’m Banjo, a five-and-a-half-year-old, chestnut-orange, Australian Shepherd-Pitbull mix. I’m strutting the stage with my owner, Ashley Reis, in the Spokesdog Pageant. I cut through the crowd and make my way to the judges. My essay is read aloud:

“In four years, I’ve gone from shelter-pup to ‘kind of a big deal.’ From poundin’ my paws at the Oak Street Social Run, to snackin’ on handmade dog treats at the Denton Community Market, I’m a pooch about Denton. Just look at my grin – I was born for this gig!”

10455805_10204433590335711_3512212042521816319_n Photography by Sheila

Yeah, that’s me. We’re finishing our pageant strut, so we turn and stand beside the other 15 dogs on the grass, waiting for everyone else to take their turn. Where’s that corndog guy?

“Once everyone was done, they called first-runner up, then second-runner up. When we didn’t make a runner-up I thought, ‘Oh, he didn’t get anything.’ And then he won!” says Ashley, who adopted Banjo from the Denton Animal Shelter about four years ago.

The Spokesdog Pageant – which I won! – is just one highlight of Dog Days of Denton, “Texas’ original celebration for pooches and their people,” going into its 22nd year. Goes without saying that this is my favorite thing to do every year. So many dogs, so many dog things, so little time!

“There are other dog shows in town,” Dog Days coordinator Christine Gossett says. “But those are serious. We laugh – we are like the amateur dog show of Denton.”

Amateur, as in we all just wanna have fun, but that’s not to take away from our standing as a premiere local canine celebration with 6,000 to 7,000 humans coming each year. We’ve got big sponsors too, like Huffines Kia Subaru and Petco, who set up shop on the fairgrounds. Ooh, and the American Kennel Club – the doyenne of the dog world’s crème de la crème. Members of the American Kennel Club are sometimes present, providing information about different breeds – that’s me, different breeds! – for dog owners and those wanting a dog.

“A lot of the time people think a dog can just be one more expense, one more thing, but a lot of times the dog can be a life saver in a situation,” Christine says.

Last summer I learned how to be a therapy dog. Ashley wants to start going to the Scottish Rites Children Hospital to cheer up the kids that have to be there. I can hardly wait!

You know, one of the missions of Dog Days is to give nonprofits the opportunity to promote their causes by having a booth at this fun festival. They also think it is important to educate humans and raise awareness for these organizations and provide extra donations. It takes a special company like Muenster Milling Company, a local natural pet food distributor – mmm, mmm, Muenster! – to pay so that rescue organizations can set up for free. They’re over there – so many different types of dogs looking for safe homes – good luck guys!

Dog Days 2014 by Sheila Wilson Photography by Sheila

In the last few years – about 20 in dog years – Dog Days has focused on how important our relationship is with humans. The role of service and therapy dogs – like me – in particular.

“We had a Spokesdog three years ago, and he was a therapy dog,” says event coordinator Kevin Lechler. “As we become more aware of the different aspects of dog ownership, the more branches we start to take, and I think the therapy dog is a great thing. Most people don’t even realize you can train your dog to be a therapy dog.”

Time to check out all the different booths, demos and dogs. There’s something around every wagging tail and in front of every sniffing nose! What’s over there? Humans in uniforms, and a big shiny machine with a dog on it! We must go look. Now! “Baltic” K9 Arson Unit. Oh, a fire dog! How cool is that.

What’s all the sniffing over there by the fence? I love to sniff. “Nose work,” they call it. Hey! There’s a German Shepherd (he’s my friend from the park) running around an obstacle course trying to find a certain smell in a box. I hope he finds it! It’s hard doing what those police and fire dogs are trained to do.

Where’s that dance music coming from? Is it time for what I think it is? The Canine Couture Costume Contest! Dressed up dogs… who’d have thought? Makes me want to work on my model walk for next year.

“We have Frisbee demonstrations, singing dogs, dog dances and agility courses,” Christine says, naming more events. “Bigger dogs need exercise – they need to work their muscles. They won’t chew as much when they get their energy out, so that’s another reason we demonstrate and do agility.”

Tugging on my leash… time to move on. I hear a really familiar tune over there – and even some music accompaniment. It’s a Great Dane belting out his karaoke best in a dog singing contest! Wonder if it’s a sing along?

OK, enough of this. I’m ready to compete. I want to be a Frisbee-catching dog this year.

I’m glad Ashley let me pull her into the line for this demonstration. OK, OK, my turn, my turn! I’ve been practicing my eye-mouth coordination all week. Wait on it, wait on it – go!

I’m running, I’m running so fast! Ooh, there it is! Frisbee! I can do it! I can catch it! Jump in 3, 2, 1…

“Aww! That’s alright, fella! You’ll get it next time!”

So close! Oh well, just shake it off.

10371455_10204433944944576_5750949539962894433_n Photography by Sheila

More walking. Stopping. Walking. Stopping. Doggy webcams, home-made dog treats, bow ties and other canine-themed consumables for sale in lines of booths. Human things for sale too –jewelry, clothing, local artisans with food, gifts, crafts and more. Ashley keeps telling me to stop tugging on the leash, but I can’t help it! I smell treats ahead!

There are some pretty cool dog toys though. Time to beg. Better yet, puppy eyes! Works every time. Oh, yeah, a new bag of toys!

Where’s Ashley tugging me to now? Ooh! I love getting dressed up! Rose Costumes donates clothes, so there can be a Glamfur photo booth. I may have not shined during the Frisbee throw, but these will be some fierce dazzling dog-in-costume pictures. Put those sunglasses on me. Fabulous.

Pretty soon we’re off again… so much to see, smell and eat! What about this Lion’s Club – I thought this was a dog show? Oh, they’re talking about training some of us to be seeing-eye dogs for humans, like that black lab who’s sitting quite patiently while those people all talk about him. Wow, not even a fidget – how does he do that?

This has been quite a full day out for me and Ashley. It’s great to belong to someone who takes care of me and understands me. And great to have an event like Dog Days that gives dogs and humans a chance to have fun together. And help those dogs not lucky enough to have a home – yet.

High-paws to all the great sponsors at Dog Days, like the Denton Record Chronicle, Southridge Animal Hospital, Invisible Fence of Greater Dallas, Denton County Animal ER, Dr. Norman Pomerance and Jayne Howell, Realtor.

“This event is able to happen because we have sponsors from the community, businesses and people who sponsor the event,” Christine says. “And that is how it is able to continue happening.”

I can’t wait to celebrate year 22 next September! Wags and licks all around!