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Ledyard Dog Days matches pets with adoptive families

Ledyard - Nine-year-old Exavier Hanlon-Panko hoisted a Jack Russell terrier mix onto his lap and waited.

Could this be the dog for him?

Within seconds, the 1½-year-old Pup Pup - surrendered to the Stonington dog pound by an owner with too many pets - was licking Exavier's face.

The boy's wide smile told his mother this could be a perfect fit. She got on the phone with her husband, who said he wanted to meet the prospective pet before the family brought it home to Norwich.

This was just one of the human-canine connections made Saturday at Ledyard Dog Days at the Mystic Valley Hunt Club. By 3 p.m., 70 of the 98 dogs that had reclined in crates in a large, airy barn that morning had been claimed.

Dog Days, organized by the Essex-based nonprofit group by the same name, continues today from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Homeless dogs from several area shelters and from rescue organizations in the South will be wooing potential owners with their beautiful brown eyes.

"We're a great state of adopters," said Lorin Liesenfelt, founder of Dog Days. "We are the cream of the crop of dog owners in the country."

Kelly Cleghorne from a Colbert, Ga., veterinary rescue group, said 11 of the 16 dogs they had driven north had been adopted. The group is hoping to go home without any of the dogs, though Cleghorne admits she gets emotional when someone rescues one of their dogs.

"I've cried at every one that's left today," she said.

Carol and Don Douton of Niantic went to the event "looking for nothing in particular" and were soon filling out paperwork, paying the $325 rescue fee and looking forward to bringing home their new Chihuahua.

The Doutons have had big dogs all of their lives, but want something smaller as they get older. "It's easier to walk a little one," Mrs. Douton said.

The Dog Days organizers had recruited volunteers of all ages to help with the event. Many of the helpers came from Animal House, a local group that works with shelters to make dogs more adoptable. Volunteer Cherrie Williams, 17, of Ledyard, who is interested in veterinarian work, said she helped find homes for two dogs, including a white shepherd that was claimed within five minutes of the event's opening.

Tanya Wescovich, the animal control officer from Stonington, said most of the dogs that come into the town's shelter are either cruelty cases, hoarding cases or are roaming dogs that don't get claimed. The vast majority are affectionate animals despite their experiences.

"Most dogs have good hearts," Wescovich said. "Even dogs that are completely afraid of people know when you're trying to help them."

Many dog people, like Susan Marshall of Norwich, are unable to resist a canine in need. She did not plan on adopting a dog Saturday, but by late afternoon had a new family member, a shepherd mix named Justin.

"I came with my friend who was looking for a dog, and I fell in love with this guy at first sight," she said.

For information on today's event, go to godogdays.org or call (800) 653-3134.

k.florin@theday.com

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