Waga Queen and King, left, Sweetie Pie with Deanna Somerville and Denzel with Jodie Tanino. Sweetie Pie gives owner high-five, below.
Cruz Bay — Winston Wells ball field in Cruz Bay was overrun with dogs on Saturday evening, May 24, as the island’s four-legged residents and their owners gathered for the 14th Annual Wagapalooza.
The distinctly St. John style, annual dog show is one of the main fundraisers for the St. John Animal Care Center, the island’s sole animal welfare organization. The St. John ACC cares for the island’s abused and abandoned cats and dogs and operates with scant government funding; relying on fundraisers like Wagapalooza to keep its no kill shelter open.
One of the main highlights of Waga, as it has come to be called, is the Babe Award, handed out to “the dog that has made the most miraculous change in spirit and health since it entered the shelter,” according to information provided by St. John ACC.
This year’s honor was awarded posthumously to Callie, a three-year ACC shelter dog who was recently adopted, only to succumb to cancer on May 8.
Island dogs impress the judges, above.
“Callie passed away on May 8 due to cancer,” Michael Beason, one of the night’s emcees, told the crowd. “Callie’s journey began three years ago when she was brought to the ACC shelter undernourished and abused. She lived at the shelter for three years and then she was adopted by Denise Walker and David Guidi who gave her a loving home.”
Walker was on hand to accept the Babe Award in honor of Callie and even showed off a painting of the beloved rescue dog looking like Mona Lisa.
“We had her for four months and we had such a great time with her,” said Walker. “She’s buried under a mango tree so she’s still with us. And we just rescued another pup so she passed the baton.”
While the ACC board of directors had determined the Babe Award recipient prior to the evening’s show, there were plenty of close competitions in the numerous categories. This year’s Waga featured categories ranging from Best Haircut to Best Look Alike and included a hilarious Best Costume.
Having the difficult job of judging the competition this year were architect Rob Crane, V.I. Junior Olympic Sailor Paige Clarke, veterinarian Laura Palminteri and St. John Community Foundation Executive Director Celia Kalousek.
The judges were obviously impressed by 12-year-old Golden Retriever Sadie, who won Best Trick for her surprising math skills.
“She adds and subtracts,” said Sadie’s owner Jim Bowen. “I ask her ‘What is two plus one,’ and she barks three times. She can subtract too; it’s pretty cool.”
Sadie also won third place for Best Old Timer, which was won by Judy and Mike Buccholz’s Yoda, who was originally adopted by the Buccholzs’ landlord.
Decked out in a sparkly red feather and sequins show girl ensemble complete with a jeweled headpiece, eight-year-old Taliah, a Chihuahua and Corgi mix, was dressed to the nines. Looking equally impressive was Taliah’s owner, Crystal Allen, who donned a matching red sequins bustier as the duo won Best Look Alike.
“I made this costume for Taliah,” said Allen. “I love making outfits for her and by now people expect to see us at Waga. It’s like ‘What is Taliah going to wear this year.’”
Sporting pointy horns and an inflatable udder, Dan Boyd’s two-and-a-half-year-old, 130-pound Great Dane Olive Oyl took the blue ribbon for Best Costume for her Lovango longhorn look.
“She runs Lovango Cay,” said Boyd. “She’s in charge over there.”
Before the night ended, four sets of dogs competed for the coveted title of Waga King and Waga Queen, which was open to all participants.
While the judges clearly had a difficult decision, in the end they crowned Jodie Tanino’s Denzel Washington and Deanne Somerville’s Sweetie Pie Waga King and Waga Queen, respectively.
“Every time Denzel runs away, which is often, it is Sweetie Pie who brings him home,” said Tanino about the relationship between her dog and neighbor Somerville’s dog.
In addition to the dog competitions, Wagapalooza also featured a bounce house, face painting, numerous raffle prizes, food by KatiLady Catering and Queen of Tarts and a full bar.
ACC officials were still tallying the evening’s fundraising amount as of press time, but expected good news based on the crowd size.
“This is a wonderful event and we know our numbers increased because we ran out of hot dog buns and had to go out and buy more,” said ACC Board of Directors member Lucy Banks.