Pug lovers flock to Latrobe for annual Pugfest celebration
Shawna Harrison knows all about love — pug love, that is.
The Greensburg woman drove nearly 12 hours round trip to the farthest reaches of Ohio and back to adopt Mipha.
Saturday, the 9-month-old pug named for a princess in a Legend of Zelda video game, returned her love with an endearing smooch that won the pair first prize in the Longest Kiss Contest at the annual Pugfest celebration at the Cooper Event Center in Latrobe.
“She’s my love pug. She was worth every minute to the 12-hour trip,” Harrison said, cuddling Mipha as she collected her first-place trophy and ribbon, as well as the dog treats and blanket that came with the award
Last year, about 1,000 dog lovers and more than 600 pug-nosed pooches with the trademark curly tails traveled from miles around to attend the annual event that highlights the delight of the compact canine companionship in events ranging from costume and kissing contests to a longest tongue and curliest tail competitions.
Mipha is Harrison’s first and only pug.
But Patti Levay wouldn’t be surprised if Mipha gets a companion or two down the line.
Levay of Latrobe has operated Guardian Angels Pug Rescue for 30 years and helped found the annual festival that draws vendors and pug lovers to this corner of Western Pennsylvania every fall. The event benefits Levay’s organization and the Southwestern Pennsylvania Pugs with Special Needs Rescue.
“Pugs love to cuddle. They are one of the most addictive dogs. We had a lady come here one year with one dog. The next year, she had six,” Levay said.
Adam Wilson, a Pittsburgh man who brought his pack of five pugs outfitted as superheroes, can identify with that.
“I started out with just Nico when I was a truck driver. Then my dad got sick, and I had to come back. Now, I have Bullet, Honey Boo Boo, Yoshi and Dexter,” he said as members of the fantastic five jockeyed for position around him.
While pugs have become ever more popular, the friendly little dogs aren’t for everyone. Levay estimates she has taken in and rescued hundreds of pugs over the last 30 years.
Most of them didn’t make it in their first home, so the rescue organization does everything it can, including background checks on potential adopters, to ensure would-be dog owners are prepared to provide the pugs it rescues with a forever home.
Saturday, volunteers with Guardian Angels were hoping to find the perfect forever home for Hope. Levay said the pug that now weighs 12 pounds was a sickly 7-pound pooch when she arrived at the rescue shelter, a casualty of the opioid epidemic.
“An addict who was going into a rehab tied her to a street sign on the North Side in Pittsburgh because she couldn’t take her along and had no one to leave her with. A woman came along, saw what was going on and offered to take Hope, and then we got her,” Levay said.
Pam Mikica of Apollo became a volunteer at Levay’s shelter after she and her husband, Tony, got their first pug, Lilly, eight years ago. Four years ago, they adopted Wally from Guardian Angels Pug Rescue.
“They are cuddlers. They are clowns. They are my life. I am lucky they let me live in their house,” Mikica said, cuddling Hope as a couple asked about adoption procedures.
Deb Erdley is a Tribune-Review
staff writer. You can contact Deb at 412-320-7996, [email protected]
or via Twitter @deberdley_trib.