By AML Publisher
Photos courtesy of April Ziegler
A sunny and sensationally warm April 18th set the stage for the seventh annual Mid-Atlantic Bullyfest, hosted by Medford’s HeavenSent Bulldog Rescue. Families from across the tri-state region, and from all walks of life, gathered together for a spring barbeque and festival—all proudly showing off their most beloved furry family members. Brindled and solid brown, white and speckled grey—from newborns to ten-year-olds and every age in between, hundreds of the region’s English bulldogs barreled, sunned and snorted around the grounds of the Hugo residence on Taunton Lake road in Evesham, New Jersey. It was the first toasty afternoon of the spring, reminiscent of the dog days of summer, so many of the guests settled comfortably in the shade with their water bowls while families and friends participated in a silent auction, mingled with the vendors or cheered on the rescue parade.
In May of 2003, the inaugural Mid-Atlantic Bullyfest was organized by Pam Scherzer and held on the Scherzer’s property in Medford, New Jersey. About 65 people attended with close to 40 dogs-raising $700. By 2007, the event had outgrown the Scherzer land and was held at another venue. This year, Bullyfest 2009 had over 500 attendees, hundreds of dogs in attendance and raised over $10,000.00. Kara Gordon spearheads HeavenSent’s efforts to rescue, rehabilitate and re-home the region’s English bulldogs in need. “There are all sorts of reasons why we end up with a Bulldog—someone passes away, people move, there is a divorce. Believe me, all sorts of circumstances feed into a dog we find in need. It’s a constant responsibility and very costly for our rescue so this annual event is critical to maintaining our work and successful adoptions,” said Gordon.
HeavenSent currently has over twenty Bulldogs waiting for a forever home. Part of the rescue’s mission is facilitating foster homes and adoptions but also educating the public about the breed and what new families should understand when they are considering an English Bulldog. ”Most importantly, people need to understand the breed from a maintenance standpoint. They do have some skin issues and medical needs; they require a lot of care—from eye issues to skin allergies and respiratory needs. I say a Bulldog is a veterinarian’s dream! But, once you know that this is part of the privilege of bringing one into your life or your family’s life, they offer such a great companionship.” said Gordon.
One of the most popular vendors at Bullyfest ’09 was April Ziegler, an AroundMainLine.com photographer who specializes in professional pet portraiture work. “I love the breed; they are hands-down one of my favorites! Bulldog owners are so passionate about their dogs, so when I heard about Bullyfest I could not wait to come out and have an opportunity to photograph hundreds of Bulldogs in one afternoon. They really have so much personality and are always making curious faces and are naturally funny,” said Ziegler. Ziegler’s following in the Philadelphia pet community is growing exponentially. 6ABC’s new Saturday night show, FYI Philly, attended Bullyfest to follow Ziegler around for a special piece to air Saturday night, April 25th at 7pm. “When I am photographing a special breed, I really try to capture the details that make them unique. For example, I like to get close-up shots of their unique markings, noses, ears or tails. With English Bulldogs, they all have these cute wrinkles that set them apart. I think there are the little things that we treasure most about our pets that we love and that’s what I am always thinking when I am capturing the personality of each animal in my photos,” explained Ziegler.
Norma Hugo, who generously donated her entire property for Bullyfest 2009, has been raising and showing Bulldogs for forty years and her daughter is an American Kennel Club licensed judge. Hosting over five hundred strangers on her front lawn for an entire day did not seem to phase the hostess. A rainy weather pattern a few days before Bullyfest made for a rather muddy lawn—with a few unlucky cars stranded on the property. “I absolutely love Bulldogs. And, it’s just great hosting this event, everything can be replaced here so whatever happens to my lawn is no big deal. But, animals can’t be replaced—that’s why we are all here,” assured Hugo. “If you have not lived with a Bulldog, you can’t understand the breed and why we love them. They are like little kids and they thrive on love and compassion and I think that is what brings out the love and compassion in their owners. It’s not difficult drawing people out to this event today because it’s a sheer celebration of love.”
Besides a fun atmosphere and a free barbeque, Bullyfest also offered owners a chance to interact with experts in the industry, including Mary Jo Stabinski-Heckman. Mary Jo breeds and shows AKC-registered Bulldogs and is a specialist in canine behavior modification and training. She serves area veterinary hospitals across the tri-state region and has been working with Bulldogs for over fifteen years. “I think a lot of people think, because they are a tough-looking breed, you should take a tough approach to training your Bulldog. And, that’s exactly what you should not do with any dog. Positive reinforcement is what these dogs need. Bulldogs are, obviously, a big powerful dog and it can be challenging to train them if you are not well-informed. It’s a special breed, no doubt, so the owners who want to work with them have to understand the approach they should be taking,” explained Stabinski-Heckman.
Bulldogs adopted from Heaven Sent are $500, as opposed to the thousands of dollars that the breed retails for. In 2008, HeavenSent rescued, rehabilitated and re-homed 97 Bulldogs. Gordon also spearheads local New Jersey and Philly meetup groups with local Bulldog owners and says they are growing in popularity. “People absolutely love to get together and party with their Bulldogs! It’s a tight community with a shared passion and understanding for this breed. A lab is a lab, they may be three different colors but they pretty much look the same. The cool thing that everyone seems to appreciate and get excited about is that a Bulldog can produce an entire litter where each puppy has completely different markings. There’s really no other breed that can claim that. They bring their own uniqueness in that sense, and I think that’s where a lot of the popularity and passion for the breed comes from,” said Gordon.
Every owner has the story of how their special English Bulldog came into their lives. Here are some of the unique pooch personalities and great testimonials AML uncovered while we soaked in the festivities at Bullyfest ‘09.
Libby Whiton, Doylestown, PA
Bulldog: Lewis, 4-years-old
“He is my first bulldog and when I was little I remember seeing the cutest bulldog in the window of a puppy store and falling in love. He is my first and certainly not my last! They are so great with kids and so loveable—I get stopped everywhere I go with him because that face is just so adorable. He has been a great addition to our family.”
Lisa Craven, Craven Acres Bulldog Breeders
Bulldog: Toby, 2½-years-old
“It’s a very loving breed, they are very loyal and they just love their owners. And, you can’t beat the facial expressions. One thing I always tell people when they adopt one of our dogs-look out if you have an in-ground swimming pool. Bulldogs love the water so you have to watch out, they will sink to the bottom of the pool faster than you can blink. So, be prepared if you bring one of these dogs home—they’ll make for a fun time but you’ll be stuck swimming with them all summer long!”
Jennifer Horgan, Lansdale, PA
Foster Bulldog: Violet, 5-years-old
“We’ve fostered about eleven dogs through HeavenSent and it has been a great experience, we just love it. Violet is the sweetest thing, she is a total homebody! She loves to play with our Boston terrier and English bulldog. I would love to adopt every dog we foster; we actually adopted our first rescue. Its so sad to see them go, but as a foster parent of bulldogs, there is a great satisfaction in knowing we held to find them a permanent home. And, we stay connected—the new family sends us pictures of our foster dogs in Halloween costumes.”
Randy Waddell, Langhorne, PA
Bulldog: Fullback, 5-years-old
“I’m a paramedic, and four years ago I went to this woman’s house on a call and she was fostering Fullback. She asked me if I wanted to take him in and try him out…and, it worked. He is a great dog, doesn’t bark a lot and is the perfect companion for our family. We are big Eagles fans, so it was natural that we found a football name for him.”
Jamie Detweiler & Candace Yaich, Coopersburg, PA
Bulldog: Starr, 4-months-old
“We went into the pet store to get our fish water tested and we came home with her, our new baby! We could not resist she was so adorable. And, it’s been great—she is never going to grow out of these wrinkles. She loves the kids, loves to cuddle and has jumped right in as the newest member of our family,” said Yaich.
Randy Unangsp Marlton, NJ
Bulldog: Bubba, 2-years-old
“We rescued Bubba from HeavenSent. We love him; he has been a great dog. This is our second bulldog—we had a bulldog that passed away and we could not wait to bring another one into our family. Its hard to explain how these dogs make a difference in your life, but it is, in a way, like they are from sent from heaven.”
For additional information on HeavenSent Bulldog Rescue, visit their website at: www.heavensentbulldogrescue.com. Their mailing address is: PO Box 816 Medford, NJ 08055.To email a member of the HSBR staff, contact Kara Gordon or Amy Stein at: HSrescue@aol.com.
To contact Mary Jo Stabinski-Heckman of Paws for Thought, for inquiries regarding canine behavior modification and training, visit her website at: www.redbrickbulldogs.com, call 610-539-9460 or email: email@example.com.