NILES - A local event welcomed more people this year than in years past.
There was a variety of things - and animals - to see, from alpacas, sheep and goats, to dogs and cats, to lizards, a hawk, and even an owl or two on Saturday during the Pet Expo at the Eastwood Expo Center in Niles.
Coordinator Yvonne Rentz said this year brought in more than 60 vendors along with a sizeable crowd.
Tribune Chronicle photos / Bonnie L. Hazen
Nadia Burns, 4, of Austintown, makes friends with an American Mastiff therapy dog named Raja on Saturday during the Spring Pet Expo Show at the Eastwood Expo Center in Niles. Raja is in training to become a service dog and often pays visits to area nursing home residents.
"It's been a very good day,'' she said.
The annual event wraps up today and runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with a fashion show starting at 1 p.m., when Rentz said she expects an even larger crowd.
"I got him," said Nadia Burns, 4, of Austintown, as she snatched up the leash to a 240-pound American mastiff named Raja.
Raja's trainer, Maryanne E. Hoffman of Saint Francis Pet Care, wasn't concerned because Raja, who is not only a therapy dog but also in training to become a service dog, has a very gentle nature.
"I myself have arthritis," she said, and Raja has been trained to crawl to safety in the event of a fire, go through tunnels and hoops and even knows how to open doors. "He's totally smart," she said.
Hoffman said she rescued him from one of the only five breeders of American Mastiffs in Ohio, and frequently takes him to visit nursing home residents. She also is affiliated with the Saint Francis Cadets for Pets Youth Program which sports the motto "Remain Humane."
"We're trying to start a society that cares about pets and animals. Once (children) care about pets, they will care about you and I," she said.
Smoochie the cat was also getting attention over at the West Side Cats area, where people were lining up to pet the famous feline.
"She's paraplegic. Her back was broken when she was a baby," volunteer Kimm Koocher said.
Smoochie has her own Web page and sometimes travels to events with the volunteers, who all fell in love with her as soon as she came to the no-kill shelter when she was a kitten. Now 2 years old, Smoochie is still waiting to meet her new owner.
"Whoever adopts her will have to come in and spend some time caring for her and (learning) her routine. She has to wear diapers. It's something that someone should think about before caring for her," Koocher said.
Koocher said despite her disability, Smoochie has a feisty spirit.
"It's hard not to love something this helpless but will spit in your eye," she laughed. "She takes no crap. She lets me know when I irritate her."
Matt Ragozine, 29, of Girard, was enjoying the sights with his mixed-breed canine, LeBron.
"I figured he would want to come and hang out," he said, cradling the small dog in his arms.
Ragozine adopted LeBron - named for LeBron James - from a shelter in Florida, where he used to live. He conceded that although some owners look a lot like their pets, he and LeBron are far from twins. It was Ragozine's first time attending the pet expo.
"I came with my girlfriend and her mom. It's pretty cool, I didn't know what to expect coming in," he said.
Lexi Smith, 12, of Youngstown, said she attends the expo every year and was enjoying the multitude of animals. Although she only owns cats, she said she would love to have a dog and was becoming quick friends with a Labradoodle named Rumor.
"He's such a ham," said his owner, Gene King.
Rumor was sporting a vest for people to slide donations into for the Athena Animal Advocacy Group, an organization that provides assistance for food and veterinary care to responsible pet owners facing economic hardship.
"If you ask him, it's all about him," said King, who volunteers for the group. "He's doing his speed bump imitation right now," he said, as the dog stretched out on the floor.
Barbara and Nick Katchmer of Girard visit the expo every year, but this year they attended for a special purpose: To get a reading from animal communicator Doris Stratka.
"She's wonderful. She told me things that are amazing," Barbara said, explaining that she brought her 8-year-old Maltese named Sassy for a reading. The Katchmers suffered a loss of their 18-year-old Shitzu, Miracle.
"Sassy was really upset over the loss of her, too," Barbara said. "(Stratka) told me that Miracle is with me constantly and she's doing fine," she said, adding that the reading gave both her and Sassy some comfort.
Stratka, of Kirtland, has been a vendor at the expo for four years and said she has witnessed its growth.
"It's grown in head count ... and people were calling me ahead of time to see if I was going to be here," she said. "I'm glad they came and I'm honored that the people say they're coming for me."
Stratka said she has done readings for animals of all kinds, from dogs and cats to snakes, elephants and even a hedgehog.
"Frequently, just like people, some of us are never done talking," she said.