TAMPA — The Florida State Fairgrounds Expo Hall was overrun with furry paws on Saturday.
Thousands of pets — and their people — were at the annual Tampa Bay Pet Expo, where they competed in a costume contest, talent show and races to catch a mechanical lure that whizzed around a turfed enclosure.
Various local pet rescue groups set up tables to collect adoption applications and recruit pet foster parents. Some set up “kissing booths” so potential pet parents could get up close and personal with dogs looking for a little love.
“These expos are mainly about PR and exposure,” said Julie Fehr, a board member with the Tampa Bay Beagle Rescue.
People come, bring their pets out for a day of fun and tell their friends about the animals that are up for adoption, she said.
Organizers expected 12,000 people at the expo, which is in its third year. The event featured more than 60 exhibitors, which ranged from rescue groups and advocacy groups to pet stores and fashion brands.
Linda Blair, known for her head-spinning role in “The Exorcist,” was at the expo to promote her World Heart Foundation, a national animal charity. She autographed World Heart T-shirts, from which all the proceeds would go to the foundation.
Blair spoke to the crowd about her vegan lifestyle, and why it is so important that people adopt animals and spread the word.
“They’ll ask, ‘Isn’t she the one whose head spins around?’ ” Blair said. “Tell them, ‘Yes, she is, and she wants our help to change the world.’”
The expo also hosted a booth where pet owners could take their pets to get discounted vaccinations, nail trims and microchips.
Dozens of dogs and cats — of all ages and breeds — were on show from some of the bay area’s pet rescue groups.
A handful of people stopped during the expo to fill out adoption applications, said Linda Healy, a volunteer with Heidi’s Legacy, a Lithia-based dog rescue. But there’s a huge need for more people willing to adopt or foster an animal.
The rescue groups can’t get them out of shelters and in good homes fast enough, she said.
“It’s like an epidemic right now,” Healy said.
To learn more about this year’s exhibitors, visit www.tampapetexpo.com /exhibitors.