OK, we get it. You all — like, every single one of you — think your pet is the cutest damn thing in Northeast Florida


OK, we get it. You all — like, every single one of you — think your dog/cat/fish/pig/squirrel/rabbit/whatever is the cutest damn thing in Northeast Florida, and deserving of the top prize in our inaugural Pet Lovers’ Issue Photo Contest. Last week, we had the heady and arduous task of siphoning through the 500-plus photos — maybe more; at some point our eyes glazed over — you guys submitted through email or on Instagram and Twitter, painstakingly scrutinizing them according to our carefully crafted and entirely subjective criteria (photo composition, general adorableness and what we thought would look decent in newsprint, which, well, not a lot of photos you take with your phone do).

From there, we winnowed our pool down to finalists — the few dozen photos that grace the ensuing pages. And after that, after much consternation and heated inter-office arguments (seriously, you wouldn’t believe our art director’s temper), our vaunted and erudite and not-at-all inebriated selection committee settled on our three victors (and a fourth we deemed worthy of honorable mention).

If your furry child didn’t make the cut, well, sorry, guys, but this isn’t T-ball. Not everyone gets a trophy. (Our winners, however, will receive prizes; see below.)

We love our pets, and we want them to be healthy and happy; our Pet Lovers’ Issue gives you the resources to do just that. Plus, pictures that will melt your heart.

First Place: Matthew Aponte
Jax Beach resident Matthew Aponte rescued his beagle mix Chloe when she was just 5 weeks old. He describes it as something like love at first sight; Chloe went up to him and made it clear that he had to take her home. Chloe, now 4 years old, is extremely protective and very sweet. She’s also addicted to her tennis ball. In this picture, you see Chloe trying to catch her breath after a good round of fetch — while, of course, not letting that ball out of her sight.

JUDGES’ NOTES: The photo is exquisitely composed, bright and colorful, and poignantly captures the existential joy of being a dog.

Second Place: Jeff Davis
Jeff Davis adopted Olive from a shelter in Topeka, Kansas. Olive never learned how to meow, but she did learn how to coo like a pigeon from watching them out the window all day. She spends her days channeling the spirit of Lady Gaga through her own brand of pigeon-singing — or, as pictured, working on her “Blue Steel” pose in the bathroom mirror.

JUDGES’ NOTES: “Half-cat,” as this photo became known around the office, is also gorgeously composed, showcasing Olive’s striking features and (what we imagine to be) absolute contempt. Like all cats, Olive knows that she is superior to everyone around her.

Third Place: Cassie Pfenning
Before Cassie Pfenning adopted Vali, the chocolate lab/Weinaraner mix was wandering in a Walmart parking lot, running among the cars. A friend bought Vali home, but her other dogs didn’t get along with him, so Pfenning jumped at the chance to take him in. Vali is “a big goofball,” Pfenning says. He’s a frisky pup, and Frisbee-crazy. Pfenning took this picture when Vali was sitting in the tub after a flea bath. He likes swimming, but he doesn’t like baths because he doesn’t like sitting still. Pfenning snapped Vali in a rare moment when he did.
JUDGES’ NOTES: Look at his eyes. Look at them.

Honorable Mention: Allison Agnello
Allison Agnello nursed Basil back to health after finding her in her Gainesville house after a rainy day. Basil never left. Basil acquired her name from her voracious appetite, which once led her to consume an entire basil plant. She will also eat frozen peas, spinach and olive oil — basically, anything. As such, she is occasionally in need of dental hygiene, and has her own toothbrush. Basil chews on it often.
JUDGES’ NOTES: There is a cat (apparently) brushing its teeth. What else do you want?

Our first-place winner gets to choose from among the following prizes; after that, the runner-up gets a choice of what’s left, and what’s left over goes to our third-place photographer.
• A prize basket with goodies, including a free annual visit and vaccines from the Clay County Humane Society, a $140 value.
• A $50 gift card from Julington Creek Animal Hospital, good for vet visits as well as day care and overnight services.
• Free grooming and a bag of homemade treats from Bark on Park Avenue in Riverside, a $50 value.
We’d like to thank our contest sponsors for their generosity.

Reporting on winners' pets by Michaela Gugliotta and Amber Lake.

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