Take 21 acres of open land, add a pool, ponds and a couple hundred happy, leash-free dogs, and you have Pawgust Fest.
Pawgust is a single summer day when Libertyville resident Mitzi Heytow opens her sprawling estate for a one-of-a-kind annual fundraiser that lets dogs run free and have their day in the sun, just being … well, dogs. Whether it’s chasing lures around a grassy course, a sandy dip in a pond or diving for tennis balls at a ”pool party” with twenty-five four-legged friends, Pawgust is a favorite of dogs, and dog lovers alike.
Gurnee resident Jody Struppa and her two chocolate Labrador Retrievers have attended Pawgust for years and wouldn’t think of missing it. “It’s the dogs’ favorite day of the year!” Jody says.
Heytow, 75, hosts the fundraiser to benefit LEARN, a Labrador Retriever rescue and adoption network offering abandoned Labs foster homes until placed with a family. LEARN President Chris Wallen estimates the organization has saved more than 1,600 labs to date.
Heytow herself has provided homes for many of LEARN’s rescues. Each one of her animals, mostly Labs, has a sad history, some of abuse, some of neglect and abandonment. But in her home, these dogs are loved, cared for and treated with a sense of dignity — some, for the very first time.
“People are cruel to animals,” she says. “I take the oldest, the sickest…the unadoptables.” For those with no possible chance of adoption she not only opens her heart, she opens her life and home as well. Heytow says she understands the dogs’ pain.
“As a victim myself, I know what it’s like to be frightened and trapped,” says Heytow, referring to her years in an abusive marriage. “Every dog I save, is a Mitzi saved.”
Throughout her colorful life, Heytow has worn many hats, as journalist, mother, survivor, world traveler, crusader and adventurer. But she says her most important role is being a friend to animals.
“Dogs are so grateful,” says Heytow. “When well matched, an incredible bond forms that is not to be believed. Nothing is more gratifying than this.”
This year’s Pawgust takes place from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. on Aug. 13. Admission is $10. Dogs must be well socialized and current on vaccinations. To learn more about Pawgust, or to get more information about LEARN and their lab adoption program, visit www.labadoption.org.