Q&A: Jessica Popek, Development Director for the Humane Society of the Tennessee Valley

Development and marketing director for the Humane Society of the Tennessee Valley, Jessica Popek is organizing its 19th Bark in the Park fund-raiser June 8 on Market Square, including games, contests, vendors, and dog-friendly restaurants.

Was this the first "dog event" fund-raiser in this area?

As far as I know, yes. HSTV is 127 years old. We were founded in 1885 and handled all the animal shelter needs for Knox County and the metro area until 2001, when we became a private organization, no longer serving Animal Control.

How many people—and dogs—are you expecting?

We usually expect 3,000-4,000 people a year and at least a couple of hundred dogs.

Do people need to pay or register ahead of time?

Bark in the Park is free to the public. To participate in games and competitions, registration is 6 p.m.-7 p.m. and it's a nominal fee.

What has changed about the event over the years?

It just keeps growing! It started with just a few vendors and a couple of hundred people. Now it is one of the most anticipated events for dog lovers. We average about 30 vendors and Krutch Park is all rescue groups.

Will any unusual dogs be there?

We see a lot of large-breed dogs like Great Danes, Mastiffs, just gigantic beauties that you normally don't see walking about downtown.

How will the event help the Humane Society?

HSTV raises money through sponsors, vendor fees, game registration and most importantly, merch! Buy a T-shirt, everyone.

What's unique about your animal welfare approach?

We rescue dogs and cats from sister shelters—the animals may not have a chance because that shelter needs to make room to take in more abandoned animals, so they are running out of time. We do rescue medically treatable animals including those who need surgery, have heart worm, etc. All our shelter kids are "safe" once they cross the HSTV threshold. We spay/neuter all the animals and we take our time finding them the best home for their needs as well as the human. We are blessed with these abilities because we are privately funded and do not have to answer to a government agency.

What's your favorite part of the job?

Finding a great family that is perfect for one of our shelter kids and vice versa. Hope, our boxer mix, was a great moment because she ended up with a family with small children which is what she so needed to thrive. Seeing the joy between human and animal is immeasurable.

Do you own rescue dogs?

I have Mattie, a black Cocker Spaniel who was surrendered to me; Ella Fitz, an English Pointer mix from Young Williams Animal Shelter; Daisy, a Beagle from HSTV; and Wynton Marsalis, a stray cat who adopted me. I do foster on a regular basis for HSTV and am currently fostering a bull terrier mix puppy, Leah.

Will there be any cats there?

Cats are too smart to come out to crowds and "play games"—come on! But seriously, this is not a cat-friendly event. However, our cat kids have it the best here including a cat condo in which they have couches, play stuff, windows, and even a fish tank.

Bark in the Park is Saturday June 8, 6 p.m.-9 p.m. To find about more about the event and the HSTV: humanesocietytennessee.com