If the Sonoma-Marin Fair has gone to the dogs, it's in pretty good hands ... er, paws.
Joy the St. Bernard, Jack the cane corso and Merlot the Portuguese water dog were a hit Wednesday as they and their handlers wandered around the Petaluma fairgrounds during the five-day fair's opening day.
Those three working-breed dogs, and others, were part of the "Meet the Breeds" exhibit, where dog breeders and enthusiasts introduce canines of all varieties to fairgoers with hopes of educating and bringing smiles.
Sonoma-Marin Fair Opening Day
"The fair's going to be dog-centric this year," said fair Board President James Burleson as the gates opened and lines of attendees streamed in at midday.
This year's theme is "Dog Days of Summer" and Friday is the 25th anniversary of the World's Ugliest Dog Contest, always one of the best-attended events of the fair.
"She loves getting petted and meeting people," said Vanessa Engelbach, Joy's handler.
At 130 pounds, Joy, 4? years old, can be intimidating. But in addition to being a champion load-puller able to lug 3,000 pounds, she's also a therapy dog, so she reads people well.
"If someone is scared, she lays down," Engelbach said, as four preteens stopped and tentatively approached the tri-color beast.
Inside Beverly Wilson Hall, other dogs were preparing to greet folks near the fair carnival midway and food booths.
Jack, a 5-year-old Italian mastiff, or cane corso, wowed visitors with his impressive size (128 pounds and a head the size of a dinner plate) and sweet disposition.