TARPON SPRINGS — When Jason Edwards decided to start a social dog club in Tarpon Springs in an attempt to bring fellow local canine lovers together while supporting pet friendly businesses in town, he had no idea what to expect.

“My wife, Ginger, and I are dog lovers and we take our dogs everywhere we go, so I thought it would be a great idea to get a group together to help support local businesses,” Edwards said soon after launching the Tarpon Springs Social Dog Club Facebook page in early April. “I started a social German shepherd group about a year ago, but COVID put a damper on that, so I wanted to try it again and open it to all breeds.”

Edwards quickly received dozens of responses and the page gained more than 100 followers in the first few days, with many posting photos of their pups while stating the group was exactly what the city needs. “Thank you so much, I am so happy about this, it’s time, it should’ve happened a long time ago,” one commenter wrote May 6.

Edwards soon scheduled the group’s first “Yappy Hour” for May 25 at Anclote Brew on the Sponge Docks. After roughly two dozen pooches and their owners showed up, it was obvious he had tapped into a large and diverse subculture in Tarpon Springs that had been hiding in plain sight and waiting to get out —  literally.

“I think it went well,” Edwards said during the two-hour event at the Sponge Exchange courtyard, where Anclote Brew is located. “Everyone seemed to love the idea. Some had never been here before, while others were just looking for an excuse to get out. But everyone seemed to be having a great time.”

Indeed, the event brought people and their pooches from all over the area, including Dunedin, Palm Harbor and Tarpon Springs, and owners of everything from English and French bulldogs, whippets and maltipoos agreed the club was a great idea.

“I was so excited when my mom found the Facebook group,” Dunedin’s Taylor Pinke said as she relaxed with her German shorthaired pointer rescue, Scout, at a table in the courtyard. “We were looking for ways to socialize with him and this being an inaugural event seemed like a great way to meet new people and a great excuse to get out and not cook dinner!”

Pinke’s mother, Pam Albertson, echoed what many in attendance said about having the opportunity to meet up with fellow dog owners outside the traditional dog park setting.

“This is so much better than a dog park because there’s something for me to do, too!” the Palm Harbor resident said as her 7-year-old maltipoo, Fini, sat on her lap.

Krissie Camden, a friend of the Edwardses who owns a 9-year-old English bulldog named Sophie, agreed.

“She’s not much of a dog park dog, so this is much better for us,” Camden said as Sophie sniffed a 1-year-old Frenchie named Rudy. “This is bringing everyone together because you walk around, and you meet people. At the dog park people always know your dog’s name and not yours, so this puts a name to the owners’ faces.”

Jason Edwards has lived in Tarpon for two years and owns two German shepherds named Axel and Athena. He said the city’s dog park is great, but the point of the group is to promote local pet-friendly businesses and help establish Tarpon as a dog-friendly community like Dunedin and St. Petersburg.

“We knew there were enough dog lovers here, but they don’t have a lot of avenues to meet up, so the sense of community isn’t there,” he said.

According to Anclote Brew owners Kelly and Bill Dennison, they were honored to host the club’s inaugural Yappy Hour.

“We were really excited to have them, because we’ve always been dog-friendly,” Kelly Dennison said. She noted that the bar always has water bowls and biscuits on hand for visiting dog owners. “So we’re honored to host the inaugural event.”

Bill Dennison added, “It’s pretty cool, because there are so many different dogs here it’s hard to keep track of them!”

With the first Yappy Hour in the books, Edwards is already planning future events to expand on his idea.

“I’d like to do at least one of these every month, maybe more, and also host group walks, or a “pup” crawl,” he said, noting he’s scheduled the next Yappy Hour for Saturday, June 26 at Brighter Days Brewery. “I’d also like to get businesses to host themed costume contests for dogs. I have a lot of ideas, but nothing concrete. Hopefully as word gets out, we’ll hear from more business owners who want to host events.”

It’s safe to say after the sudden success of the Tarpon Springs Social Dog Club, the cat is out of the bag.