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Meet the Winner of this Year’s Adventure Critter Pet Photo Contest

Each year, our readers have the chance to enter Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine’s annual Adventure Critter Pet Photo Contest, sponsored by Dominion RiverRock. Whether they are furry, feathered, spiked, or scaley all pets who love to go outside and play are welcome to enter. We received hundreds of submissions and thousands of votes for the ten finalists, but one came out on top. 

We are excited to announce the winner of this year’s contest is Cheez-It P. Gover and his owner, Luke Gover! The winning photo will be in our August print issue of 2023. 

The runner-ups for this year’s contest are Fox and his owner J Smilanic coming in second place, and Kimber her owner Staci Rogge in third place! We caught up with the victors to get to know the story behind the whiskers and where these furry trailblazers are exploring next. 

1st Place: Cheez-It P. Gover and Photographer Luke Gover

A 10-month-old kitty, Cheez-It is a Polydactyl, meaning he has extra toes (23 to be exact) to put to work while hiking the trails or climbing fallen trees! His owner, Luke Gover, says that adopting him was one of the best things he’s ever done.

Luke Gover and Cheez–It’s Instagram is @notlukegover

“He brings a sense of calmness and an abundance of love wherever he goes,” Luke says about his adventure buddy. “I think that he is the epitome of ‘what is meant for you won’t pass you by’ as we were unsure if we’d be able to adopt him, but now he fits perfectly into our lives.”

The “P” in Cheez-It P. Gover’s name is in honor of Luke and his fianceé’s older cat Patches, who passed away shortly after the couple adopted Cheez-It, and was the reason they were inspired to get another cat. Once home, the couple decided to introduce him to a harness and leash while he was still at a young age, taking him out into their backyard to explore. Thanks to the early introduction and tips from the book “Adventure Cats,” Cheez-It has grown to be quite the adventurer with his favorite places being their back deck to bird watch and Eden Mill Nature Center in Maryland where he can walk on numerous trails and climb trees.  

The photo that won this year’s Adventure Critter’s Pet Photo contest was taken in Luray, Virginia on Cheez-It’s first big adventure. Both Luke and Cheez-It are excited to have their photo featured in the August issue and hope it inspires others to take their cats outside to explore. 

2nd Place: Fox and Photographer J Smilanic

Fox may be a small dog, but that doesn’t stop him from going on big adventures! A 10-year-old chorkie (chihuahua-yorkie mix) Fox loves to explore with his person J Smilanic, especially in open grassy areas that he can run around in and at Sam Knob to hike. 

J Smilanic and Fox’s Instagram is @foxthechorkie

“Fox is my soul mate,” J says. “He is truly the sweetest, cutest creature I have ever encountered. I bring him on all of my adventures, big and small. He’s hiked up to 10 miles in a day with me, up 3000′ in elevation, which is quite impressive for a 10lb dog.”

The photo was taken by J at Devil’s Courthouse in the fall of 2016 when fires were burning parts of Western North Carolina, creating a haze in the background. For more J and Fox photos, follow @foxthechorkie on Instagram!

3RD Place: Kimber and Photographer Staci Rogge

A 13-year-old german shorthaired pointer, Kimber came into Staci Rogge’s life as a puppy. Her breed was known for being able to keep up with a lot of adventure, which proved itself to be true as Kimber and Staci continue to spend much time outside together. Since moving to Virginia six years ago, the pair has made a habit out of heading to the mountains and exploring local trails together. 

Staci Rogge and Kimber’s Instagram is @stacig24

“Even at her older age of 13, she stills runs and hikes with me,” Staci says. “Keeping her active has kept her healthy and not many people believe she is as old as she is. One of my favorite memories with her was from last year when we road-tripped to Acadia National Park. She enjoyed the hotel life on the drive up but also conquered several challenging hikes including summiting Cadillac and Acadia Mountain. I might’ve also shared some of the infamous Maine blueberry treats with her.” 

The photo captured by Staci was taken in October 2022 after hiking up to McAfee Knob to watch the sunrise. Staci says they, “found a secluded spot to watch one of Mother Nature’s best shows.” 

Thank you to this year’s sponsor Dominion Energy River Rock!

This year’s Adventure Critter Pet Photo Contest sponsor is none other than Dominion Energy Riverrock! Happening in Richmond, Virginia from May 19-21, this event is all about getting outside and joining in the fun.

With in-person events, scavenger hunts, multi-adventure opportunities and races, and pop-ups throughout the entire weekend—there are plenty of ways to take part!
Lace up your trail shoes, grab your paddles, charge your camera, and pump up your tires…these are three super-charged days! Learn more here:

Cover Photo: Winning photo of Cheez-It P. Gover by Luke Gover.

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