Doggie Paddling for Progress

Looking for a way to raise more than $5,000 in an annual fundraiser? In Montgomery County, Va., the parks and recreation department and local Humane Society partner to hold a Pool Party for Pooches, which combines pooches, a pool and people to raise money for the animal shelter.

The end-of-summer event allows the Humane Society to use the county’s Frog Pond after the water park has closed to the public for the summer. The county also supplies the aquatic staff to ensure a safe party, and markets the event through its brochure and news releases. In return, the Humane Society publicizes the party, organizes the event, and runs it with help from volunteers from the student veterinary club at Virginia Tech. The revenue from ticket admissions and business sponsors is used to pay for animal food and adoption efforts by the Humane Society--costs that the county government might otherwise be paying for through the animal-shelter operations.

Working Out The Details

There is a core group of volunteers that have been on the "dog swim" committee and stage the Pool Party for Pooches each year. Planning usually begins in late spring/early summer, and sponsorship request letters/packages are sent out.

As the event gets closer, flyers are posted in nearby venues. A banner thanking sponsors is ordered, announcements and sponsorship “thank you’s” are prepared for the newspaper, and the local press is contacted to help publicize the event.

People of all ages attend the event with their dogs--from older people with lifelong canine friends to families with young children and who have just adopted their first puppy. In the early years of the program, children were allowed in the pool, and instructed not to put their heads under the water. As a pool is inevitably enticing to youngsters, rule violations--along with health reasons--led to a change. Currently, no one under 16 years of age is allowed in the pool during the dog swim. All dogs attending the "pool party" must be on a leash, and get along well with others.

Gate admission is $10 per dog, $5 or a small bag of pet food per person. Salon services are available for $3. Sponsor levels include Top Dog, Best Friend, Pack Members and Litter Mates. Contributions are generally in the $250 to $500 range, although there have been a few donations from $1,000 to $1,500. A Top Dog contribution results in newsletter recognition, a certificate of appreciation and a listing of the donor’s name on the pool-party T-shirt.

In addition, there is face-painting and raffle prizes (usually gift certificates to local restaurants). “Muskrat races” are held each year. These are timed races at the deep end of the pool where one dog at a time chases a lure. Prizes are awarded to the top three winners.

Use Of Technology

Attendees don't need a dog to enjoy this event--cat-only households, or even petless folks are still welcome! The Humane Society keeps the names of all pool-party attendees in a computer database for future marketing or fundraising contacts.

Pay To Play

The county pays two lifeguards and gate attendants to be on duty for the party and the cleanup afterward at a cost of $300. The staff registers attendees, assists with photos, cleans the pool and decking with bleach and water, and clears the filtration system of dog hair. Lifeguards enjoy the event as much as the pets do, and vie for the opportunity to work the pool party.

Wagging In Approval

The success of the program is reaching further than one event, and seems to be spreading the news of the amenities the county has to offer. For instance, since there are many attendees who never knew the county operated a pool until they attended the fundraiser, it makes the pool party an effective and inexpensive marketing tool to reach new audiences. The event also promotes the county’s trail system behind the pool--many attendees return at a later date to use the trails to walk their dogs.

In September, the Pool Party for Pooches was attended by 215 dogs and more than 325 people. The funds were used to benefit homeless pets, provide financial assistance for spaying and neutering animals, and educate people about responsible pet ownership.

The Humane Society and parks and recreation department are now setting their sights on making the county’s dreams of a new, larger animal shelter a reality in the next few years.

Josh Sharitz is the Aquatics/Community Programs Supervisor for Montgomery County in Virginia. He can be reached via e-mail at .