A Dog-Gone Good Time
By Hermelinda Llamas
Photo courtesy of Gina Sowell and the City of Chandler Recreation Division
In the fall of 2008, a new canine-friendly family tradition was begun in the city of Chandler (Ariz.) with the inaugural Woofstock, also known as “The Great Chandler Dog Walk,” at Tumbleweed Park. Since then, community enthusiasm and support for the various pet activities offered have been so great that on November 17, the city will host the fifth annual event with the American Service Animal Society (ASAS) and the Maricopa County Animal Care and Control (MCACC).
In The Beginning
Woofstock was conceived as a free festival with activities for families and their four-legged companions to enjoy on a fall Saturday. The community responded favorably to the concept, as more than 2,500 residents turned out the first year.
By welcoming dogs as a valued part of residents’ lives, organizers uncovered an appealing event for all ages.
These positive experiences, coupled with marketing initiatives, contributed to the attendance increasing 25 percent each year. More than 4,000 people participated in 2011, and staff expects that number to approach 5,000 next month.
A year prior to the inaugural Woofstock, the ASAS decided to organize a walk to raise funds for and awareness of disabled veterans in Arizona. However, when the organization experienced a setback, the event was postponed.
At the same time, city staff was developing the other event, so the two organizations teamed up to create one large community project that would convey the messages of both agencies.
Agility competitions are part of the fun at Chandler, Arizona's, annual Woofstock. Photo courtesy of Gina Sowell and the City of Chandler Recreation Division
The MCACC soon joined in the effort in holding a concert to raise awareness for pet adoption, care, and education, while finding homes for an average of 35 dogs each fall.
Overflowing With Activities
Activities that make Woofstock popular include a mobile-adoption bus for selecting a new pet, vaccinations at a reduced price, and musical performances.
Additionally, there is a village of vendors that has expanded to more than 50 in four years, featuring outfits for pets, rescue organizations, grooming companies, caricature artists, and a costume parade with participants competing for the best-dressed award.
Exhibitors and vendors provide complimentary items and services to attendees, including photographs, pet massages, and readings by a pet psychic. Local artists paint images of animals on children’s faces and make dog balloon figures.
The vendor interest list continues to grow as requests to participate began arriving 6 months in advance of this year’s event.
In line with the event’s theme of pet recreation, there is an array of agility demonstrations and competitive obstacle courses provided by the AZ Disc Dogs, Blazin’ K9s Flyball, Good Dog Agility, and the Chandler Police Department K-9 Unit.
Attendees also have the opportunity to participate in a fundraising walk, which draws nearly 250 people each year. The walkers receive prize bags filled with pet-oriented items to enjoy with their dogs.
More than 40 items are raffled off each year, and the event raises an average of $4,000 to assist disabled veterans in acquiring trained dog companions.
Who’s In Charge
With three organizations planning Woofstock, one challenge was determining the logistical and funding responsibilities of each agency. City staff took the lead for the event. Duties include managing operations, laying out the venue, securing service and merchandise vendors, planning the activities, and procuring prizes and giveaways.
ASAS’s main responsibility is overseeing the Great Chandler Dog Walk fundraiser and raffle, while MCACC manages specialized vendor areas, such as the Concert for Critters, the Mobile Pet Adoption Bus, and the Neuter Scooter.
From the beginning, local sponsors embraced the event and more than 35 organizations have contributed money, services, or raffle prizes each year.
More than 50 volunteers regularly assist in distributing flyers, soliciting prizes, setting up activities and providing customer service.
The partners also receive support from organizations that volunteer time and equipment to provide the live demonstrations for residents and their dogs.
Shine The Spotlight
Woofstock garners great exposure for the city and the partners’ missions through marketing efforts that include bylined articles, newsletters, posters, social media, and newspaper advertisements. Family magazines publish feature stories and showcase the event on their website calendars.
Channel 12 (NBC affiliate) covers the event for the Saturday-morning news program.
Staff members created a short highlight video for the city’s YouTube channel (www.youtube.com/ChandlerRecreation) to promote the enterprise across social-media channels.
With the growing interest from dog owners and the many contributions from sponsors and volunteers, the event partners are committed to producing Woofstock for years to come.
It helps bring more awareness to the needs of disabled veterans, and showcases pet care while demonstrating that family pets can be the central theme of an exciting, free event at a city park.
Hermelinda Llamas is the Special Events Coordinator for the city of Chandler, Ariz. For more information, visit www.chandleraz.gov/woofstock or follow @ChandlerRec on Twitter.