Last month, America celebrated the 45th anniversary of the iconic music fest known as Woodstock. This month, Harrisburg marks the 10th anniversary of its own end-of-summer festival of peace and love—with canines, that is.
From its soggy start in 2004, when a few hundred hardy folk and their dogs braved a chilly, rain-swept day by the Susquehanna River, Woofstock has grown into one of Pennsylvania’s premier pet events.
This year, expect droves of people and their furry friends to head to Riverfront Park along Front Street on Sept. 28 to celebrate our animal companions.
“This is a big festival for people and dogs,” said Zella Anderson, founder and president of Central Pennsylvania Animal Alliance (CPAA)—and she’s not exaggerating.
My four-legged gal pal Olivia and I made our first Woofstock trip last year. It was snout-to-tail crowded, throngs of happy pet people and dogs of all shapes and sizes.
This year, there will be about 100 vendors peddling every kind of dog toy and treat imaginable along with veterinarians, groomers and doggie day care facilities.
But the primary focus of the event is pet adoption. With tens of thousands of cats and dogs euthanized in Pennsylvania’s shelters each year, animal advocates hope to sell potential adopters on giving unwanted pets a second chance at a happy life.
“It’s a great day for adoptables,” said Anderson. “We have rescues and shelters come out and promote adoption and urge people not to buy from pet stores or puppy mills.”
Some 40 rescues and shelters will have booths this year, including breed-specific rescues and others that help find homes for disabled dogs, seniors and puppy mill survivors.
One of them, A Tail To Tell in Lancaster County, plucks some of the most horribly abused and neglected dogs from Pennsylvania’s puppy mills. The group has had a booth at Woofstock since the beginning, but often comes only with before and after pictures of the dogs they have for adoption.
“Some have been so emotionally damaged we can’t bring them,” said founder Cindy Myers, who has been rescuing breeding dogs and puppies that are too old or too sick to sell for more than a decade.
She credits Woofstock with helping her group shed light on the horrors of the puppy mill industry. Every year, at least one or two dogs that might have spent their lives confined to small cages find new homes as a result of Woofstock, she said.
This year, a Tail to Tell plans to bring several happy, 7-month-old puppies and a senior dog that, Myers said, is un-phased by almost everything,
Woofstock also is designed to spread the message of spay/neuter throughout the region. Proceeds from the event go toward CPAA’s low-cost and no-cost spay/neuter programs, including the memorably named “De-Sex in the City,” which offers low cost spay/neuters to residents of Dauphin, York, Perry and Cumberland counties.
Packed with Pooches
Organizers had to reduce the number of vendors this year because Riverfront Park simply got crowded to the point where visitors could not reach the booths for the people and dogs, Anderson said. But there still will be something for everyone, and you don’t have to have a dog to enjoy the festivities.
There will be a doggie ice cream social, canine makeovers and $5 nail trims, along with a pet costume contest and caricaturist who can create a souvenir of the event with you and your furry BFF.
Time for your pet’s annual vaccinations? Woofstock’s got you covered with an afternoon clinic providing low-cost vaccines for rabies and other contagious diseases, as well as flea and tick treatment and microchipping for your cat or dog. (Registration is not required but some paperwork is. See website for details.)
Perhaps you’ve seen him on “The View,” now Woofstock is your chance to chat with celebrity pet expert Harrison Forbes, who will be on hand to answer your most pressing behavior or training questions. Also attending will be bloodhound teams showing off their tracking skills and agility dogs.
And organizers did not forget pet moms and dads. Got a leash-puller who has just about yanked your shoulder out of the socket? Is your back sore from lifting your 80-pound Labradoodle? HACC massage students will be on hand for free shoulder and neck therapy.
There’s always live music (the event is going all acoustic this year) and plenty of people food; new vendors include makers of gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches and specialty burritos.
But, most of all, it’s a great day to interact with fellow animal-lovers, spread the love of pets and perhaps learn something new about your own dog or animals in general.
My most memorable Woofstock moment happened quite serendipitously as we were heading out after a long day last year. We were walking past the beautiful St. Stephens Episcopal Cathedral just as the blessing of the pets was getting underway. Olivia and I took a little detour and moseyed in with the other pet owners. One man’s Rottweiler had parked himself right next to his owner sitting on the pew.
One by one, the dogs and their owners made their way to the altar. Rev. Churchill Pinder dipped down on one knee, gently laid his hand on each dog’s forehead and blessed them. There were a few short prayers, soul soothing music and hymns (“All Things Bright and Beautiful”), and we all headed back into the sunlit afternoon feeling refreshed and, well, blessed.
And, good news, Rev. Pinder says the church will be hosting the blessing again this year at 1 p.m.
Get the Most Out of Woofstock
So, you and your pet plan to rock Woofstock? Here are a few pointers to help make peace (not war) amidst the crowd.
First, leave the retractable leash at home.
If you’ve ever been caught in one, you know these types of leashes can pose hazards to humans and pets. They also are a top reason dogs flee because, if you drop the leash, that noisy plastic handle clanking behind can send them scampering away in fear. Anderson says if their volunteers see folks with retractable leashes, they will ask that they remove them and will provide them with a regular leash.
If you have a dog-aggressive or people-aggressive dog, leave them at home. There are plenty of dogs to pet at the event. Surprisingly, despite the crowds, there have been very few incidents.
Hydrate and be careful to keep paws off the hot pavement. There will be plenty of dog watering stations throughout the event, and there’s help if you need it. Last year, a dog collapsed from heat exhaustion and was quickly whisked by golf cart to be seen by the attending veterinarian, Anderson said.
Arrive early. That way, you can take time to browse the booths and meet all the dogs. In the afternoon, the crowds can be intense.
CPAA Woofstock is Sept. 28, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Riverfront Park, Harrisburg. Free admission. Dogs not required. Volunteers are still needed, particularly with set up and staffing booths. Please drop a line to Zella Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested. More information is at www.cpaawoofstock.com.