Dogs, owners invited to enjoy fall at Sunday’s ‘Bark in Park’

By Lynn Hotaling

The Slyva Herald

It may be in October instead of August, but this coming Sunday is shaping up to be a real “Dog Day.”

Beau Bradley Makes the Sylva Herald Front Page

That’s because it’s time for the annual “Bark in the Park,” a fun and educational event for dogs (and their humans) that’s on tap Oct. 4 at Mark Watson Park.

Action will get under way at 1 p.m. with “Meet the Breeds” and continue non-stop until the Costume Contest (for dogs and owners) begins at 4:30 p.m. Sandwiched in between will be informational programs, demonstrations and more contests and games, according to “Bark in the Park” organizers.

Beau, a 3-year-old border collie/Australian shepherd mix, is one of the “disc dogs” who will perform during this year’s “Bark in the Park.” Set for this Sunday, Oct. 4, from 1 until 5 p.m. at Mark Watson Park, the event is a chance for local dog owners to enjoy an afternoon with their pets.picture right

“We just have a great time,” said Margo Gray, of the Western Carolina Dog Fanciers Association, the area kennel club that sponsors the event along with the Jackson County Recreation Department and the American Kennel Club’s “Responsible Dog Ownership” program.

“We love sharing our dogs and talking about dogs with others who are interested,” she said.

All well-behaved dogs are invited as long as they are on a leash and their shots are up to date, Gray said.

WCDFA is an American Kennel Club affiliate and holds a number of AKC competitions that are exclusively for purebred dogs.

“ ‘Bark in the Park’ ” is an event we hold each year for all dogs – both purebred and mixed breeds – that’s just for fun,” she said, pointing to contests like “Pooch Smooch,” “Clever Tricks” and more.

Plenty of information will also be available, though, in order to give people more perspective on the responsibilities and rewards of dog ownership, including educational publications from the AKC. “Many dogs end up in a shelter because of the owner’s lack of knowledge,” Gray said. “Events like ‘Bark in the Park’ can broaden people’s understanding about what it means to have a dog and help them choose a pet that will fit their lifestyle.”

The opening “Meet the Breeds,” which will feature dogs belonging to WCDFA members, is another way Sunday’s event will disseminate knowledge, she said. “This gives people a chance to see a variety of breeds up close,” Gray said. “Not every breed meets the needs of every dog person. This event gives attendees the opportunity to talk to owners and ask questions about their dogs’ characteristics and needs, and WCDFA members are happy to share their knowledge of their preferred breed.”

Music will fill the air Sunday, thanks to Chris and Jennifer Allen of Haywood County, who donate their time to emcee the event each year.

Sunday’s short demonstrations will highlight a wide range of canine versatility and skills, from agility and obedience to law enforcement K-9s and freestyle dancing, Gray said. New this year will be “Disc Dogs” (frisbees) from Seneca, S.C., featuring Donna and Bob Bradley. Members of the Atlanta Dog and Disc Club, the Bradleys will compete next week in the U.S. Disc Dog National Championships, which will be held in Georgia on Thursday, Oct. 8.

WCDFA members and their dogs will demonstrate agility (dogs complete obstacle courses at their handlers’ directions) and rally obedience (dogs and handlers complete timed courses where the owner learns at each station which moves the dog should perform). After the rally demonstration, attendees can do a short rally course with their dog for a $1 per team donation.

The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office K-9 officers will discuss their dogs and the part they play in law enforcement, and representatives of several area animal help groups, including the Jackson County Humane Society and Catman2 Shelter, will be on hand to answer questions and sell T-shirts and other items to raise funds to help homeless animals.

The Dixie Dancing Dogs, a freestyle dance group from Asheville that includes both dogs and people, will perform. Also slated this year is a Home Again microchipping clinic from 1 until 2:30 p.m. that’s sponsored by Shearer Pet Health Hospital of Dillsboro. With the recent news stories about Sylva’s new pet cleanup stations and debate over allowing dogs in Bridge Park, organizers of this year’s event decided to reach out to dog owners with the message “Be a responsible dog owner: clean up after your dog,” Gray said.

“We’ll have a fun ‘Poop Bag Raffle,’” she said. “All people have to do to enter is sign a ‘Leave Only Paw Prints Behind’ pledge. They’ll receive free ‘poop bags,’ pencils and stickers as well as a chance to win the Poop Bag Raffle prize package.” The “Leave Only Paw Prints Behind” initiative is part of the day’s Responsible Dog Ownership program, Gray said. Concessions at this Saturday’s “Bark in the Park” will be provided by Sarge and Friends Rescue organization, also from Haywood County. In addition, the N.C. Search and Rescue Dog Association will provide information about its role in assisting with searches across the country. Joetta Newman, a member of Search and Rescue, also belongs to the WCDFA.

Besides being informative and fun, Sunday’s event will be unique because of the diversity of the WCDFA’s membership, Gray said. “We have veterinarians, people who board dogs, people who train dogs, members who breed and compete in conformation, AKC judges, people who compete in agility, obedience and rally ... that’s why we’re able to offer a comprehensive look at the many ways to have fun and improve the relationships between dogs and their owners,” she said.

This year’s “Bark in the Park” will mark the fourth time the event has been held in Sylva, and club members are looking forward to another event at Mark Watson, Gray said. Admission to “Bark in the Park” is free, but there are small entry fees for the contests to help defray the costs of staging the events. In addition, this year’s event will include a fund-raising raffle. Those in attendance may purchase tickets for chances to win dog toys and supplies as well as gift certificates. New this year will be the addition of vendors who specialize in dog treats, toys, quality foods, gear and more, and groomers will be on hand to offer nail clipping and ear cleaning for a small fee, which will be donated to animal relief groups. Gray said she hopes area residents will take advantage of the opportunity to come enjoy dogs and some of their talents. “We always have a great time at ‘Bark in the Park.’ It’s a great chance for parents and children to be outdoors in the fall, and it’s a rare opportunity to include the family dog,” she said. “The weather’s usually beautiful this time of year, and what could be better than a Sunday in the park with your best friend.”