A sunny, breezy day in Dick Taylor Park was the perfect setting for the 2018 DogFest Walk ‘n Roll Reno, where dogs and their human companions ambled about to visit vendors, mingle with other canines and people, enjoy live entertainment, participate in a group walk and watch a dog costume contest.
The event, which took place on Saturday, Sept. 29, was meant to raise money for Canine Companions for Independence, which provides free service animals to people with disabilities so they can be independent in their day-to-day life. Since the organization’s origin in 1975, they’ve become the largest provider of service dogs in the world and have placed over 5,900 dogs with owners around the country.
In collaboration with the University of Nevada, Reno, and the City of Reno, Canine Companions was able to surpass their goal of $20,000 in donations, according to DogFest committee member Mary Anne Christensen. Christensen also serves as the Assistant Director for the Disability Resource Center at UNR, and explained why the event was so important to raising awareness about the importance of service animals.
“People with service animals, they don’t pay for the service dogs,” she said. “They get trained and this is how we raise money. It takes about $26,000 to raise a service animal, so that’s what we’re doing today.”
Another person responsible for helping arrange the event, Monique Normand, works as Outreach Coordinator at UNR, and said organizing for DogFest first began in February. She described how the event was not only fun and rewarding, but it also taught her the various kinds of services dogs there are, and why having a dog is such a valuable experience for someone with one or more disabilities.
“Being able to talk to their owners and see how the dog really gives them independence,” she said, “especially if you’re in a wheelchair … [I saw] how important those little things are that we take for granted.”
All dogs bred by Canine Companions are Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers or hybrids of the two breeds. Volunteers are responsible for looking after breeder dogs and newborn puppies for up to eight weeks, before the pups are assigned to a volunteer trainer and undergo training for 14-18 months.
One volunteer trainer at the event, Sandy Richardson, has been with her assigned dog, Holiday, since she was a two-month-old puppy, and has five months left with her. Holiday is the first service dog Richardson has trained so far, and the two have formed a very close bond.
“This has been a real experience, raising [Holiday],” said Richardson. “Knowing that she’s going to help somebody, that she’s actually going to change somebody’s life, I just keep that in the forefront because that’s what means the most to me.”
Richardson went on to explain that service dogs in training don’t always pass their final tests, and are occasionally deemed unprepared for clients with disabilities. In these cases, volunteer trainers like herself would be the first choice for alternative owner of the dog. Of course, Richardson still hopes that Holiday will pass her tests and possibly be assigned to a child, since Holiday gets along with them so well.
DogFest ended on a high note with its dog costume contest, where an abundance of pups and their owners strutted their stuff up and down a walkway, as attendees of the event gathered around to watch in glee. Costumes ranged from dinosaurs, to animals, to movie characters and even the pope. In the end, the winner was a Labrador Retriever dressed up as a jailbird, and their owner who was dressed a dog catcher.