Fueling the Love at the Somerville Dog Festival

One of the things I love about America is how many people are passionate about animal welfare and come up with innovative ways to help and celebrate pets. So naturally, I was excited to learn about the annual Somerville Dog Festival near Boston, Mass.

The event’s host is the Somerville Foundation for Animals, a nonprofit founded in 2012 by veterinarian Adam Parker, DVM, and dog trainer/animal behaviorist Marjie Alonso. The goal of the festival and foundation is to promote healthy, happy pet ownership and activities—and in turn, decrease the number of pets surrendered to shelters for behavior issues. It’s been a hit with the community, and Parker said that the support has been “tremendous” since the event started seven years ago.

Shared Parker, “Our mission is twofold: to support and promote healthy lifestyles for animals in our community and to raise much-needed funds to support local animal-related charities. As the Somerville Dog Festival grew, it was necessary to have a recognized foundation to aid in our fundraising efforts and other projects in the community, as well as to serve as the official organizer of the event.”

Each year, up to 2,500 people and 900 dogs attend the Somerville Dog Festival! There’s something for everyone, like the dog/owner lookalike contest, best trick competition, and the “Fairy Tails” play—this year, canine actors will perform “The Ugly Duckling.” The Somerville Police K9 Unit also performs a popular “suspect takedown” demonstration, and trainers are onsite for obedience lessons like “Come When Called.”Somerville Dog Festival Fairy Tails play featuring people and their pupsOne of the festival’s special features is the “Try-It Area,” where people can introduce their dogs to an agility course, teach their dog weight pulling, or learn about nosework, a scent detection skill that’s taking off nationwide. When they’re ready, the dogs can enter the “Kibble Quest” nosework course, where they search for hidden treats in a straw bale maze. These activities are guided by experienced dog trainers to help people succeed.

“Our goal is to provide a safe and fun day for everyone and to promote healthy lifestyles for pets," Parker explained. "This event is the embodiment of those goals. It is rewarding to see people outside having fun with their dogs while they practice training or partake in other experiences that strengthen the human/animal bond. It’s hard to tell who’s having more fun—the dogs or their owners.”

Active dogs can also compete in Treibball, a sport in which they essentially herd large inflatable balls into soccer goals within 15 minutes. Mellower pups might be more intrigued by the food trucks at the event, or a private “Ask the Behaviorist” meeting with Stephanie Borns-Weil, DVM, from the Animal Behavior Clinic at Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine.
The Somerville Dog Festival is free, but donations are accepted at the entrance to support the festival as well as local animal-related charities. The money raised goes to support nonprofits like the Animal Rescue League of Boston and the Northeast Animal Shelter. It helps support the purchase of protective vests for law enforcement K9s and fund service dogs for combat veterans. The foundation is also starting a pet food bank this fall to help people who are struggling to feed their pets.

The Somerville Dog Festival invites well-behaved, leashed dogs who are current on their vaccinations, as well as their people, visitors and even those without a dog of their own. Everyone is welcome to attend.

The Somerville Dog Festival takes place 11 a.m.-3 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 11, 2016 at Trum Field (541 Broadway) in Somerville, Mass. For more information, visit somdogfest.org

Award-winning pet writer Jen Reeder loves attending dog-centric events with her rescued Lab mix, Rio.

Somerville Dog Festival photos by Jacob Strauss.