By Sean Meyer
Organizers are expecting to draw about 15,000 people and 4,000 dogs to the third annual Pawlooza festival this Saturday (Aug. 20).
The festival, which takes place at the estate of Steve Plunkett on International Homeless Animals’ Day, runs from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Events include obedience demonstrations, a pet psychic show, trailwalks, an ugliest dog competition, pet first aid demonstration and the ever-popular dock diving contest
Pawlooza is a fundraiser for two not-for-profit agencies: Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF) Ontario and Leads Employment Services. That might be what the festival can be defined as, but Craig Huffman, Pawlooza’s festival director, has a much more colourful description of what it is.
“It is a crazy, wacky, silly, ridiculous dog festival with more events, more vendors, more things happening than you could ever imagine,” Huffman said. “It’s for people who don’t have dogs and just want to support animal rescue, and obviously, for people who do have and love dogs.”
Pawlooza has grown into an event that animal rescue organizations have come to rely on as a way of getting out their messages.
“We quickly realized it was going to be more than just a fundraiser,” Huffman said. “It is an event that we hope will make a difference in the animal rescue community.”
Huffman said all the volunteers — himself included — are unpaid for their efforts, but are committed to Pawlooza because of everything they have learned about the efforts of animal rescue groups.
Not only has the rescue community embraced Pawlooza, which has grown past London and across the country, but also the corporate community. Corporations like Fido, Sifton Properties, and Davis Martindale Chartered Accountants have come together with other small and large businesses to provide Huffman with the funding he says makes Pawlooza possible.
The fundraising component of Pawlooza will always be a key for the festival. Huffman said corporate and private donations cover most costs associated with staging the event.
Fees paid by vendors, monies raised through food sales and the $10 charged for parking per vehicle cover the rest. Once the bills are paid, the fundraising for ARF and Leads can take place.
“For the last two years we have been at $35,000 each. It isn’t a lot considering all the time we put in, but it is enough to keep us going, which is what we want,” said Huffman, who added it isn’t the only thing that matters. “We think of it not only in terms of covering our financial needs, but also helping the rescue groups do what they do. There is the education that goes on. There is the dogs that end up being adopted because of this day. That is why we are doing this, why we will keep doing this.”
ARF works with First Nations and rural communities throughout Ontario to rescue, rehab and re-home stray dogs and cats. Leads helps people with disabilities throughout southwestern Ontario find employment and receive skills training.