Tails wag at Paws in the Park

Tails wag at Paws in the Park
One of the pups, Romeo, was in attendance at the event and is adoptable through the AWLA. (Photo/Kassidy McDonald)

By Kassidy McDonald kmcdonald@alextimes.com

On Oct. 16, Alexandrians and visitors from the DMV area brought their furry friends and gathered in Oronoco Bay Park for an afternoon of Paws in the Park.

In 2021, when the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria officially took over holding the event, it was originally called Alexandria’s Love Your Pet Day. Last year’s event had more than 1,000 visitors. For this year’s Paws in the Park, there were even more people, vendors and dogs in attendance. Event-goers were allowed to bring their well-behaved leashed pets to enjoy a multitude of doggy-related activities in Oronoco Bay Park, from buying dog treats to making custom bandanas to getting their portrait taken. A portion of the proceeds raised from the event will go towards supporting the AWLA.

AWLA volunteer Michelle and her furry friend Luna. (Photo/Kassidy McDonald)

“It started as mostly an open house at VCA Animal Hospital and morphed into a street festival in the West End of Alexandria on Colvin Street, with a lot of the local dog and animal related businesses there. Last year, the AWLA officially took over this event,” Gina Hardter, director of marketing and communications for the AWLA, said. “As we took it over, we realized it’s definitely Alexandria’s biggest animal focused event, but it’s so much more than that. It’s a really fun fall festival that happens to have a really friendly animal component. So, we changed it to Paws in the Park to give people a better idea of what it is.”

Since the event grew too big for Colvin Street, it was time to bring Paws in the Park to a different location that would be able to fit all Alexandrians and their furry friends.

Hardter has been hoping that the event will grow larger each year because it offers a huge fundraising opportunity and expansive community outreach for the AWLA. The event was canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic, and Hardter began working on making the event even bigger for 2021.

Hardter said the group who created the event has worked on it for quite some time. She specifically shouted out Stephanie Frederick, who was one of the original organizers.

“We were very excited for the opportunity for this to become one of the AWLA’s signature events. The group that had created this and worked on it since 2015, all did a fantastic job bringing it together and we knew that with a little extra work we could make it a huge event … [Frederick] is working with us in a consultant capacity to help bring everything together, she’s definitely the brains and a lot of the brawn behind this,” Hardter said.

Gina Hardter with the Waggin’ Wheels mobile adoption unit. (Photo/Kassidy McDonald)

They changed the name of the event last year, so this year attendees were excited to see the new changes that the festival would partake in for 2022. Besides the AWLA bringing adoptable animals, this year more than a dozen nonprofits that work with animals were in attendance.

Rescue Row, which was sponsored by Amazon, featured 12 rescues. There were specialized rescues in attendance as well, like Australian Shepherds Furever, Margaret’s Saving Grace Bully Rescue, Miri’s Haven Senior Dog Rescue, Oldies But Goodies Cocker Rescue and Shenandoah Shepherd Rescue. These rescues spanned across the DMV area, but came together in Alexandria to promote their missions and get some of their animals adopted by attendees of the festival.

The AWLA brought some of their adoptable animals to the event, as well as their Waggin’ Wheels mobile adoption unit. Inside the mobile adoption unit were cats and other small animals like guinea pigs who were available for adoption.

There were four different live music acts that performed on stage throughout the day, which included Uno Dos Tres Andrés, Groovy Nate, Justin Paschalides and Bill Cabrera and Company. Between the musical acts at around 1:35 p.m., adoptable animals from the shelters featured at Rescue Row took to the stage for a Paw Parade to show adopters available pets.

Besides music, there were multiple vendors selling animal related items, crafts and art or food. Food and Beverage vendors included Lost Boy Cider, The Big Cheese, A.M. Kettle, Ana’s Twist, Mr. Falafel, Port City Brewing Company, Sip Coffee and Woodlawn Press Winery. Animal related vendors included PetGearByDebbie, Pawfectly Delicious Dog Treats and Extra Mile Pets: Handmade by Antje. There were many booths with dog training services, doggy daycares and boarding/ grooming facilities as well as pet stores and animal hospitals. There were more than 70 businesses and organizations in attendance this year.

Art by Jessie Whitten was one particular vendor who specializes in custom oil portraits for pets. Whitten was selling notecards, fine art prints in small, medium and large sizes as well as original ink and pastel children’s art. She is located in Falls Church but has been a featured artist at the Torpedo Factory Art Center. Another way the Torpedo Factory was incorporated into the event was through a donation of papier mache wireframes of a dog and a cat, created by Torpedo Factory Artist Lisa Schumaier. Attendees could directly contribute to an art project that would be featured in the AWLA by pasting papier mache onto the two wireframes.

The papier mache project donated to the AWLA. (Photo/DeSilva Studios)

AWLA also had a Family Fun Tent which was sponsored by TTR Sotheby’s International Realty. The tent was a spot for people of all ages to stop by and make crafts, which included dog bandanas and pet enrichment “tube toys.” According to Hartder, most people decorated bandanas for their own pets, but some also donated their creations to adoptable animals with the AWLA. Hardter also said most of the tube toys that were made by attendees were donated to the dogs, cats, rabbits and guinea pigs at theAWLA.

Those interested in learning more information to help the AWLA with fostering, donating, volunteering or to schedule an appointment to meet an adoptable animal can visit https://alexandria animals.org.

“We welcome people to get involved with us in a variety of ways,” Hardter said. “We’re al- ways looking for people who are looking to help us help animals and the people who love them across the community.”