Park plans expand to bring Rockford a dog festival


Happy Hounds in downtown may become an annual dog-centered festival if dog park planners are able to pull it off. Organizer Tom VanderSloot described his vision during an evening planning session held at the Rockford Public Schools Administration Building Thursday, June 30.

VanderSloot would like to see a Relay for Life-type event at the track field of North Rockford Middle School—except centered on canines instead of cancer prevention and education. He described a fun, festival atmosphere with booths from vendors and sponsors, music, entertainment, contests—such as a dog costume competition—dog demonstrations and featuring a walk around the track, down a short route through downtown Rockford and back to the track.

VanderSloot came up with the idea after hearing about a similar event on the west coast. He’s had the idea for years after noticing what a “doggy” town Rockford is. In the Harvard Hounds festival in Washington, the funds raised are split between an animal benefit organization, such as the Humane Society, and one that benefits humans. VanderSloot suggested first raising funds for the dog park and North Kent Community Services.

The Harvard Hounds event raises $50,000 each year. VanderSloot didn’t think the event here, especially in its first year, would raise anywhere near that much but may significantly contribute to the total of $12,000 that dog park organizers have been tasked with raising.

Funds from the festival could come from sponsorships from Top Dog on down financially through categories such as Show Dog, Working Dog, Companion Dog, etcetera for the amount of money pledged, from businesses buying booths and from registration fees to participate in the parade and day’s events.

In February, dog-walking friends Marlene Clark, Nancy Seeley and Emily Weinmann began collecting signatures of residents who are in favor of dedicating currently unused park land in Rockford to a dog park. A former ball diamond south of Picket Park off the Rogue River would allow a fenced park about 160 by 180 feet. It would be divided into two sections, one for large and one for small dogs.

The dog park organizers had asked the Rockford City Council if there was interest by the City in creating the park and had an estimated budget of $20,000 for the project. Council members rejected funding the park during their May 9 meeting, but in April gave the park proposers a year to come up with money to develop the property themselves. The original budget had included $5,000 to bring water to the site and $15,000 in fencing costs. City Manager Michael Young said that if city staff were to install the fencing, the cost of that portion of the project would drop to $12,000.

In addition to the possible annual dog festival—which could happen this year in late October, if organizers move quickly—park proponents considered soliciting corporate and business sponsors, from selling bricks or perhaps dog gravestones over the cremains of passed pets, or installing a memorial and/or donor wall. Already at least one business, Rockford Animal Hospital, has offered matching funds of up to $3,000 for the project.

Weinmann, thanking Council for their support of the project on June 13, said the project came from “a couple of years of talk.” She said research shows that dogs that play outside and socialize are better dogs and have less chance of problem behaviors, such

as nipping.

“There are only three dog parks in Kent County,” Weinmann said. “This is another chance for Rockford to be proactive.”

Weinmann said she believes the money will be raised by next summer.

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