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Festival greets summer with a wag

A tot enjoys a cart ride at last year’s WagFest. - PAWS courtesy photo
A tot enjoys a cart ride at last year’s WagFest.
— image credit: PAWS courtesy photo

WagFest fundraiser will help PAWS meet demand for pet services.

There will be more wagging tails than ever Saturday at PAWS of Bainbridge Island and North Kitsap’s festival of “all-things-canine.”

The annual “WagFest” at Battle Point Park will be PAWS’ largest yet, with a myriad of dog-related events and 25 vendors on hand (See box). Proceeds from the festival benefit PAWS’ canine programs, including spay/neuter services, veterinary bill assistance and a planned therapy dog program scheduled to launch next fall.

“There’s sort of a misconception that we’re the ‘cat people,’” PAWS Executive Director Mark Hufford said, referring to the group’s popular Bainbridge cat adoption center. “But right now, PAWS spends more money on dogs than cats.”

As with many nonprofit agencies, PAWS has seen a spike in demand for its services this spring.

In response, the island-based nonprofit has expanded its programming and is increasing its presence in North and Central Kitsap.

It has also increased its own board from four to 10 members.

According to PAWS staff, the rise in need is directly linked to the economic downturn.

“It’s kind of a new segment for us, people who never would have asked for assistance before,” PAWS Program Director Marylou Zimmerman said. “I’ve heard from people who are business owners on Front Street in Poulsbo, or Winslow Way on Bainbridge, who haven’t made a sale in three months and can’t afford a vet bill.”

PAWS’ veterinary assistance program, which helps pet owners foot the bill for their pets’ medical needs, has seen an especially precipitous rise in demand. The nonprofit group is spending 61 percent more on vet bill assistance in the first quarter of 2009 than in 2008.

The group has also been making monthly deliveries of pet food to Helpline House and three other area food banks.

Zimmerman said the economy has forced many residents to consider giving up their pets altogether, to alleviate the burden of food and veterinary bills. PAWS staff have even been monitoring the pet adoption pages of Craiglist and responding to posters to let them know help is available.

“We’ve been hearing from a lot more people looking to get rid of their pets, but when we have a conversation it turns out they just can’t afford the bills,” Zimmerman said.

Saturday’s WagFest will help sustain PAWS programming for dogs. It’s also a good opportunity for a day in the park, with or without a furry date.

“The best part of WagFest is you don’t have to bring a dog, or even own a dog to have a great time,” event chair and PAWS board member Mindy Anderson said. “And if you do bring a dog, they will absolutely have a fantastic time.”

Dog day

WagFest runs from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at Battle Point Park.

Activities include:

A 1.5-mile dog parade

Newfoundland-pulled cart rides

Talent contest

K9 Freestyle Dancing

Flyball demonstration

Microchip clinic

Costume contest

25 vendors

For a full line up of activities, photos from last year’s WagFest and other information see www.pawsbainbridge.org.

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