FITCHBURG — A sizeable pack of four-footed furry friends and their humans attended the recent Dog Park Festival, an annual event aiming to bring awareness to the spacious area at Coolidge Park where pets can run free.
“People and their dogs absolutely love the dog park,” said Friends of Fitchburg DOGS, Inc. President Sam Squailia. The nonprofit organization supports the dog park, low cost pet vaccination clinics and local pet therapy teams.
“Coolidge Park is already the most popular park in the city. Add in the dog park and it is quite the destination park in the city,” Squailia added.
The festival drew hundreds of attendees, dozens of vendors, and area K-9 officers and their partners, who all paused for a moment of silence for state police K-9 Frankie, who was shot and killed in the line of duty in July.
Friends of Fitchburg DOGS volunteer Joe Bowen, who led the moment of silence, said he enjoys being part of the dog park team.
“I just love doing things that build community,” he said.
Squailia said the group was thrilled to have the festival return after postponing it due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the last one was held in 2019.
“Due to COVID we put a pause on events for the past couple years, which has hindered our fundraising efforts for sustaining our dog park maintenance, so our dog park volunteers were excited to get back into our annual festival for 2022,” Squailia said. “We kept it a bit smaller this year but still had an amazing turnout.”
Food trucks at the event included Sun Kim Bop, Sabrosa Venezuela, and Samoreray’s — their first event with their new food truck ahead of them opening a restaurant in Leominster fed the crowds.
Vendors including K9 Pawformance, Leominster Animal Hospital, Massachusetts Vest-a-Dog, NewVue Communities and NoWoCo Pride offered a variety of resources and there was a mobile dog groomer, photo booth, dog themed raffle prizes, dog park swag available for purchase, free microchips courtesy of Mooka Pet ID, and River Styx Brewing was on hand with cold beers.
Kids and families played on the adjacent playground and scores of dogs happily ran around the two double gated fenced in spaces, one for dogs under 30 lbs. and one for larger breeds, and a tongue in cheek Mount Ruffmore sign hangs on the fence.
“This dog park is crazy well used,” Squailia commented at the event.
She said she was “alerted” to a Board of Park Commissioners public outreach meeting in May 2015 “to interested persons in the community to help create a dog park” and immediately “hit the ground running with our volunteer team,” which includes DOGS Vice President Brenda Coveno-Watson and officer Robert Talbot among other dedicated citizens.
Friends of Fitchburg DOGS was established as a nonprofit in July of that year and the dog park grand opening took place in August 2018.
When asked what the response has been from area dog owners to have a place to bring their pups to, Squailia joked that “beyond just seeing the happy dogs, we can tell by the very heavy bags of dog poop our volunteers regularly clean up” indicating the area is well used.
“You see so many dogs at the park, and who knew there were so many different dog breeds in the city?” she said. “You will when you bring your dog to go play.”
Squailia herself has two shelter dogs, Dynamite and Ruff, both “mutt” labs. Although she doesn’t get to bring them to the park too often, she usually goes to empty the trash and help clean up.When she does get the opportunity to bring her dogs, they thoroughly enjoy it.
“Sometimes I’ll bring them to play when I do the dirty work, they love it,” she said.
While fundraising “wasn’t really the focus for this year’s festival,” Squailia said they “hope to do more fundraising coming up soon to pay for all the poop bags and trash bags and pooper scoopers and everything else needed to maintain the park into the future.”
An upcoming low-cost vaccine clinic is scheduled for 9 a.m. to noon, Oct. 1, at the Fitchburg Fire Department headquarters located 33 North St. The annual Howl-O-Ween Pet Costume Contest will be held from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., Oct. 30, at Coolidge Park.
For more information visit http://www.fitchburgdogpark.org and follow Fitchburg Dog Park on Facebook and Instagram and Friends of Fitchburg DOGS, Inc. on Facebook.