Going to the Dogs

Going to the Dogs

Lake Accotink Park hosts Responsible Pet Ownership Day.

Dogs were dancing, digging for bones, cooling off in a wading pool and running their human companions ragged at Lake Accotink Park on Sunday, part of the Responsible Pet Ownership Day organized by the Fairfax County Park Authority.

"We come here all the time," said Amy Jordan, anchored in the woods with her dog Porter, her 9-year-old Lab mix. "They have all kinds of things for dogs here. We saw a Newfoundland rescue show earlier and signed up for a dog CPR class."

She was accompanied by Kim Stryker and her 1-year-old Bernese mountain dog Jack, who was celebrating his birthday a day early.

"Porter is Jack's best friend, so we're out here having fun together today," Stryker said. "He was already out swimming in the lake and came out covered in sand. He loves being able to swim. I just wish there were more places that make it OK for him to go swimming," she said.

THE NEED for more resources for dogs and their owners throughout the county was a common theme during the dog-oriented event, sponsored by the Fairfax County Park Authority, the Companion Animal Hospital in Springfield and several pet-based businesses from across the county.

Rosemary Miller, a member of the Perfect Pets 4H Club, was offering good citizenship testing for pets throughout the day.

"This is an AKC program to promote responsible ownership," Miller said. "There are 10 different things that the dogs are tested on, like how well they handle being approached by a stranger or another dog, how calm they are, how well they're able to sit still. If the dog passes, their test score is sent into the AKC and they get an official certification. It's one of the few AKC programs you don't have to be a purebred to be involved in."

One dog, Q-Tip, a 5-year-old white Samoyed owned by Diane Lewis, had already passed her certification.

"More and more volunteer groups that look for dogs are requiring the dogs to be certified as good citizens," said Stephanie Gernert, who was waiting to have her 2-year-old coonhound, Tyler, tested.

"In order to live in certain apartment complexes, the dogs need to be certified," Miller said. "It shows a dog can interact well with other dogs and people, which is important in crowded places."

Q-Tip enjoys interacting with other dogs, Lewis said. "We're here today for him to have fun. He really likes being outside," she said.

Several activities were available for dogs to show off their skills, including a "freestyle" event where dogs could dance with their owners, an agility course and a bone hunt, all sponsored by the 4H club.

Nadia Ghosheh was taking several turns running Penny, an English cocker spaniel, through the course.

"She memorizes the course pretty fast," said Brenda Shaner, one of the adult mentors of the club. "We're doing these demonstrations to show kids the kinds of things they can do with their dogs and how much fun they can have."

When Penny was taking a break, Kelse Miller took a turn with Binky, a small gray dog with a bright, fuzzy pink collar.

"We open the course up for people to take their dogs through," she said. "Not a lot of people are training their dogs anymore, so as we do more of these shows, more people get interested in it."

It's important for owners to realize that "it's one thing for a dog to learn tricks in your house. It's really a challenge to take them out in public and get them to listen to you with all sorts of distractions around," Shaner said.

Better behaved dogs are less likely to be put up for adoption, she said, and families are able to get more enjoyment out of their four-legged family member.

SEVERAL VENDERS were on hand Sunday, including Pat Rogan from the Wildflour Bakery, which makes Just Rewards, a dog treat made by workers with severe mental disabilities.

"It started with an idea to take people who would otherwise be unable to work and bring them into a situation with non-disabled people to earn a paycheck and do tasks designed for them with their abilities in mind," Rogan said. "Dog biscuits fit perfectly into our work situation, they're easy to make but give people a task they can do with their abilities."

Rogan was passing out information about the bakery and the program to those who stopped by for a free sample. "There's a real community among dog owners, so coming here seemed like it would be a good fit."

Sponsoring the Responsible Dog Ownership Day was one way to address a growing number of animal problems in the county, said Tawny Hammond, manager of Lake Accotink Park. "Animal shelters are just filled with pets. In many cases where you have a problem animal, there's a human cause behind it," she said.

Having the event at the park made sense because "people bring their dogs to the park all the time. We wanted to be able to celebrate the relationship between people and their pets because in many places, people aren't allowed to bring their pets with them," Hammond said.

The county is looking into starting more programs geared toward animals and their owners, she said, something the Park Authority has been working on for eight years.

"We get a lot of help from the Fairfax County Animal Shelter, but we want to be more active. Hopefully next year we'll be more involved with the event and have more things available," Hammond said.

The Companion Animal Hospital of Springfield was offering rabies vaccinations and microchip implantation at reduced rates, she said, along with free health evaluations. "We're just trying to make an impact," she said.