Barktoberfest: Where Dogs Live Their Best Lives
By Savannah Evanoff
Name a fluffier, cuter festival than Pensacola Humane Society’s Barktoberfest. We’ll wait.
Darra Flanagan, the event coordinator, said it’s the panhandle’s largest pet festival and mega adoption event combined. This is her third year leading the event, and she said her favorite part is how smoothly the event goes with thousands of people and their fur children in attendance.
“It’s truly amazing when you just go through the event and see the smiles on everybody’s face, see how happy the dogs are— and we’re not only raising money for Pensacola Humane Society but other organizations and their important missions,” Flanagan said. “It’s really touching, amazing and the most fun you could have.”
The event will have its fair share of fun, offering The Rescued Rescuers’ small dog and dachshund races for a $5 entry fee, giveaways, raffle drawings, $20 event T-shirts in multiple colors and a blessing of the animals at 1 p.m. Celebrity judges will determine the winners of various $5 pet contests throughout, such as best trick and best senior dog. A crowd favorite is the costume contests, which will feature junior and adult divisions. Owners often dress up, too.
Flanagan remembers last year’s winner of the adult costume contest.
“He had dressed as a Roman gladiator and created a chariot around a skateboard and had his little tiny 8-pound white, fluffy rescue dog dressed like Pegasus and pulled him across the stage,” Flanagan said. “We’ve also had the Blue Angels dogs dressed as Blue Angels. We had a cute little girl that made her wagon into a mousetrap and her head stuck up through it. Her dog was next to her also dressed as a mouse.”
This year’s event will also include a senior dog pie-eating contest for dogs ages 7 and up.
“They’re going to have little pies that are milk bone crust, peanut butter fluff and a little whipped cream on top,” Flanagan said. “Whoever finishes theirs the fastest is the winner.”
They partnered with the Pensacola Opera for another quirky contest in the afternoon.
“We’re going to do a howl-off,” Flanagan said. “The Pensacola Opera is going to sing a little song for us, and then we’re going to bring dogs on stage and see who can howl along with the opera singers the best.”
The event will also offer obedience and agility demonstrations by six different trainers and groups, including the Pensacola Police K-9 demonstration team and America’s VetDogs.
“America’s VetDogs out of Blackwater Prison is the program where inmates get little Labrador puppies and train them to service disabled veterans,” Flanagan said. “They have a really neat demonstration where they show how they can pick up canes and put on people’s socks and shoes for them.”
More than 120 vendors will attend, including animal welfare organizations, veterinarians, insurance companies, groomers and the Axe Warriors mobile axe-throwing unit. Among the 14 food vendors are acai bowls, tacos, kettle corn and three different dessert trucks.
Barktoberfest is part festival and part adoption event. Flanagan estimates more than 100 adoptable animals will be available from various organizations.
“We’re hoping that everyone finds their forever home, their forever family,” Flanagan said.
Flanagan’s best advice for people looking to adopt would be to talk with the volunteers and rescue workers who work with the animals daily and have them help find the dog or cat that is best suited to you and your family’s lifestyle.
“A lot of times, we fall in love at first sight with how beautiful a dog is, but that may not be the perfect fit for you and your family,” Flanagan said. “Let the workers at the rescue help you find the match, because it’s something you’re only going to do a few times in your life, so we want to make sure it’s the perfect match for the family and for the dog or cat.”
Every animal welfare organization has a different adoption process. Pensacola Humane Society’s process involves filling out a short adoption request form and talking with their pet matchmakers about their lifestyle, living situation and history with pets. It has a $40 adoption fee, and all dogs are spayed, neutered, microchipped, vaccinated and up-to-date on flea, tick and heartworm prevention.
Uniting pets with families is the very best part of what they do, Flanagan said. She often takes the Humane Express, a mobile adoption unit, to events.
“Seeing the people and the animals fall in love is the most rewarding experience I’ve ever had,” Flanagan said, “especially when you know the stars aligned and it’s the perfect fit for the family and the dog—then, of course, the pictures the families send us of the dog living their best life and knowing you were right to go forward with the adoption.”
WHAT: Pensacola Humane Society’s annual pet festival and adoption event
WHEN: 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Saturday Oct. 27
WHERE: Community Maritime Park, 301 W. Main St.
COST: Free admission