Dogging it at BARCStoberfest

If you believe your dog has as much right to trick-or-treat as you do, then by all means head to Patterson Park on Saturday. Chances are, you'll have plenty of company.

A costumed dog contest is just one of the many canine-centric activities scheduled for the sixth annual BARCStoberfest, Baltimore's annual opportunity to go willingly to the dogs. There will also be smallest and largest dog competitions, lots of "look what your dog can do if only you train him right" demonstrations, even a face-off between the city's best tail-waggers.

But when all of that has to compete with a bunch of dogs dressed in tutus, frocks and beehive hairdos — well, it's easy to guess where most of the attention will be directed.

"Last year, somebody had their Chihuahua dressed up as one of the Big Boyz Bail Bonds pens, those yellow-and-pink pens you see all over town," event organizer Debra Rahl said with a chuckle. "People love to show off their dogs. It's amazing the time and effort people will put into the costumes."

Rahl is the programs manager for BARCS (Baltimore Animal Rescue & Care Shelter Inc.), the city's non-profit animal shelter. BARCStoberfest is the shelter's biggest annual fundraiser, and it appears to be gaining momentum: Last year's event raised more than $50,000, which was more than twice what it raised in 2008.

Much of that money is raised through the "Strut Your Mutt" walk, something of a mini walkathon in which dogs and their owners seek pledges for walking around the park. Whoever raises the most money, in addition to doing a service for dogs (and other pets) everywhere, will win a Caribbean cruise for two.

Rahl and her BARCS colleagues hope Baltimoreans' love for their dogs has only increased in the past year.

"We'd love to double it again this year," Rahl said of the group's fundraising goals.

That could very well depend on how many clothes hounds are out there, and how many of their owners are willing to fork over the $15 registration fee for the contest. Rahl is optimistic.

"People love to do things with their pets, especially with their dogs," she said.

Those owners too dignified to dress up their pooches needn't fear. The daylong festival is also holding a dog-owner lookalike contest.

"You know, if you look like your bulldog," Rahl said. "There's always somebody who does."

Obedience clubs will be on hand, demonstrating how perfectly the well-trained canine can comport itself and giving owners of uncontrollable mutts something to shoot for.

How well-trained will these dogs be? Many are therapy dogs, approved to spend time in nursing and convalescent homes. One of the tests, Rahl notes, involves putting food on the floor and walking past it with the dog, which must leave it alone.

Think about that for a second — a dog ignoring food within easy reach. It boggles the mind.

More than 100 vendors are expected to attend, offering items including food (for dog and master) and elaborate doggie beds. Rahl promises there will even be, for those not into dogs, a cat tent.

While all dogs are welcome, she adds, owners should know their dogs' limitations before bringing them to this canine convention. If your dog doesn't play well with others, it might be best left home.

"If we see a dog that looks like it's getting stressed out, or looks like it might be getting a little grumpy, we'll ask the owner to be a little more cautious," Rahl said. "Maybe it's time for that dog to go home."

Then again, if Rover looks good in a Spider-Man suit, bring him along. Just don't embarrass the pooch.

"Earlier this week, I had to force my Chihuahua into a frog costume for TV," Rahl said. "She just looked at me the whole time, like, 'What are you doing?'"

chris.kaltenbach@baltsun.com

If you go

The 6th annual BARCStoberfest is set for 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday at Patterson Park, at Lombard Street and South Patterson Park Avenue. Admission is free, though there is a charge for many events.Call 410-396-4695 or go to baltimoreanimalshelter.org.

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