There's no better announcement that the dog days of summer are over than the chorus of barks echoing out from the Westminster Municipal Pool at its annual Pooch Pool Party.
The event, held every year on the Wednesday after Labor Day, allows dogs from around the area to dip their paws, tails and everything else into the community pool, just before it closes for the season.
According to Heather Mullendore, program coordinator for the Westminster City Department of Recreation and Parks, prior to the event, the staff lowers the chlorine levels in the pool for the dogs to have a happy and healthy swim.
Some dogs came and decided they wanted to stay dry. Understanding owners agreed, and let them stroll the premises and play with the other dogs, while others gave their pooches a nudge below the tail to knock them into the water. Many of the families brought balls and other toys to toss into the deep to encourage a belly flop or two from their four-legged friends.
Popcorn the dachshund was one pooch not convinced of the joys of the pool. Popcorn's owner, Robin Kelleher — who attended the party with her son, Brennan Dunfee, and sister, Rita Lindley — made him try a little bit of swimming before letting him out to dry off.
"He would vote no if we put it up to him," Kelleher said. "But it's good socialization for him, and he gets to meet a lot of other dogs and hopefully have a little fun."
Not all the dogs had to be convinced to hop into the water. Neil and Karen Hingen, of Thurmont, said their dogs, Finn and Bo, love to swim and do so any chance they get. The Hingens like to travel to all of the communities hosting pool parties to give Finn and Bo a chance to have a good time in the water.
"They like to swim in creeks and ponds, too," Karen said. "But we like this better because we don't have to worry about the bacteria."
Some owners kept some dogs on short leashes — both metaphoric and literal — while others let their pooches run wild and free. One dog took off into the men's room, leading its owner to enlist the help of her sons to coax him back out.
Carlene Thomas' Chihuahua, Baby, stuck close to her owner the entire time. Baby was cautious of the water, the other dogs and much of the whole experience.
"Baby must be the smallest dog here," Thomas said. "It's her first time ever swimming, and she's 6 years old. All my friends were rooting for her to get in the pool."
In her first dip, Baby immediately tried to get out of the kiddie pool. But after a few more tries, she soon began to settle into a doggie paddle. Baby eventually swam nearly the entire perimeter of the miniaturized pool before hopping out and shaking off.
The event is held to support the efforts of Reach Out Rescue and Resources, a nonprofit that works to rescue and foster animals from shelters. Jill Fulton, a volunteer with Reach Out, said the organization is always looking for foster families and is thankful for events like this to boost its profile. While there, many of the visitors flipped through Reach Out's binders of adoptable animals and took cards to hopefully give some pups a new home.
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Jeffrey Giles, of Union Bridge, helped come up with the idea for the Pooch Pool Party when he worked at the pool as a lifeguard in 2008. After a couple of years, the dream became a reality.
Although he doesn't work at the pool anymore, he still brings his dogs out to swim. This year, he brought Gunner Lee, a beagle and Labrador mix. Giles said Gunner likes swimming in the shallow waters of the kiddie pool but doesn't like the deeper waters of the adult swim area.
Gunner walked down the steps into the full-sized pool, then immediately turned around and got out. Giles told the dog that was OK, and that he was proud of him for trying.
"It's fun for him to come here and swim," Giles said. "I just like seeing everyone come together for something like this. It's a lot of fun for us and for them."