3 things to do with the kids — and furry friends — in Howard County

The steamy final months of summer offer tons of opportunities for families to have a blast alongside members of the animal kingdom. From encouraging animal advocacy to celebrating the prettiest animals in the county, here’s a look at how families and their furry friends can celebrate summer’s dog days.

1. Dress up

Halloween might still be a couple months away, but early August is prime costume time for Howard County’s finest animals.

On Sunday, Aug. 6, animal lovers of all ages will be charmed by the Howard County Fair’s Pretty Animal Contest. Despite the contest name, this is not a pageant judged solely on looks.

Animal owners — adults and children — and animals of many types are eligible to enter the contest; they simply must be dressed in costume and come prepared with a one- to two-minute original story about what the costume signifies.

During the contest, event co-chair Megan Hill reads the story aloud while the owner walks the animal around the ring. Following the contest, animals and their owners will take home prizes for categories like Most Creative and Funniest.

“It’s fun because you really don’t know what the animals are going to do,” said Hill. “Many times they’ll try to do a trick, and sometimes they do it and sometimes they don’t. It’s cute.”

The Howard County Fair’s Pretty Animal Contest takes place Sunday, Aug. 6, at 11 a.m. Fair admission is $5 for adults, $2 for seniors 62 and older, and free for children under 10. Howard County Fairgrounds, 2210 Fairgrounds Road, West Friendship. 410-442-1022. howardcountyfair.org/contests#pretty-animal.

2. Hit the park

Treat your dogs to a family-friendly afternoon of running wild at a local dog park. Several local spots, including Columbia DogPark and Worthington Dog Park in Ellicott City, allow pet owners to take their dogs off-leash.

At Worthington, pups can frolic with other dogs of similar size and temperament; the park has an area specifically designated for smaller, shier or older dogs.

Senior Dog Park Attendant Rita Campbell says pets and their owners can have a great time at dog parks, tossing balls and playing with their dogs, though she offers a tip to owners: “Never bring your dog’s favorite toy, because your dog might not appreciate other dogs playing with it.”

Campbell also notes that before packing up the family, parents should check the park’s rules and regulations. In the interest of safety, some local parks, including Worthington Dog Park and Columbia DogPark, are open only to children 12 and older.

Worthington Dog Park, 8170 Hillsborough Road, Ellicott City. Open sunrise to sunset, weather permitting. 410-313-4700.

Columbia DogPark, 5901 Rivendell Lane, Columbia. $5 for residents and $6 for non-residents. Open year round, dawn to dusk. 410-312-6330.

3. Give back

Big-hearted kids who love animals might be frustrated by the lack of volunteer opportunities available to them; shelters and rescue organizations often require volunteers to be teenage or older for safety reasons. But that doesn’t mean kids can’t get involved.

Animal Advocates of Howard County, a local nonprofit focused on helping pets find homes and promoting animal health, welcomes kids to get involved through donation drives and other means.

“Kids will elect to have birthday parties where people will bring a can of food for a cat or treats for a dog in lieu of a birthday present,” says Animal Advocates volunteer Laurie Wallace. “Some kids do things like bake cookies for dogs or make cat toys.”

Wallace said families who are interested in giving back are can call Animal Advocates for advice.

Animal Advocates of Howard County. 410-880-2488. animal-advocates.org.

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