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APA “Canine Carnival” Project

by James Kane

Scores of dogs and their owners filled Ladue's Tilles Park on Sunday, October 5th, for the Animal Protection Agency of Missouri's 18th annual Canine Carnival event. Coordinated by a handful of full-time APA staff members and a volunteer force of approximately 240, the festival included party games for hound and human alike, vendor and food booths, plus pet adoption services.

 Among the volunteers were 15 students from nearby Webster University, which held its 14th annual Webster Works Worldwide community service day the previous Wednesday. The campus-wide event pairs student volunteers with local agencies and nonprofit organizations to accomplish a variety of tasks, such as tutoring, painting, landscaping, working with children or seniors, park and forest restoration and light construction.

Webster student and Works team leader Jennifer Chiodini, who has volunteered at the past three Canine Carnivals, had a personal stake in the event. "I got both of my dogs, two Belgian Malinois, from APA shelters," she said, "and I just think it's good to support 'open admission' shelters anywhere."

Chiodini explained that open admission shelters, such as the APA, accept and assist all dogs in need, regardless of breed, age, health conditions or behavioral disorders—all factors that could potentially limit a dog's chances of being adopted. The alternative exists in organizations like the Humane Society, which practice selective admission, picking out only those dogs they consider most likely to be adopted.

"[The Human Society] turns away or immediately euthanizes breeds like the pit bull that people think of as mean or aggressive. To me, that's wrong. It all depends on the individual dog," said Chiodini, "So you have to get behind these shelters that do things the right way." Her convictions led her to seek a leadership position within Webster Works Worldwide for the first time this year: "I just really love some of the things they're doing here, so I wanted to help in a bigger way."

One of Chiodini's favorite aspects of the festival, which lasted from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., is the APA's Homeward Bound mobile adoption unit. This is a full-size tour bus loaded with 20 large-breed and 20 small-breed animal cages, filled with dogs and cats ready for adoption that day. Christy Pritchard, a full-time APA staff member of three years, was in charge of the bus on the day of the carnival.

"The Agency has been doing the carnival for 18 years now, and three years ago we were able to start bringing in the MAU," Pritchard said.

In each year since, the non-profit organization has been able to find permanent homes for at least three dogs in need on the day of the carnival. Additionally, she said, local companies such as Commerce Bank support the bus by "sponsoring" the dogs up for adoption. For a $500 donation, an animal is put into a harness bearing the company's logo with a sign that reads: "They Care."

Pritchard said that many carnival goers also find the "Ask the Vet" booth very useful. Students from the Jefferson School for Veterinary Technology set up a tent to field questions and dispense free advice on pet healthcare to animal owners all day. Pritchard said that several pit bull, pug and German shepherd rescue organizations were also on hand, as well as groups like Senior Dogs for Seniors, which pairs aging dogs with elderly human companions. These groups manned booths to disseminate information about their causes and drum up support or donations.

Many of the carnival attractions, however, are "mostly just for fun," said Joe Chiodini, brother of team leader Jennifer. This is Joe's sophomore year at Webster and his second volunteering for the WWW project. He noted the water dishes spread out across the park every 20 yards for dog and owner to gather round and converse. Chiodini said he gets a big kick out of the light-hearted side of the festivities.

Doggie Duds clothing company, a national canine apparel chain, sold its wares in one booth. In the next, BlueShadow Pet Photography, essentially glamour shots for pooches, distributed fliers. A puppy-kissing contest was held early in the day (wherein dogs kissed owners, not other dogs) and the title was taken by Roy Orbison, a six-month-old American bulldog. This competition was quickly followed by the festival's penultimate event, the crowning of the king and queen of the 18th annual Canine Carnival.

The Webster Works Worldwide  service day was begun in 1994 by former university President Dr. Richard S. Meyers in lieu of his inaugural ceremony. The Webster Works Worldwide has been held in October every year since. According to the Works website, since the event's inception over 16,000 volunteers have given more than 70,000 hours of community service in the Webster Groves area and at Webster's worldwide campuses.