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A Day At The “Largest Festival For Dogs In North America” Where My Dog Was, Quite Frankly, Robbed Of His Accolades

Photo: Kelly Conaboy

The following is an excerpt from The Particulars of Peter, by Kelly Conaboy. It is available for purchase now.

There were about 200 vendors spread throughout the park, which sounds like a lot, but I’ll have you know that number does include ten water zones. They had names like Designer Doggie, ÜberDog, Ultimutts, K9 Kulture, and Smoochy Poochy, and they offered just about anything you could ever “want” (by which, in general, I mean not want) to buy for your dog: food, training, massages, sparkly dresses, pet sitting, energy healing, treats, little leather name tags that they’d stamp your dog’s name into right in front of you (I bought this), and doggy ice cream (admittedly I also bought this). There were also several human food stands and a bunch of tents dedicated to rescue organizations. The vendors that made me feel the least guilty about the human-leaning concept of a dog festival were the ones that offered free treats in addition to their for-sale wares, and the best of those were the ones—treat companies, usually—that offered them in heaping buckets, although Peter disagreed.

When he’s feeling uncertain, Peter does not like to eat treats. Sadly, he tends to feel uncertain whenever a stranger gives him a treat. I think this is very sweet, and that it shows an incredible survival instinct, and I’m proud of him for it, but it makes for some awkward encounters, as he is very cute, and, you see, people with treats are generally excited to give him one. He isn’t rude to them. He allows them the pleasure of placing a treat in his mouth, accepts it gingerly, and delicately places it on the ground in front of him. Very polite. Thank you, but no thank you; I do not know you and furthermore I prefer to take all treats in my treat spot at home, which is the couch.

My dog, Peter
Photo: Kelly Conaboy

So he wouldn’t eat any of the treats, even if I attempted to feed them to him myself. He was nervous. I understand. All around him dogs happily gobbled with abandon anything put in front of them, all different types of treats sure to give them a bit of diarrhea later, but Peter, like Bartleby before him, preferred not to. This even included a lime and blueberry doggy Popsicle that I swear to God looked so delicious the only thing keeping me from eating it myself was the fact that everyone around us also knew it was for dogs. Peter refused even a lick. You have to admire his restraint.

Luckily for us, there was a “Licensed Lounge.” It was so fucking hot and muggy, and all Peter wanted was to be able to sit at a table with an umbrella and watch me enjoy a free lemonade and Tito’s Vodka while waiting for the Mr. and Ms. Canine Canada Pageant to begin. Thankfully, Woofstock anticipated his desire. We waited there for a bit and caught our breath together; Peter under the table, me sitting in a chair. Here he was finally able to enjoy a nibble of the free treats I’d been hoarding in my backpack, stashing them away for when he felt more comfortable. It was quiet. Lying in the grass under a table, away from the crowd, was clearly the most at ease he’d felt all day.

At the table beside me, a tan, older, dogless man sat drinking his own free cocktail, taking in the scene. He had a mustache and the relaxed ease of Sam Elliott, cast in the role of a mustachioed Sam Elliott–type with a relaxed ease. He asked about Peter’s age and breed (ageless, poet) and told me that his own dog, a larger breed I’d neglected to take note of, was back at home. Every year he comes to the first day of Woofstock alone, to stake out what activities his dog would like best and put together a game plan; the next day he takes his dog. “It’s too hectic otherwise,” he said. He had a point.

Scores for the Mr. and Ms. Canine Canada pageant (held on the main stage) would not be shared with participants because they were going to be tabulated based exclusively on looks, and the Woofstock judges did not want to hurt anyone’s feelings. The host warned about this several times in the lead-up to the event. The pageant was based exclusively on looks—it was “purely physical,” he said. Entrants would not receive their scores. Everyone is there to have a good time and knowing these scores might put a damper on that, as they are based solely on looks. I know what you’re thinking: With his radiant eyes, perfectly folded ears, and body type reminiscent of a tiny horse, Peter is no doubt going to receive exactly the sort of brutally high score that necessitated the enforcement of this totalitarian restriction on information in the first place. And I agree.

Of course, we entered the competition.

A dog who is, I’m sorry to say, not as cute as Peter.
Photo: Kelly Conaboy

In line to take the stage (when competing, human competitors walked their dogs in front of the judges’ table on stage right and then across the length of the stage; quite humiliating, yes) we met an impassioned woman who immediately considered us her confidante, I suspect because we were standing the closest to her. She had a bit of a kerfuffle with another woman whose Pom, named Macchiato, kept approaching her blue-eyed Siberian husky, Akira. Akira did not like this, and my new friend was exasperated. “He’s an asshole,” she said of her dog, to Macchiato’s owner. “He’s fine off his leash but he’s an asshole on his leash, that’s why I’m trying to keep him close to me.” She paused for a breath. “He doesn’t like puppies especially, that’s why I’m keeping him close to me.” She then turned to me and gave a what’s wrong with this lady? face, and I did the sort of shrug you do to say, yeah, totally, but between you and me I just wanted to stay out of it. Luckily fate intervened. While I attempted to figure out the polite social mechanics of the situation, Peter wandered over to Akira, which caused Akira to wander toward Peter. Oh no—this wasn’t good. While I coaxed Peter back to me, Akira became upset. Immediately his owner turned on me; not even our proximity in line could save our friendship now. “I’m trying to keep him close to me,” she said, as if sharing it for the first time. “He’s fine off his leash,” oh no, “but he’s an asshole on his leash,” oh no, “that’s why I’m trying to keep him,” oh no, “close to me,” I KNOW!

A note about the attractiveness of the other dogs: They were all quite attractive. Conventionally. The sort of dogs whose owners make money or at least earn swag through social media.

Peter
Photo: Kelly Conaboy

The sort of dogs who are likely groomed somewhere other than an apartment bathtub. The sort of dogs who seem like they’re bragging and should maybe just relax. I’m sure these dogs are just as wonderful as any non-model-esque dog, but participating in a beauty contest makes you question certain things. Like, why do these dogs get so much attention, huh? Why are the judges cooing all over them? Are they even charming? Do they even have a notably gentle disposition that becomes abundantly clear after spending some time with them? And for the love of god—what kind of scores are they getting???

The contest resulted in a four-way tie for Mr. Canine Canada. Peter—who is, as a reminder, one of his generation’s great beauties—was not even among the four. After another round of voting it was whittled down to one: Akira.

That asshole.


Excerpted from THE PARTICULARS OF PETER: Dance Lessons, DNA Tests, and Other Excuses to Hang Out With My Perfect Dog by Kelly Conaboy.  Copyright © 2020 by Kelly Conaboy.  Reprinted with permission from Grand Central Publishing.  All rights reserved.