While a certain huge live music event was taking place elsewhere in the UK, I headed to Dogfest for a day, which was promoted as ‘the ultimate summer festival for dogs’ and that’s exactly what it felt like! I’m not sure if I could have enjoyed myself even more if I had been a pooch, but I certainly had an amazing day. What started out in a field behind Channel 4’s Supervet Prof. Noel Fitzpatrick’s Surrey practice (pictured below with his border terrier Keira) is now a huge event happening on two consecutive weekends, Dogfest North in Cheshire on 17 and 18 June and Dogfest South on 24 and 25 June 2017, which I attended, at Knebworth House near Stevenage, about half an hour north of London.
Getting to the Festival (hitchhiking with dog lovers included!)
As the directions to get to the festival site looked pretty straightforward online, I hopped on a train and then the 44 bus from Stevenage bus station, asking the driver to drop me off at Manor Farm, the nearest stop along a country road. So far so good. It looked like a 10-15 minute walk, at most, and I quite enjoyed the idea of it, yet alas, despite GPS on the phone, I ended up following a road that took me further and further away from the venue, so confusing. I ended up trying to wave down other festival goers from the side of the road and was super lucky lovely dog owners John and Katherine let me hitch a ride with them and Jack Russell Dodger (see pic below) in the backseat. It still took us and seemingly quite a few of the other dog enthusiasts a number of wrong turns until we were finally on the right track, but when we eventually arrived, it was like getting off at the kind of playground any dog-loving adult would enjoy: dozens and dozens of dogs of all shapes and sizes with their owners in tow were making their way to the main entrance. I could barely contain myself, it made me so happy to see all the wagging tails and excited pooches pulling at their leads.
The festival was spread out on a field behind Knebworth House, which was much larger than I expected, with many interesting stalls lined up around the edges of it. There were all sorts of accessories and nutrition for dogs on offer (including some useful looking dog cooling coats for hot weather), as well as holidays with dogs and health checks and grooming (weight management, ticks, canine massage etc.) and various stalls by dog and wildlife charities (even one for cats). I also spoke to Pete of Cold Feet Huskies, who had brought some of his dogs along and races them around the UK and further afield. I could have easily spent a couple more hours just taking a look at all of these. The food options were also quite varied (burgers, burritos, English fare, falafels, ice cream, proper coffee) including some good veggie choices.
There were lots of great activities for the dogs to try including my favourite, the diving pool! There was a long queue all day for pooches to go for a swim in the tempting looking clean water as it was a pretty hot day. Some of the dogs were not quite sure if they really felt like giving it a go, but others couldn’t wait to jump into the waves, splashing the assembled audience with water left, right and centre. It was so much fun to watch and no doubt even more fun for the dogs who took apart. Other activities included learning to do agility with your dog, dog competitions, a ‘school for dogs’, hay races and a ‘temptation alley’.
I was a little bit concerned about this before attending the event, but as far as I could see anything humanly possible had been done to make sure the dogs were all right. There was a first aid and show vet on site plus containers with fresh water spread around the field (which some of the smaller breeds quickly identified as ideal paddling pools), some tented areas with hay bales for owners to sit on and one particularly nice tent with tables, chairs and a bar at one end, so you could enjoy a nice glass of cool wine and your dog could rest in the shade right opposite the ‘super stage’ where Noel Fitzpatrick did his talks and live music performances were on all day. I was generally very impressed with how well the hundreds of dogs got on with each other. Hardly any barking (apart from excited yaps!) could be heard all day and the event clearly attracted responsible dog owners and well-adjusted pooches. If you have a puppy, attending Dogfest could be a good opportunity to socialise it in a friendly environment, all the puppies I met and petted looked very happy indeed, including little Anakin, the Chihuahua (pictured below).
The Great Dog Walk
At 3pm hundreds of dog owners and their pooches gathered for the great dog walk in aid of The Humanimal Trust across the grounds of Knebworth House, either for a 2km or 4km stroll, and Noel Fitzpatrick brought his little border terrier Keira along for a short talk before it started. Once it was all go, the many happy smiley dogs dragging their owners across the field were a real sight to behold. Walkies on a giant scale!
Having seen ‘The Supervet’ Prof. Noel Fitzpatrick only on TV before, it was great to hear him speak live about his own career and the lives of animals and people him and his team were able to make a difference to. Some of the dogs from the TV programme, who had meanwhile fully recovered, were also present, which was lovely to see. He also talked enthusiastically about his charity, the above mentioned The Humanimal Trust, which aims to “reduce, refine and replace animal experiments with reciprocity – which means that we only sponsor research that helps animals with naturally occurring disease, not through the use of experimental models.” It’s a ground-breaking idea to help humans AND animals, so both species win, not one at the expense of the other. Noel spoke about the huge amount of unconditional love being present in this field on this day and how our love for our pets can really make a difference to our own and other people’s lives.
All in all, it was a great day out for dogs and humans alike. My advice if you’re coming by car and are bringing your dog would be to either get there very early or in the afternoon in order to avoid the at times longish queues to get into the car park right beside the main entrance. If the weather is very hot, it might even be better to take a train and a cab (it cost only £6 for a single taxi trip from Stevenage rail station, which I should have opted for on the way there, too). And don’t worry if you haven’t got a dog, I don’t either as I travel too much and I still had an absolutely fabulous time. In fact, everyone was so friendly, I got chatting with quite a few dog owners and heard so many inspiring stories of rescues finding a forever home and friendships between dogs and humans, it was actually quite emotional. One of them was Blarney (see pic below) who was adopted from Ireland. It’s also a great opportunity for those looking at getting a dog to find out which breed or type of dog would be suitable for them, ideally of course a rescue dog, as there are so many of them waiting to be adopted in shelters around the country.
Cuddle a Dog a Day
If you’d like to see a few more pictures and some videos of chocolate lab Dizzy diving into the pool, the dog and duck (herding) show as well as footage of the Great Dog Walk, do check out my Cuddle a Dog a Day Instagram account. I started it in April this year as my daily goal is to pet at least one dog a day (or any fluffy animal really) and it’s been a great way of documenting the cute dogs I meet (pictured below are Spanish rescue Killick and Pomerian Lola) and of connecting with other dog lovers from around the world. I follow back genuine dog/dog parent or other animal lovers’ accounts.
Not all Dogs are so Lucky
Lastly, spare a thought and maybe a few pounds to abolish an altogether different event, the horrifying Yulin ‘festival’ in China, which is sadly happening again right now (despite millions of people signing petitions and protesting around the world) and involves the torture and slaughter of thousands of dogs and cats. No animal should ever have to suffer like this. Find out how you can help and maybe consider minimalising animal suffering in your own community by reducing or cutting out meat from your diet and learning about vegetarianism or veganism.
Disclaimer: Life is a Festival was provided with a complimentary ticket for the festival.