Dogfest: A “Pet”rospective

Yes, yes, the puppies. I’m sure that’s probably what got you to click, but you’ll have to read a little more first.


Photo by Thorston Knatz

Puppy kisses at Dogfest 2021!

Canine Companions for Independence is the largest service dog organization in the nation, with a campus right here in Medford. Every fall, it runs Dogfest, an annual event meant to raise funds for and awareness about the organization.

This year, Dogfest was held at Massapequa’s Marjorie R. Post Park, and featured multiple dog-friendly vendors, a canine costume contest, and its signature dog walk through the park, all of which were open to pet dogs as well as the organization’s service dogs (and puppies).

I had the chance to interview a few of the people to get a better idea of the history of the event and of Canine Companions as a whole. I first interviewed Mary Keys, a graduate with a Canine Companions service dog. Talking with her, I learned that the dogs are trained to do many tasks such as ‘opening doors and retrieving items.’

I also talked to Jeri Gersh, a Volunteer Puppy Raiser, about the process of raising a service dog. Puppies are sent to their Raisers at 8 weeks old and stay with them until they hit 18 months, with the Raisers doing lots of training and submitting monthly reports to make sure the dogs are progressing on schedule. After completing their time with a Puppy Raiser, the dogs come to the Medford campus, where they spend 6-9 months with professional trainers being trained into fully-fledged service dogs.

Later in the day, I got the chance to interview Allison Baal, Canine Companions’ Community Events Coordinator, about Dogfest. She said that it’s well-established, having run on Long Island for more than 25 years, and that it’s recently expanded to other areas of the country as well. In her words, Dogfest is ‘a way to get the word out about Canine Companions.’ Because passersby are free to drop in, it allows the organization to raise money and spread awareness about itself at the same time.