BY CHERESE COBB, FREELANCE WRITER
Milwaukee is a “City of Festivals.” From summer to winter, ethnic and cultural events act as portals into the world, inviting Wisconsinites to entertain their inner wanderlust as they enjoy the entertainment, art, culture and cuisine of foreign lands. Moreover, the Great Place on a Great Lake reminds us that we’re all connected by a single thread—a leash! Milwaukee and its surrounding cities are dog-friendly. Proof? We’ve rounded up eight canine-approved festivals that’ll allow your whole family (two-legged and four-legged!) to have a tail-waggin’ good time from now until the New Year.
Fido Fest, Wauwatosa
June 17, 11am-4pm,
Dog lovers, grab your leashes and head to Central Bark’s Fido Fest in Hart Park. Held at the same time as Wauwatosa’s annual HartFest, visitors can jam out to the Wauwatosa School of Music and The Playlist while watching the Rescue Parade or perusing Rescue Roe — where dogs from the Wisconsin Humane Society and JR’s Pups-N-Stuff are hoping to fetch forever homes. Looking to stay cool for the summer? Hit up the Splash Zone where your dogs can wade through pools of all sizes. Need a little R&R? Cool down with cups of Kealoha’s Hawaiian Shaved Ice in the Relaxation Zone. Then let the fur fly at Barkley’s Salon and Spa. Allow your dogs to answer the call of the wild as they chase zigzagging lures in the Lure Coursing Contest. Run, Fido, run! You can also clock your canines with a radar gun as they zoom down the speedway. And don’t forget to buy a $2 ticket for the Ulti-Mutt Prize Package. It’s stuffed with $250 worth of doggie goodies, from SpaMist’s Ultrasonic Mister to Zuke’s Mini Natural Roasted Chicken Dog Treats. All proceeds go to Barkley’s Forever Friends, a nonprofit that builds foster care facilities for homeless dogs in Greater Milwaukee.
German Fest, Milwaukee
July 30, 1-3pm,
General Admission - $15
Welcome to German Fest’s Dachshund Derby: pint-sized pups dash schnoz-to-schnoz, and sometimes schnoz-to-tail, for the chance to be crowned the “Champion of the Dachshund Nation.” Split into six divisions by age and special needs, the doxies are held by their owners at one end of the small field while another person waits at the finish line, frantically squeaking toys, tossing treats and bouncing balls. Wiener dogs were bred to hunt, says Gail Pikpe, the derby’s co-chairwoman, so when a heat starts, some sausage dogs collide into each other. Others stop dead in the middle of the field with a “why are a bunch of strangers staring at me” look. The winners, who receive ribbons and bags of dog food, beeline to their owners, rearing up on their stubby legs for high fives. Afterward, there’s a costume contest—which includes dogs dressed up like a hot dog stand, a beer stein and a German maiden, complete with Dirndl dress and blonde pigtails.
Irish Fest, Milwaukee
August 17-20, Varies
General Admission - $20
Irish Fest, the world’s largest celebration of Celtic music and culture, will be more Irish than Ireland on the third weekend of August when the 37th Annual Irish Fest is on tap. The four-day festival headlines 100 entertainment acts, from 3 Pints Gone to the Beglan Academy of Irish Dance, on 17 different stages. Enjoy hurling and currach races, where teams of three row traditional wooden boats covered in animal skin across a lagoon. Then walk across the rainbow bridge, literally, to the Celtic Canine Exhibit. Paddy, hold your kilt! All nine of the Irish breeds have cold noses. Pet them, they’re Irish, says Patrick Boyle, the executive director of Irish Fest. You can also rub noses with AKC-certified breeders; attend grooming, training and general care seminars; or watch hourly obedience, hunting and agility demonstrations. Trivia lover? Make a pit stop at their display area that features a mix of historic and modern photos, prints and descriptions.
Fall Aire Frolic, Ixonia
September 9, 11am- 4pm, General Admission - $15
What do President Woodrow Wilson, hall-of-famer Ty Cobb and author John Steinbeck have in common? Answer: The “King of Terriers” otherwise known as Airedales. Spark an interest? Then bark your calendar for the Fall Aire Frolic, sponsored by Airedale Terrier Rescue & Adoption. You’ll be able to trade “tags” with hundreds of Americans and Canadians that truly heart Airedales. Buy hand-embroidered FAF t-shirts while snacking on home-baked sweets at Alma’s Sweet Sensation Table. Sniff-’n-greet: Take your ‘dales outside for a water-romping good time. Then attend FAF's silent auction. From Airedale-patterned quilts to “aireloom” statues, there’s sure to be a knick knack that you’ll want to bark about. Happily wag that tail! Proceeds buy beds, coats, towels and toys for ATRA’s foster Airedales. Bonus: You’ll get a goody bag filled with Airedale-themed swag and treats for your four-legged friends.
Boxer Bash, Columbus
September 23, 10am-3pm, General Admission - $5
The Boxer is the tenth most popular dog in the U.S., according to the AKC. And it’s easy to see why. They’re "handsy" and comical. Plus, they keep going and going just like the Energizer bunny. Want a little face time with this German breed? Visit the 17th Annual Boxer Bash, sponsored by Green Acres Boxer Rescue. It’s like a big party for Wisconsin's dog lovers, says Carl Fritscher, a rescue volunteer. You can enter your Boxers into the “Best Kiss” and “Best Trick” contests. Or, let them unleash their inner fast and furious as they hit top speeds during the Radar Run. Looking to get in touch with your inner Dr. Doolittle? Attend holistic veterinary care seminars on acupuncture, chiropractic care and herbal medicine. Shopaholics, pull out your wallets and scour tables for canine accessories or bid on Boxer-themed items during the silent auction. Finally, commemorate the event with a fall-themed portrait at the Boxer Rescue Photo Studio.
Fromm PetFest, Milwaukee
September 23, 10am-6pm, Free Admission
Pet lovers, you are officially on notice. Fromm PetFest, in partnership with Milwaukee World Festival, Inc., the nonprofit that produces Summerfest is returning for the fourth year. “Pet parents are encouraged to bring their dogs and cats down to the Summerfest Grounds,” says John Graham, manager of trade and consumer communication for Fromm Family Foods. So come listen to 99.1 The Mix and 103.7 Kiss FM while enjoying dog disc demos. Sign your dog up for the ever-popular costume contest. (Last year’s winner was decked out like Cinderella, riding in her very own silk-covered carriage.) Let your pooches participate in dock diving, agility, lure courses and the doggie dash. In need of some green time? Throw back a pint or two in the Bier Garden while your dogs enjoy some supervised off-leash play. Find your next pet at Adoption Avenue; rub elbows with vet professionals at PetFest University; or drop your tots off at the Kid’s Zone, where they’ll be able to compete in obstacle courses, jump in bounce houses, and get their faces painted by Suzie Sparkles.
September 24, 11am-3pm, Free Admission
Bury the dog days of summer at the 6th Annual Barktoberfest. Start by pouring yourself a mug of beer imported from Munich Hofbräuhaus, and saying, “Prost!” Cha-ching! When you buy a Residents for Off-leash Milwaukee Parks stein for $10, you can also get $1 off your beer purchases at Estabrook Beer Garden for an entire year! Purchase ROMP or Kensington Liquor store raffle tickets: 1 for $1, 6 for $5 or an arm's length for $20. The Milwaukee Dog Training Club will also allow your dogs to run a short “trial” run on the agility course for $1 or two runs on the full course for $5. Watch Officer Pawlak and her German Shepherd K9, Usher, locate narcotics and track missing persons. With live music, a costume contest, a lure course and good eats like chicken schnitzel with french fries, you’re sure to experience Gemütlichkeit, rain or shine.
Can’t Depend on Snow,
Fond Du Lac
December 2, 10am-3:30pm, Free Admission
Grab your hats, gloves, and your dog’s winter jacket, of course, and get ready to meet The Big Dog himself — Santa Claus. Bow-wow! You can even snap pictures of Rover sitting on Kris Kringle’s lap. Deep snow or no snow, watch local celebrities or Siberian Huskies, Malamutes and St. Bernards fly down Rolling Meadows Golf Course. With temperatures diving below 29 degrees, roast your mitts over the outdoor fire pit, or warm up inside with a cup of chili and dog-shaped cookies. Want to jump-start your Christmas shopping? Buy tickets for the kids' basket raffle, or bid on Christmas-themed items during the silent auction. You can also catch stuffed animals at the Siberian Husky Toss. Get your dogs a gift that you can keep on giving. There will be an animal massage therapist on hands to teach you techniques, says Mike Schwandt, the event’s founder. Here’s something else that’ll make you feel merry and bright. Part of the proceeds will go to the Make-a-Wish Foundation.
Attending one of these events? Share your stories and pictures with us on Facebook @fetchmag.