Setting up a pet comfort station for your local outdoor event is not a simple undertaking, but it’s not difficult. Like anything else worth doing, it takes some preparation and planning. The information below tells you everything you need to know about the equipment, materials, and procedures for setting up a pet comfort station at your local event.
Here’s a list of the items you typically need for a well-equipped, functional pet comfort station.
If the site provides electricity:
If the site does not provide running water, you will need to make arrangements for a tank of water to be available; the quantity depends upon the number of animals anticipated and the temperature. For every 500 animals, you will need approximately 100 gallons of water if the temperatures are comfortable. For each 5°F above 75°F you will need an additional 50 gallons of water.
You need permission to touch someone else’s dog (or cat, or …). Ask the owner first if you may pet the animal. “No” means no; the dog can certainly drink his fill, but you don’t get to touch him. If the owner says yes, don’t do like your three-year old nephew and hurl yourself at the dog. Approach cautiously, and present the dog with the back of your hand for sniffing. Keep your eye contact to a bare minimum, as some dogs are threatened by eye contact. Let the dog approach you, do not initiate contact. If the dog is receptive, stroke the dog lightly on the chest or shoulder, or under the chin. (Noddy says never pet a strange dog on the top of the head, but Michael usually treats the top of the head as a relatively safe area. However, timid, shy, or abused dogs often do not react well to head-petting. They may cower or even snap. Chest petting is a safer option.) If the dog is eating, drinking, behind a fence, or in a vehicle, don’t touch him. Never sneak up on an animal. Never crowd the dog or make it feel cornered. If the dog wants nothing to do with you, respect his choice. And make doubly sure the children around the booth (and there will be plenty) are well aware of these rules, and are supervised. You don’t want your time at the event to end with dog bites, tears, and promises of litigation.
One good source of information about approaching new dogs is the article linked here; it includes an interesting bit about approaching a new dog “on the curve.”
You’re going to have dogs (and cats, and ferrets, and rats, and …) around you all day, sometimes in large numbers. They will undoubtedly poo. And pee. And not always on the ground, but on the side of the tent, on the tent pole, and perhaps on anything else handy, including your drink cooler, your favorite Elvis blanket, or if you’re very unlucky, your leg. Be prepared to clean it up as soon as possible, particularly the poo. Have a trash can, preferably one with a lid, handy for disposing of used poop bags (and be aware that the smell from a poo-filled trash can is very attractive to some animals). If you need to clean an item, remember that bleach and other such cleansers are toxic to animals. There are lots of organic, enzymatic cleansers out there that sanitize and neutralize poo and pee spots without affecting the animals.
Most pet owners are responsible and protective of their charges, but on occasion an idiot will appear at the event, let his dog run loose unleashed and unsupervised, and go off about his or her business, leaving the dog to fend for his- or herself. This is always a potentially bad situation, both for the idiot’s dog and for everyone else. The dog is at risk for anything from getting hit by a car to getting into a fight with another dog or attacking a person. An unsecured dog is a dog at risk. If you see an unsecured dog roaming the grounds without its owner/guardian, let event security know immediately.
Not very often, but you need to be prepared when they do.
When you get five or ten, or twenty or thirty, dogs around each other, they usually observe what Noddy calls the “waterhole truce.” But sometimes they will fuss at one another, and on occasion they’ll go at one another; while most of the time their aggression will be limited to growling and snarling at one another before one backs down, sometimes they will go from initial growling to full-on attacks within a few seconds. Don’t worry about the whys and wherefores, just be ready to intervene, and don’t be surprised if the dogs’ owners/guardians do little or nothing useful to help. (Yelling “Fluffy, stop!” while doing nothing else qualifies as useless.) Remember, your safety and the dogs’ safety are paramount, and remember, it takes at least two people to break up a full-on dogfight.
The garden hose you have on hand for cooling down hot and thirsty dogs is ideal for discouraging growlfests and such – a timely splash in the face gives them something new to think about. A water bottle also comes in handy here. (“Hosing” a dog works best if done pre-emptively; hosing dogs already involved in a fight can just make them that much more agitated and aggressive.) Dogs on leashes can be pulled apart, but dogs are surprisingly strong and willful, and can either pull their way out of their owner’s grasp, or break loose from the leash entirely. Throwing a blanket over an angry dog’s head can defuse a situation, but remember, blanketing one dog gives the other dog a chance to attack without fear of retaliation.
Getting in between the fighting dogs, with arms, legs, or body, is asking to be bitten, even by the most placid and loving dog – even your dog.
If you find yourself needing to break up a full-on fight, one way is the “wheelbarrow” method: you and your partner each grab one dog by his back legs and pull them away from one another. Once you have them apart, do not release them; instead, each of you turn in slow circles while continuing to back the dogs away from one another. This stops the dogs from “curling” and biting you or your partner. (A variant of this is wrapping leashes around the dogs’ midsections and dragging them apart.) Ideally, the dogs should be placed in isolation away from one another, but at an outdoor event, probably the best thing you can hope for is for the owner to take the dog away. Make sure the fighting dogs are well away from one another before releasing them, and don’t pay any attention to an owner shouting, “You leave my Fluffy alone!”
Never, ever hit the dogs with anything, be it a rolled-up newspaper, a broom handle, or anything else – it just agitates the dogs even more. Same with kicking and yelling; this merely escalates the situation. Your best bet here is prevention: when you see the snarling, growling, and hackling begin (and you will!), tell the owner(s) to get their dog(s) away from one another immediately, and be prepared to handle quick escalation.
Be doubly aware if cats and dogs are near one another; some dogs instinctively attack a cat as soon as they see one, and even a relatively small dog can severely injure or even kill a cat in a matter of seconds.
And again, don’t depend on owners/guardians to keep their animals in line. You will likely have to handle some situations without any useful intervention from the owner at all, and sometimes with active (if usually well-meaning) interference. If you come across the occasional testosterone-soaked idiot who actually wants his dog to fight other dogs, do your best to get him the hell away from your station as quickly as possible, and don’t be slow to call for security to assist you if he gets too ridiculous. In fact, you might consider calling security or even the police anyway, as the idiot is probably abusing the dog.
At venues like these, you will often see the same dogs several times during the day. Remember the aggressive ones, and be ready.
Noddy has written an article called, bluntly enough, Surviving a Dog Attack. Worth reading!
One quick method for testing your dog or cat for dehydration is to “pinch” up the skin on his or her neck. A well-hydrated animal’s skin will return to normal immediately. A dehydrated animal’ skin will remain “tented” for several moments.
If your animal is suffering from sticky eyes, has sticky saliva, or fails the “pinch” test, he is suffering from dehydration and very possibly from heat exhaustion. Getting him or her cared for at the pet comfort station is a good short-term solution, but you need to take your pet to the veterinarian. If your pet is suffering from diarrhea or vomiting, or worse, is stumbling, shaking, having a seizure, or is semi-conscious, you need to drop everything and get your pet to the vet immediately.