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A man to the righ tdressed as Santa Claus and a woman to the left in green long hair, a red dress under a black short-sleeved long top and two pitbulls with reindeer outfits stand in the middle of Jack London Square.

No tricks but lots of treats at DogFest Bay Area

on October 23, 2023

Dogs and their owners dressed in colorful and unique Halloween costumes at Jack London Square on Saturday for the sixth annual DogFest Bay Area.

Organized by Canine Companions, the event raises funds to provide people with disabilities with trained assistance dogs, free of charge.  

The event featured two costume contests, where about 60 dogs and their owners competed in three categories: best duo or group, funniest and most creative. Throughout the afternoon there were vendor booths, raffles, food and assistance dog demonstrations. 

Michelle Williams, public relations and marketing specialist for Canine Companions, said the nonprofit’s goal at the event was for people to learn from clients about their experience with dog companions. 

Janelle and Greg Langerman along with their two pitbulls, Jack and Jasper, dressed in the Christmas spirit. As last year’s grand prize winners, the couple came to defend their title in handmade Santa Claus, elf, and reindeer outfits.

“We decided to dress in the Christmas spirit to do something unique. Last year, I dressed my dogs as dragons and now they are reindeers,” Janelle Langerman said. “My dogs are deaf and rescues, so we always support anything with helping rescue dogs and spreading information on deaf dogs being just as good as hearing dogs.”

Both she and her husband felt a mix of excitement and sadness, as Jack was recently diagnosed with cancer.

“This is why we went a little extra,” she said about mixing Halloween and Christmas to celebrate the time they have left with Jack.

Two women dressed in baristas in green aprons and black T-shirts hold two little brown dogs and a black dog all dressed like Starbucks coffee cups
Brownie and Princess Sims with their dogs Lil Man, Toby, Princess and Peedy (Royvi Hernandez)

Sisters Brownie and Princess Sims, dressed as baristas with their four dogs dressed as coffee drinks, said the event was a great way to support all dogs and be among pet families. The sisters are owners of The Final Sauce barbecue sauce business in Richmond.  

“Animals are beneficial to mental health, as entrepreneurs we are always on the grind and the dogs give us calmness and joy,” Princess Sims said. “Dogs know your mood and know when you’re not feeling well and always check on you.” 

“Although we are participating in the contest, for me, it’s not so much a competition but about having fun and being among my tribe of dog lovers,” Princess Sims said.

South Bay resident Colleen Shannon, who has been diagnosed with a neurodegenerative disease for eight years and is in a wheelchair, said her dog Amador, a Canine Companion graduate, has helped her survive everyday life.

“He is with me every day with an eager heart and a wagging tail,” Shannon said.

Denise Vargas, a volunteer for Canine Companions, said the dogs are highly trained and know about 82 different commands. Each service dog spends its first year learning commands, then attends a training program for about nine months before being matched with a person with a disability.

“I’ve been volunteering for 14 years because it’s a great cause,” Varagas said. “It’s great for people who need a companion and it changes their life.”

Patty Ruotolo, who was born with hearing loss in both ears, got her yellow lab Sierra from Canine Companions in 2019. She applied in 2017 while living in Sonoma during a severe fire season. Ruotolo said she was nervous about living by herself and not knowing if a fire alert had sounded after taking out her hearing devices to sleep.

“Sierra is my hearing dog,” she said. “And it’s been a match made in heaven ever since.” 

(Top photo: Janelle and Greg Langerman with their dogs Jack and Jasper. bu Royvi Hernandez)


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