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The Main Event: Dog Days of Summer

By Selena Fragassi


If dogs are a man’s best friend, then why leave them at home? That is the rationale of a bi-annual event called the Sheepdog Shindig that welcomes breed enthusiasts and their furry four-legged companions for a weekend of social activities and charitable events.

Held over Memorial Day weekend, it was the second time the group convened at Niagara on the Lake, a part of Niagara College in Canada. “And this year they went all out,” says Mike Parente, sales and conference manager of the campus’ Residence & Conference Centre where up to 75 guests and more than 100 English Sheepdogs stayed for the weekend (most people brought more than one pet).

“Some also came a few days prior to take in the scenes around Niagara,” he continues. Though the organizers of the event are from Ottawa, the Shindig drew a crowd mostly from the States, who drove from as far away as Tennessee, Virginia, and South Carolina, and had the chance to meet and bond over their passion for the dog breed. “They’re a very passionate group,” says Parente, “it was cool to see it all.”

The festivities included professional dog grooming, photo shoots with cutouts and costumes, a mini-dog show with competitions and judging, and a red carpet for a final night gala that raised more than $5,000 to go to a Sheepdog rescue that helps rehabilitate strays and finds them a forever home.

To welcome their arrival, Parente and his staff helped set up fencing around a 2,000-square-foot perimeter of the campus’ green space where the dogs could roam freely during the weekend. They also provided dog treats and waste bags outside rooms and in the lobby—dogs and their owners were able to use all common areas of the Residence as long as they followed certain guidelines, such as paying an extra pet fee and keeping the pets on leash at all times in the building. “We made sure to communicate these rules with organizers ahead of time, and reiterated them when guests checked in,” says Parente. “Communication was very important for this event.”

In the end it was quite the success—except for the weather. “It rained all weekend,” Parente recalls. The conditions didn’t help nurture the grooming activities, and it also tasked the housekeeping staff. “A lot of dogs were tracking in dirt and mud, and our housekeeping service had to be spot on,” says Parente. “We recognized that and staffed accordingly.” He also notes that housekeeping worked extra hard to ensure that guest rooms were cleaned and desanitized properly upon the group’s departure for the next visitors.

There were a few complaints from other guests, mostly related to noise from dogs barking. “The Sheepdog Shindig didn’t fully occupy our residence that weekend, so we had other groups, too,” says Parente. “But, when you sell only half the building to a group full of dogs and the rest are regular guests, that’s going to happen. We dealt with those accordingly and respected our other guests’ needs. None were too serious.”

“One thing that [attendees] said several times during this past event was that they love the venue at Niagara College,” says organizer Kim Williams, who is looking forward to bringing the event back to the campus in 2019. “The staff is friendly and helpful, the location is convenient, and the rooms are perfect and reasonably priced.”

Parente also comments one of the big differentiating factors of the venue are the accommodations. “They’re really unique. We have apartment-style rooms, with two-bed suites that have a kitchen area and private bath, so there’s a lot of room for the dogs and humans. … I also think that we are more flexible; hotels probably would have had a lot more strict guidelines and would have been more expensive.”

When the Sheepdog Shindig does come back in two years, Parente says the group will be looking at utilizing more of the campus’ green spaces and will be marketing the event for the first time, which is likely to lead to a full buyout of the Residence. “And they have our full support in doing so,” he says, “we really enjoy having this group here.”

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Residence & Conference Centre – Niagara-on-the-Lake
Niagara on the Lake, ON
(905) 641.4435