Volunteer Wheeling's 'FidoFest' Marks Beginning of Festival Season
Volunteer Wheeling and Wheeling Heritage put on a dog-themed festival on May 6 for "Wheeling Dog Day." Hundreds of attendees, dozens of vendors, and twenty-five volunteers come out to celebrate.
Wheeling celebrated two firsts on May 6–‘Wheeling Dog Day,’ officially proclaimed by Mayor Glenn Elliott, and FidoFest, a dog-themed event hosted by Volunteer Wheeling a project of Wheeling Heritage. Although the first week of the month brought rainy, cold days, the clouds finally broke Saturday as temperatures rose. Hundreds of people showed up to the Tunnel Green Recreational Complex for the event which saw dozens of vendors and several events that kept everyone entertained.
At the May 2 City Council Meeting Mayor Elliott commended efforts by the government of Wheeling to make the city more dog friendly, as well as recent laws passed by the West Virginia legislature giving more leeway for cities to allow dogs in certain businesses. “Dogs are now people’s family members in a way maybe they weren’t fifty years ago,” Mayor Elliott said. “Cities that recognize and try to accommodate that are cities well positioned for the future.”
The Wood Fired Pizza Company satisfied attendees' lunch needs, while So Nuts 4 Donuts offered desserts. Local dog-themed vendors—like Mia’s Cuts and Cuddles, Diamond Collar, The Snotty Pooch—set up shop on the basketball courts, offering folks a chance shop, as well as businesses in the valley to connect. Some businesses—like the Ohio Valley Pet Crematory, Zeb’s Barky Bites, Play N Stay Pet Camp—donated baskets of goodies and gift certificates for a basket raffle.
A costume contest was held where dogs, and even some owners, dressed up as hot dogs or in pretty dresses. Ultimately, a dog appropriately named Sherlock took home the grand prize as they and their owner sported matching ‘Sherlock Holmes’ outfits. The Wheeling Police Department and the Ohio County Sheriff's Department gave demonstrations of their K-9 units.
Corporal McKenzie of the Wheeling Police Department showed off his K-9 partner, Jericho, who is trained in detecting narcotics as well as serving patrol duties. In total, WPD has three dogs—one trained in explosives detection and two trained for narcotics—with the intention to add more. McKenzie said it is nice to educate the community about the dogs. “There’s a misconception about how dangerous the dogs are,” McKenzie said. “It’s nice to explain how useful the dogs can be, from protecting our officers to benefiting the community.”
FidoFest has been in the works since Volunteer Wheeling hosted a ‘Paint Your Pup’ event in November 2022 Cassie Minder, Wheeling Heritage’s Communications and Development Manager, said. “It’s a big team effort,” Minder said of the committee who planned the event, Wheeling Heritage team, and sponsors including Dirty Paws, Panhandle Restoration, and the Wheeling Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We can’t thank them enough,” Minder said.
Asked what her favorite part of the day was, Minder said it was amazing to see so many people she recognizes from online in person with their dogs. Minder had a soft spot for one of the vendors, Road Home Animal Project, who she adopted her dog from. “My heart is with the adoptable dogs,” Minder said. “Hopefully they can find a home today.”
Ellen Gano, founder of Volunteer Wheeling and vice-chair of the Wheeling Heritage Board of Directors, said the inspiration for FidoFest came from the shared mission of the two groups. “Wheeling Heritage’s goal is to be a catalyst to revitalize Wheeling; Volunteer Wheeling’s goal is to beautify the city,” Gano said. “It’s a great synergy in that perspective.” Gano said it was also a way to unveil public art speaking of the murals from the November ‘Paint Your Pup,’ event.
Gano said the event wouldn’t have happened without the twenty five volunteers who signed up, and the “energetic, hard-working staff” of Wheeling Heritage. “It’s awesome, it’s a big city effort,” Gano said as she continued thanking those who offered support. “Parks & Recreation make the location happen; Wheeling Division of Operations made sure the grass was mowed.” Speaking of the City Council’s support—during meetings as well as being present for the event—Gano said “They have been very supportive; they see the citizens getting involved. It’s good for everyone.”
Asked about the broader mission of Volunteer Wheeling Gano said, “Organizations can only do so much; city’s can only do so much.” The group is likely best known for their litter cleanup efforts that happen weekly throughout Wheeling, but Gano said it’s more than that. “It helps bring pride to the city” when you volunteer. “It’s in and out–it’s easy. Volunteering is not a big ask.” Gano continued, saying, “You can be a newbie to Wheeling and join Volunteer Wheeling.”
This sentiment was exemplified by the volunteers. Mary Suhler said she quickly got involved four years ago when Volunteer Wheeling was founded because she was new to the city. “It’s good to be involved as part of your community,” Mary said. “It helps people take pride in where they live. It brings the community together and you get to meet people.”
Mary’s husband, Steve Suhler, was also involved with the event. He said it made sense to get involved for many reasons. “One, I have the time. Two, if we can improve the communicable experience by doing something that otherwise wouldn’t get done we are all better off.” Steve said he has been able to offer his handy-work skills–mentioning Adirondack chairs built throughout the city, as well as a pocket dog park at the Market Plaza.
I, Justice Hudson, shared these sentiments as well. Writing a story about FidoFest was secondary for me. What ultimately brought me out was the volunteering. Like Mary and Steve, I am new to Wheeling as of four years ago. Through my work as a farmer, a volunteer, and a reporter, I have met so many people, and spending time at FidoFest I was able to see many of these people in a different context. I had a strong feeling of connection with my community. And, as Ellen Gano said, volunteering with the group is easy! They’re experts at this type of stuff and know how to flex people into roles that suit their strengths.
Volunteer Wheeling will be hosting another ‘Paint Your Pup’ event on June 11. The group has 40 more spots for murals. While you’re on the website check out their calendar of events, including an Old House Seminar on May 25. If you want to help make Wheeling beautiful, consider spending time with Volunteer Wheeling. You’re guaranteed to meet new people and have fun!
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