When a friend you have known since kindergarten asks you for a favor, you do your best to oblige. When my friend Chris Zahrt, who was my schoolmate, teammate and even roommate in college, asked me to help with a new addition to the Michigan Irish Music Festival, I jumped in head-first. After all, the favor involved dogs, my favorite subject.
Chris asked if I could help out with a new event, adding a program with Irish dog breeds as part of MIMF. My response: Woof! I had hoped for years MIMF would add an Irish dog breeds component, and it finally had, in 2016. While I was confident in my abilities to pull it off – Chris had sent me tons of information on how other Irish festivals conducted their dog event – I wasn’t sure I could get all eight Irish breeds to that first Celtic Canines. I was certain the Glen of Imaal terrier would elude me, since it is a pretty rare breed in the United States. As luck would have it, I found TWO Glens in the Muskegon area, and both dog owners were ecstatic about participating.
Through Facebook posts and word of mouth, we soon had all eight breeds lined up for year 1: Irish Wolfhound, Irish terrier, Kerry Blue terrier, Glen of Imaal terrier, Irish setter, Red & White setter, Irish water spaniel and Soft-Coated Wheaten terrier. Working out logistics also was a challenge … we wanted to make sure each dog and owner had enough space to feel comfortable, yet leave enough room for MIMF patrons to meet and pet the breeds and talk to the breed owners. Using the same area as the Highland Games from the previous day was the solution. It allowed for plenty of space under the tent (in case of rain) or out in the open grassy area.
The next challenge/worry: Would people come to see the dogs? We posted signage and did local radio and morning TV news programs, bringing along an Irish Wolfhound and Irish Water Spaniel (of course they were a hit with the TV audience). We spread the word any way we could.
I still remember the minutes before we opened the gates to let patrons into the Celtic Canines area. I checked in with the security guard posted at the gate. To my astonishment, he pointed out a long line of people. He said that was the crowd WAITING to get in to see the dogs. Once that gate opened, the crowd came pouring in, some of them running over to the area where the dogs were! Because of our beautifulkerry bl signage for each breed (thank you, Longer Days), fans were able to locate their favorite breed right away. We had several Irish Wolfhounds, which were, and continue to be, the stars of Celtic Canines.
The many volunteers who have helped with the Celtic Canines team the past five years have been incredible. They are a big part of the reason we have been able to get more and more dogs in each of the years we’ve held the event. That first year, we had 16 dogs. In 2019, we had 26! Each year, the dog owners would remark to me that our volunteers were the best and they will keep coming back. Our volunteers not only ready the Celtic Canines area, they escort the owners and dogs from their cars to their reserved spots under the tents, help set up crates and tables and even “dog sit” if the owner needs to take a break or wants to wander the festival grounds. Once the event ends, they help the dog owners pack up and escort the dogs back to their vehicles.
We’re proud that we have delighted thousands of patrons who have attended the Celtic Canines event each year. The dogs love the attention and the dog owners love the fact that their pooches are worn out by the end of the day!
I was saddened to have to inform our dog owners that the MIMF was canceled this year because of COVID-19. The owners all expressed their disappointment, but all understood that safety comes first. Each has vowed to return in 2021.
We look forward to seeing you on the final day of the 2021 MIMF for Celtic Canines. The dogs will be ready!
– Mary Ullmer-Celtic Canines Coordinator