In the middle of an economic recession triggered by the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, many families are struggling financially.
That struggle trickles down to family pets, including dogs, whose owners sometimes are grappling to provide food for man's best friend.
To help address that problem, this year's iteration of WAG! Fest, an annual canine-centered event attended by hundreds of people and first held in 2007 at Prairie Oaks Metro Park, will support the Pet Food Assistance Program of Columbus Humane, a program that provides dog and cat food and cat litter to pet owners in need.
Like most large events during the pandemic, the festival at Prairie Oaks has been canceled, but WAG! Fest organizers and Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks officials have reimagined it as the WAG! Wilderness Walk from Saturday, Sept. 5, through Monday, Sept. 7.
The virtual event will involve people walking their dogs while socially distanced at one of central Ohio's 19 Metro Parks and at their convenience during the Labor Day weekend.
"We are sad we can't be together in person, but the WAG! Wilderness Walk is still a way to support a great cause, spend time with your pet and see our Metro Parks," said Terri Montigny, manager of community relations and marketing for Worthington-based PetPeople, a sponsor of WAG! Fest since its founding.
Pet owners may register at wagfest.com any time before participating in the event.
Registration is $28 per individual or family. Registrants will receive a commemorative a WAG! Wilderness Walk dog bandanna.
During registration, pet owners can choose a Metro Park at which to walk with their dogs.
All proceeds from registration will benefit the Pet Food Assistance Program of Columbus Humane, Montigny said.
"We are extremely grateful to WAG! Fest for its support," said Brittany Williams, director of marketing for Columbus Humane. "There has never been a greater need (for our Pet Food Assistance Program)."
When the pandemic shutdowns began in March, Williams said, Columbus Humane prepared for a sharp increase in pet surrenders, but that did not occur.
What did happen, however, was a sharp increase in demand for the Pet Food Assistance Program.
"We had 500 requests within 24 hours when quarantine began," Williams said.
Demand has plateaued, but during the summer, Columbus Humane has provided assistance for about 8,500 cats and dogs in 2,100 households, she said.
The support from the WAG! Wilderness Walk will help the program to provide for as many people as possible, Williams said.
To learn more about the Columbus Humane Pet Food Assistance Program, go to columbushumane.org.