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Case Study: Yappy hour and more, putting the FUN in fundraising

In Charleston County, dog parks are seen as much more than just places to let dogs release energy and roam off-leash; they are seen as spaces and destinations where people can meet others, enjoy the outdoors, relax, be physically active, and spend a good afternoon with their best friends - their dogs. Today, there are a variety of creative offerings that promote the park system goals while also generating capital to support the dog park sustainability efforts.

Charleston County Park & Recreation Commission (CCPRC) operates three dog parks in the Charleston vicinity. Their off-leash dog parks are located within larger regional parks in James Island County Park, North Charleston Wannamaker County Park, and Mount Pleasant Palmetto Islands County Park. Interestingly, each one of these three dog parks serves a diverse user group with their own unique set of goals and interests. Each frequently hosts events that bring people together in meaningful ways to promote socialization and physical activity.

Tom O'Rourke, former Executive Director of CCPRC, emphasizes that dog owners are not a homogenous group; therefore, when organizing events, it is important to consider the needs and interests of each group. He stresses that, "it isn't about the dogs, it's about the customer," referring to dog owners. He goes on to explain that, "it's more than just the dogs having fun...Are the people having fun with one another? It's about people socializing and interacting. You can't forget that part."

Every month from, May till October, CCPRC hosts Yappy Hour. For a small entrance fee, this happy-hour event includes live music from local bands, beverages, and food. In 2017, a total of 866 people and 706 dogs attended this event raising $4,754 in revenue and $1,170 in sponsorships. Another similar event held during the warmer months from May till October was Pups, Yups & Food Trucks where local bands, beverages, and food trucks target a different group of individuals and their dogs. This last event was attended by an average of 150 people . In 2013, this event raised $4,500 in revenues and $1,800 in sponsorships; however, this event was later replaced by Bark in the Park - Oktoberfest.

Other events include Pet Fest, and Dog Day Afternoon. Pet Fest, usually held during the last weekend of March, offers exhibits, demonstrations, experts, and entertainment. It provides an opportunity for local organizations and businesses to highlight their causes, products, and services in a pet-friendly environment. Their Dog Day Afternoon event, held in September at Whirlin Waters Adventure Water Park and Splash Island Water Park, brings dogs and dog-owners together for a unique experience before the water parks close for the season. Of course, only dogs  are allowed in and around select water park features, no human swimming , St. Paddy's Pawlooza (held in the Spring) and Bark in the Park (held in the Fall) occur in and around the dog park at Wannamaker County Park. These mid-sized events share similarities with both Yappy Hour and Pet Fest.

The former Top Dog contest was a program that picked a mascot as the CCPRC agency model. All the people in the community, with or without dogs, were invited to campaign for their favorite dog on Facebook or the agency's website, driving traffic into the CCPRC's own website to vote. O'Rourke explains that this simple strategy "creates much stir in the community" and a sense of belonging. The dogs' pictures, bio's, and stories are also featured on the website. O'Rourke adds "the dogs are often rescued dogs..adding to that feel-good aspect."

Events are held to generate revenue and to sustain the maintenance and upkeep of the dog park. O'Rourke provides more information regarding revenue generation by stating that dog parks "have to be operated with the same passion and creativity  as a waterpark, athletic complex, or community center." There are many other programmatic events that can be held once every year or multiple times a year such as volunteer cleanups, obedience classes, dog nutrition classes, or outreach activities where individuals may prepare care packages for Kg military units.

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