Youth Pet Fest at Summit County Fair welcomes all
Some of Hindi Wilkinson’s fondest memories from attending the Summit County Fair surround one of the more unconventional events featured each year: the Youth Pet Fest.
Growing up, Wilkinson’s dad discouraged her from taking an interest in agriculture because he grew up on a cattle ranch and "hated it," she said. Wanting something different for his kids, the family lived in a subdivision and Wilkinson had a Guinea pig, named Shiner, as a pet.
But Wilkinson always looked forward to going to the agriculture-themed Summit County Fair even though she didn’t participate. She saw it as an "end-of-the-summer celebration."
"Back then, though, there weren’t any carnival rides or other stuff, so unless you were in it, there wasn’t much to do," Wilkinson said.
Wilkinson’s mom, Melanie Bosworth, said when she noticed the number of kids in the various communities who weren’t actively involved because they didn’t have "fair animals," including her daughter, she came up with an idea.
Bosworth approached the fair board and asked if she could start a Pet Fest so children could bring their household pets in to be judged and receive a ribbon or medal.
"They kind of just said, ‘Let’s roll with it,’ and it started from there," Bosworth said.
Since its inception nearly 30 years ago, the Pet Fest has morphed into a popular and well-attended event. It is a favorite among visitors and attracts anywhere from 100 to 150 participants who bring in an eclectic assortment of pets to be judged, including tarantulas, goldfish, lizards and birds.
"Each year it has gotten bigger and better," Bosworth, founder and coordinator, said. "We’re just completely thrilled. We’ve done it enough years now that we have second and third generations coming. It’s really fun to see that happening."
Pet Fest, to be held Wednesday, Aug. 5, is free and open to kids aged four through 12. There are three age groups, 4 to 6, 7 to 9 and 10 to 12, and three categories: dog, cat and miscellaneous pets. However, Bosworth said no one will be turned away, regardless of age or pet.
Between judging, participants can also enter into several contests, including the ‘owner-pet look alike’ and ‘draw your pet’ events. Prizes, drawings, food and refreshments will be available throughout the day.
One year, Bosworth said a two-year-old boy entered his Stick Horse into the miscellaneous pet category. Bosworth said he provided information about his horse, such as its name, diet, where he was from, and had a demonstration.
"He was so cute and that’s all this is about," Bosworth said. "It’s like ‘You’re cute, you’re pet’s cute, here’s your prize.’ That’s how we do it. Some kids who are here just visiting grandparents have went and bought a goldfish just to bring in. Everyone is encouraged and invited. It’s all just for fun."
Pet Fest is conducted under the philosophy that it is "not a competition." Prizes are given to every child who attends the event and records are kept to ensure there are no repeat winners, Bosworth said.
Travis English, the county’s fair coordinator, said Pet Fest continues to be one of the more popular youth events.
"It’s a lot of fun and it’s geared toward those kids who don’t have livestock to show at the fair," English said. "So they can still bring one of their pets. Kids have brought pet turtles and pet rocks. It’s just great."
Wilkinson, who now lives in Deweyville, participated in the event for many years before outgrowing it. Since then, she has helped organize it and even encouraged her own kids to join.
"I still thoroughly enjoy the event," Wilkinson said. "My oldest daughter is too old to participate now, too, and so she’s excited to help judge this year. It’s fun to see a lot of people my age who did it bringing their kids. There for a long time in Summit County, they didn’t have anything like this and so I think that having this event for kids, that couldn’t otherwise participate, makes great memories for them like it did for me."
For more information about the Youth Pet Fest, go to http://summitcountyfair.org/events/youth-pet-fest.
Meredith Reed was elected to a two-year term as chair of the Summit County Democratic Party and said she sees an opportunity to ride the so-called blue wave that saw a Democratic surge nationally and within the state.