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One-of-a-kind, dog-friendly holiday festival arrives in Kitchener

'We had this vision to ignite the downtown core and do something really fun, festive, and modern with doggies.'
Co-creators of Dog-Friendly KW, Justine Sparling and Mackenzie Drinkwater

The holiday season is a time for a family and the Dog-Friendly KW Paw-liday festival wants to create a new tradition for your chosen pack. 

Hyper-local and of course, dog-friendly, the DFKW Paw-liday Festival is a free, two-day festival in downtown Kitchener running Nov. 26 to Nov. 27. Taking over King St. and Carl Zehr Square, the event will feature 25+ holiday vendors and several festive activities geared towards family and furry friends alike. 

“I think the community is starting to realize that this event is much larger in size and scope than anything we've ever hosted before,” said Justine Sparling, local dog mom, and co-creator of Dog-Friendly KW. “This isn't just a market it’s a full-fledged holiday festival.”

An organization dedicated to highlighting local dog-friendly spaces and events, DFKW started in 2020, partnering with Midtown Radio soon after to create their podcast of the same name. Known for its DFKW community guide, the group recently released its seventh edition, which is holiday-themed.

Best friends for over 20 years, co-hosts Sparling and Mackenzie Drinkwater have lived in Kitchener for the last eight years and love to explore new dog-friendly spots, support local businesses and encourage and grow the local dog-friendly community. Responsible dog ownership and education are frequent topics on their podcast but they often feature local and international guests, including Spanish blogger, Dog Meet Baby. 

“We have tons of folks that come to our events that either don't or can't have a dog, whether it be because of their living situation or they're not ready for the commitment, but they love dogs,” said Sparling. “Another thing we actually see with families in the community is if a family with young kids isn't able to have a dog in their household, they use our events to allow their kids to get used to being around dogs.” 

The first event of its kind, DFKW ran a small holiday market last year to test the waters. While the event only hosted 12 local vendors and strictly dog-oriented activities like paw printing, the turnout was “incredible.”

“So many people came to the market, the space was packed, there was a line out the door, and my business partner and I just kind of looked at each other and said ‘Okay, next year, we're gonna have to do something bigger and better,’” said Sparling. “We had this vision to ignite the downtown core and do something really fun, festive, and modern with doggies.” 

Attendees for this year’s festival are also asked to participate in one of seven local pet-focused nonprofits lining Young St. during the event. One of the charities is the Humane Society’s “fill the van” pet food drive, which asks locals to fill their Pet Pantry for the holiday season.

“Especially on a weekend like Black Friday where people are focusing on Christmas shopping, we want to encourage them to shop local,” said Sparling. “And so we're hearing a lot of excitement around that and around all the different types of activities and entertainment people are going to be able to do downtown with or without their dogs this weekend.” 

The KW Paw-liday Festival runs Sat, Nov. 26 from 12-8 pm and Sun, Nov. 27 from 11 to 4 pm in Carl Zehr Square, downtown Kitchener, and King St. West from Water Street to Ontario Street. More information is available here


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