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JAR Interview: Unmasking PAWmicon

Updated: Aug 8, 2023

Dogs dressed in costume
Adorable Super Pups at PAWmicon (Credit: Helen Woodward Animal Center)

Welcome to a captivating tale of superheroes and their heroic sidekicks – a unique world where the small and the furry take the center stage! We have the pleasure of showcasing an exclusive interview with Jessica Gercke, the PR Director of Helen Woodward Animal Center, about PAWmicon.

Dog in cape overlooking cityscape
Super Hero Pup (Credit: Helen Woodward Animal Center)

PAWmicon is not your average pet event. Set against the backdrop of AleSmith Brewing Company in sunny San Diego, California, this family-friendly event offers more than meets the eye. Here, four-legged attendees don their best costumes for a PAWSplay/Cosplay Contest, where they can shine as superheroes, pop culture icons, and partake in dynamic group ensembles. Visitors to the PAWmicon event page have an opportunity to enter their pet's photo in a contest. The stakes are high, as the winning SuperPet not only gains bragging rights but earns a spot on a billboard over San Diego!

PAWmicon is more than just a celebration of pets. It is a cause-driven event, with all proceeds going towards supporting the pets and programs of the Helen Woodward Animal Center.

As we gear up for the big day on Sunday, July 9th, we invite you to dive into this riveting interview. Discover the inspiration behind PAWmicon, learn about the ins and outs of event planning, and maybe even get a few tips for your furry friend's PAWSplay debut! Enjoy this peek behind the scenes of one of the most anticipated dog-friendly events of the year. (The interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.)

Q: Can you tell us a bit about the origin of your event? What inspired you to create it?

Batgirl cradling a puppy
Batgirl and puppy (Credit: Helen Woodward Animal Center)

A: Eleven years ago, when Comic-Con started to really become the rage in San Diego, I had a group of friends who were planning to spend the night waiting in a line to see some actor who played their favorite superhero.

That day I was rushing through the adoption building and I saw the line of kennels with dogs waiting to be checked in and it occurred to me that many of those pups had waited months or even years to find a family of their own.

The parallel was really touching to me.

It reminded me that adopters literally are lifesavers and that to those pups, we become their superheroes. But then also, that once they come into our lives, they become our lifesavers. They save us right back.

I did a fun little superhero-themed photo shoot to correspond with the upcoming Comic-Con weekend and the news LOVED it.

The next year we made it a Center promotion with giveaways and over the years it has grown into the adorable event it is today.

Dog dressed as Spiderman
Spider Pup (Credit: Helen Woodward Animal Center)

Q: What were some of the initial challenges you faced when planning your first event, and how did you overcome them?

A: Truly, the main challenge is always location. And of course, the best way to grow an event is to have it in the same space year after year. We have not been able to get a space to stay and grow in but I’m hoping that this year we’ve finally found a spot we can stay in.

The first year we did it off-site, a downtown brewery reached out to us and asked to host it. It was a small brewery but a very cute event and even got a write-up as one of the “Best Things to Do Outside the Walls of Comic-Con.”

The Comic-Con Museum hosted us one year which was FANTASTIC, but this was before the museum had officially opened so it was still an empty building and didn’t have any special items that could get damaged by dog pee. Now that’s it’s open, it’s not as conducive to hosting a 100 dogs.

This year we are very excited that AleSmith Brewing Company is hosting us. The space is HUGE and there are lots of beer and food trucks so that people can eat, drink and enjoy the event. We’re extremely excited.

Super Heroes (Credit: Helen Woodward Animal Center)

Q: Can you share some of the safety measures you have in place to ensure the well-being of the dogs and their owners during the event?

A: All dogs are required to be on leash, and we have lots of staff and volunteers set up at each station to assist if a dog seems spooked or unhappy.

Finding a large space like AleSmith Brewing Company is key, as well. The more space we have, the less likely it is that dogs feel cramped or that their space is invaded.

Fortunately, we have done dog events like this for many years and San Diego is a dog town with lots of dog events. These days the majority of pet-owners who take their dogs to events tend to know good dog-etiquette.

Dog dressed as Captain America
Puptain America (Credit: Helen Woodward Animal Center)

Q: What are some unexpected issues or pitfalls that you've encountered during the planning or execution of the event? How did you handle them?

A: There really haven’t been pitfalls, other than the pandemic, of course. Those two years were a bummer because we had really started to grow the event and when things stop, people tend to forget about them.

We did do a very small outdoor PAWmicon at the end of the last year of the pandemic and it was fun to see how much it lifted everyone’s spirits.

Q: How do you go about promoting your event and attracting participants?

A: We send out lots of e-newsletters, post it on the website, promote it on TV News, and list it in free San Diego listing sites.

The newest thing we did this year was run a special contest called “YOUR SIDEKICK AS A SUPERHERO.” The top scoring dog will fly high above San Diego on a billboard promoting the superhero action of saving a pet. The top 4 will be our featured SuperPets at this year’s PAWmicon.

The contest is a fun way to start promoting the event in advance.

Q: What has been the most rewarding part of organizing this event for you personally?

A: This event was my own little idea so it’s really fun to see how it’s grown, and I love it when I hear people say that they can’t wait to take their dog to this event.

I genuinely think that pets are these amazing gifts from heaven and that anyone who doesn’t love a dog has never had a chance to truly connect with one. I feel like my dog has saved my heart over and over again. It gives me such joy to have created an event that sings the praises of these amazing little lives.

Man dressed as Robin, holding a puppy
Robin with puppy (Credit: Helen Woodward Animal Center)

Q: Can you share a memorable moment or story from a past event?

A: I remember seeing a beautiful older woman dressed as a Star Wars character. She was honestly so pretty and about 80 years old, I think. She came to the event by herself with her dog dressed as Yoda.

I thought about the two of them -- this older woman living alone with her dog -- and how they made the decision about what they would wear for this silly little event.

There was something about that that made it feel really worthwhile. They had an event to go to together and they not only enjoyed the event but the time they spent planning for it.

Q: What advice would you give to someone who has a great idea for a dog event but doesn't know where to start?

A: Two things I always suggest for anyone planning a dog event: First of all, start small. Do a fun photo shoot or one basic costume contest or something that you can manage. If the event starts to grow, you can add more details and activities later. (It’s better to have a small, well-organized event than a crazy, messy one.)

Second, get LOTS of volunteers and assign them their jobs. Know who will be a judge for a costume contest, who will decorate, who will be available to answer questions from attendees, who will help clean up, etc.

Girl in costume holding a dog in costume
Superfluff! (Credit: Helen Woodward Animal Center)

Q: How do you see your event evolving in the future? Are there any new features or changes you're excited about?

A: There are a few new things this year that I think are really fun!

I already mentioned the YOUR SIDEKICK AS A SUPERHERO Contest. It’s going to be very fun to have 4 Official SuperPets at this year’s event. They will have stand-up cutouts at the event and their faces will be on next year’s T-shirts and marketing pieces.

I also mentioned the new venue at AleSmith Brewing Company. This is the first time we’ve had food and drink easily accessible so I think this will add a nice component to the event.

This year, Nelson’s Photos is going to have a 360 Camera! This will be a really cool way for attendees to get 3D photos with their pets which is very futuristic and adorable within the theme.

Also, this year, our trivia contest is going to be run by a professional trivia game company so I think the game will be more seamless and the prizes are $500 gift cards!

Dog wearing Captain America mask
Puptain America (Credit: Helen Woodward Animal Center)

Q: Finally, what is one thing you want attendees to take away from your event?

A: Of course, I hope they have the BEST day with their furry family members and tell everyone to be there next year.

But at the end of the day, I hope people leave wanting to adopt and save more lives. I want people to really look at their own pet and see how much joy, kindness, unconditional love, protection, and forgiveness these pets bring to our lives.

And I hope people consider what other small ways they can save the lives of orphan animals. Foster, donate, and spread the word that the pets we bring into our homes are the greatest superheroes of all!

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this interview are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Just Add Rover. While we strive to present accurate and reliable information, Just Add Rover does not endorse, approve, or certify such information, nor does it guarantee the accuracy, completeness, efficacy, timeliness, or correct sequencing of such information.

© 2023 Just Add Rover. All rights reserved. This interview has been conducted for and is protected by copyright law. Reproduction of the interview, in whole or in part, is prohibited without prior written consent from Just Add Rover.

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