Story: Fun at the 4H Fair

I went to the animal fair…

It was a family tradition; once a year we’d head over to the county fairground and spend a few hours at the 4H Fair. We’d eat dinner in the huge tent where local non-profit organizations sell tempting goodies, from pizza to meatball subs, falafel to sweet potato pie. We’d always finish up with a ice cream sandwich made with a slice of Neapolitan ice cream melting between two warm-from-the oven waffles.

For those unfamiliar with the concept, 4H is a an informal educational program for young people, run in our state by  by the Rutgers Cooperative Extension, the off-campus division of the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station of Rutgers University. 4H as a concept, though, is nationwide. Here in New Jersey, 4H clubs are organized around a topic or an interest, as a way to help young people learn by doing. While most people think of 4H as an agricultural idea–kids learning about and taking care of cows, sheep and chickens for example–local clubs may be centered around nearly any topic kids might be interested in: small mammals, alpacas, robotics, motocross, anime, film, writing, RC cars, astronomy, sewing, or entomology.

When the kids were young, we’d stop at every tent and look at the exhibits. We’d watch the horses in the horse ring. Usually there was a tractor or two to climb on. My daughter loved all the animals, and after both children climbed the tractors, we would sit on the bleachers and watch other kids show horses or run dogs through a mini agility course. When my son was old enough, he  belonged to the herpetology group, and was the youngest child to take first place in a category, with his exhibit on poison dart frogs. (And yes, we had two, and that’s a story for another post. And no, they’re not poisonous in captivity.)

The 4H fair changes, yet remains the same

In recent years, my daughter isn’t able to join me at the fair. Living in the city and holding down a full-time job makes it a challenge to come home for an event that takes place during the week. My son usually can’t be bothered to come either; his friends aren’t interested, and his online games hold more interest these days.

But yesterday, I caught him right before lunch with an offer to treat him to whatever he wanted from the food tent. And off we went.

Chickens and ducks, sheep and goats, cows and horses, dogs and cats

After our meal under the big tent in the center of the fair, my son and I went our separate ways, free to explore without cramping anyone’s style.

I headed for the dogs.

Somerset County 4H Fair: Sign in the dog tent

Sign in the dog tent. I would be happy to live on the corner of Woof Way and Doggie Drive.

Every participant in 4H has to keep a journal over the course of the year, and create a project they can show at the fair. The project can be anything from the model rocket a young woman built to a young man illustrating the best way to card wool. There are also opportunities for kids to show their horses, demonstrate agility with their dogs, and perform a karate demonstration.

Somerset County 4H Fair: Dog show

One of the participants in the show dog tent.

While there were dogs hanging out with their people in several tents, the cat tent featured just one kitty, who wasn’t very interested in getting her picture taken. Understandably so.

Somerset County 4H Fair:  poster on the importance of spaying and neutering cats

A project by one of the members of Whiskers, Paws & Claws, the 4H cat club: the simple math of why spaying and neutering are important.

Storm, Red Cross mascot and volunteer–and celebrity

In one of the tents, I came across a gorgeous collie. An aura of calmness surrounded him–as well as a group  of young children from a summer camp. The dog is Storm, son of Rusty, grandson of one of the dogs who played Lassie. Carl Maier, his handler, watched as the kids surrounded the dog, sat down on the ground and began covering him with pets and hugs. “That’s what he loves,” said Carl, smiling down at the scene.

Storm, a Red Cross mascot and volunteer, shares a moment with a boy at the Somerset County 4H fair

Storm shares a moment with a young boy.

As we watched, Carl told me Storm’s story. Storm is more than just a pretty face (and a waggy tail.) A Red Cross volunteer, Storm is a registered therapy dog, local Red Cross mascot and supporter of Common Sense for Animals, or CSA, a local no-kill shelter that takes in all species of pets. Rusty, Storm’s father, was a Red Cross national mascot who helped comfort people after 9/11. Rusty would also support soldiers on their way to deployment, and he’d welcome them when they came home. He was there to offer doggy support to families whose loved ones were overseas or missing. Rusty’s photo hangs at the National Red Cross Headquarters and at the White House in Washington, D.C.

Somerset County 4H Fair: Carl Maier and Red Cross therapy dog Storm, who is a direct descendant of the dog who played Lassie

Carl Maier with Storm

Surrounded by children–and adults who wanted to get their picture taken with him–Storm was more like the calm after the storm. It was easy to see why he makes such a good therapy dog.

Somerset County 4H Fair: Lassie descendant Storm wears the ID tag from Rusty, his father, who, as an official Red Cross volunteer, comforted families after 9/11

Storm was wearing his father’s ID tag.

I asked Carl if I could get a picture taken with him too. The dog was so huggable, I had to resist burying my face in his fur.

Somerset County 4H Fair: Lassie descendant Storm wears the ID tag from Rusty,

I really wanted to hug him!

Carl was as gracious as his dog, happy to spend some time with me, talking about Storm, and about CSA. I’ve been looking for a local nonprofit that serves all types of animals, that I can support in my blog. I’m hoping this may be the one. I will be reaching out to the group in the next week–and maybe get a tour and meet some of the animals.

Before I left, Carl handed me a collection of awesome goodies: a current issue of CSA’s journal, featuring a painting of Rusty by local artists Will and Lisa Harmuth, a photo of Rusty and his mate Star, and their adorable puppies (the one on the far right is Storm), and an official Rusty pawtograph.

Articles and pictures of Rusty, a Red Cross National Mascot and direct descendant of one of the dogs who played Lassie.

I love the photo of Rusty, Star and the pups. If you look closely,you can feel love between the dogs. It’s very sweet.

All’s Fair

After I thanked Carl for his time (and promised to reach out to the folks at CWA), I met up with my son again. We headed into the food tent to end our visit to the 4H fair with Neapolitan ice cream  and waffle sandwiches.

2 Comments on "Story: Fun at the 4H Fair"

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  1. easy rider says:

    I would like to hug storm too, what a wonderful and special dog.

  2. jan says:

    I was a city kid, but some of my great memories are 4-H projects and competing at the fair.

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