Ask Grain Valley 13-year-old Ava Laforest about her and her dog’s favorite activities, and she has an immediate response: “Everything.”
“She’s my life,” Laforest said. “She’s my best friend and my guard dog.”
As if to illustrate this point, Laforest rattles off a list of what makes her dog happy: games of hide and seek, treats and her stuffed avocado and pizza toys.
Swimming also makes this list. With school back in session and summer ending, Laforest can no longer spend full days with Molly, her 11-year-old canine companion. However, the annual Dog Paddle Day event Tuesday at the Grain Valley Aquatic Center -- which coincides with the last open night for the pool -- provided an opportunity for Laforest and other dog owners to splash away these concerns.
According to the center’s recreation supervisor, Melissa Strader, Dog Paddle Day has become a beloved end-of-summer tradition. Though it dates back to before she can remember, Strader notes that the event has drawn at least 50 dogs and their owners in recent years.
While dogs of all sizes and breeds jump after tennis balls and swim and chase each other, aquatic center staff point out that the occasion also leads to bonds in the community. Although many attendees come to the pool all throughout the summer, they talk and laugh with each other more on Dog Paddle Day, sharing both introductions and dog toys.
In fact, Strader remembers meeting Kiki Claphan, now her co-worker and the aquatic center’s concession manager, for the first time at the event nine years ago. Now, the two look forward to it each summer.
“This makes my day 100 percent better,” Claphan said over a chorus of barks and splashes as she looked out at the crowded pool. “I love this so much.”
The event involves minimal preparation, Strader explained. Aquatic center personnel remove the pool’s chemicals and its signature floating frog. The event is worth it, she says.
According to both employees, aquatic center visitors agree.
“Visitors talk about it all summer,” Claphan said. “Of course, they don’t want summer to end, but they want it to be Dog Paddle Day.”
Laforest confirmed that she anticipates the event each year.
“I couldn’t wait for Molly to have fun,” she said.
In true best friend fashion, Laforest couldn’t help but bound after Molly, prompting the lifeguards to blow their whistles. For one night only, the Grain Valley Aquatic Center is just for the dogs.