Every Labor Day weekend, hundreds of fun-loving campers from around the world gather at Camp Weequahic in Lakewood, Penn. for a weekend packed with games, swimming, and friendship. But these aren’t your average campers: for one thing, they’re dogs.
Goldstock, which brings together hundreds of golden retrievers and their owners, is a yearly gathering that benefits and celebrates rescue dogs. The event was started in 1998 by Gail Lustig, a New York City dog-walker whose father built the camp in the 1950s.
Since then, Goldstock has grown from its humble beginnings of 60 attendees to include campers and rescue groups from all over the world. Roughly 400 dogs and nearly 30 different rescue groups participated in Goldstock 2014, as well as many dog-less attendees who showed up to support the cause.
“It’s emotional. It’s fun. It’s promoting rescue. It’s raising money,” Ms. Lustig says in the trailer for “Dog Camp,” an upcoming documentary film about Goldstock set to be released in November. “It’s really an indescribable weekend where so many things go on.”
The 2015 calendar includes plenty of events for dogs and owners alike, including a “Doggy Olympics” competition, a rescue parade, and a baseball game for kids and their dogs.
For humans in attendance, there’s a “yappy hour” gathering, a dog trivia competition, and even paw print nail art.
Goldstock describes itself as “the most fun you can have with your dog and your dog can have with you,” but its purpose goes beyond just having a good time. Rescue organizations set up booths and sell golden-related items to fund-raise, and also receive all the proceeds from two auctions held over the course of the weekend.
The event doesn’t just benefit dogs. Photographer Steve O’Byrne, who has attended Goldstock for several consecutive years, says spending time around so many rescue animals was therapeutic for him during his recovery after a motorcycle accident.
“Coming here and seeing and hearing what all the dogs have gone through … makes you realize that the problems aren’t so big,” O’Byrne said in a documentary interview.
“You’ve got these dogs running around that have been abused in any way, shape or form, and they’re just happy. One leg, two legs, three legs…they get on through life. It gives me strength through watching them.”
O’Byrne is not the only human to learn life lessons from the mass gathering of goldens. Each year, Marty Harris and her three special needs sons drive 12 hours from Ohio for Goldstock.
Harris says the event has taught her kids that all dogs deserve a chance at having a loving home and good medical care, and that a little bit of generosity can go a long way.
"At camp, the boys feel empowered and important, strong and able to make a difference,” Harris told the Huffington Post. “They are the future of rescue.”