The Huntington Beach Youth Shelter will honor some of the most valuable social workers in town Sunday at its annual "Light a Light of Love" celebration.
Their human owners are invited, too.
The shelter, which offers temporary housing to runaway and at-risk teens, brings in therapy dogs every week courtesy of Delta Society. This year, to thank canines for the part they play in rehabilitation, officials have added a new component to the holiday fundraiser by the pier: "Paws for Change," a contest in which owners can dress up their pets and compete for prizes.
Elsa Greenfield, the shelter's director, said she got the idea after noticing dogs in garb at the event in previous years. The event Sunday will center in part around pooches, with the costume contest, some of the shelter's therapy dogs in the parade and Megan Blake, the host of the PBS show "Animal Attractions," serving as master of ceremonies.
"They've been a big part of the healing process for the clients we have," Greenfield said. "A lot of kids we have have been victims of some kind of abuse, and just the contact with dogs has such a positive response."
"Light a Light of Love," which runs for most of the afternoon and early evening, is the shelter's biggest annual fundraiser. Admission is free, but there is a suggested $20 donation for "Paws for Change" entries, and residents and businesses can purchase electric snowflakes for $400 to $600 to display on the Huntington Beach Pier and Main Street through the first week of January.
The celebration will include a holiday bazaar at the Strand, with some artifacts made by teens at the shelter for sale; a holiday parade featuring woody cars, live music and an appearance by Santa and Mrs. Claus; and a pier lighting ceremony at 6 p.m., when the snowflakes are illuminated.
In addition to the Orange County Song & Dance Co. and local high school marching bands, the event will feature two celebrity guests: Grand Marshal Hank Conger, a Huntington Beach High School graduate and catcher for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, and Blake, whom local Delta Society chapter leader Lois Abrams invited to participate.
Blake, the owner of two rescued dogs, said the event's emphasis on animal therapy inspired her to accept.
"I believe that animals show us how to connect on a deep level, on an energy level, and so that reminds us to connect with each other and with ourselves," she said.
Teens at the shelter interact with dogs by walking and playing with them and even brushing their coats and teeth.
While the parade will feature Blake's dogs and others used by Delta Society, all dogs are eligible for "Paws for Change," which will award prizes for funniest, most festive and most creative costume.
It won't be the first time in recent years that Surf City's spotlight has shone on canines — the city features a dog beach and prominently posts an image of an Old World Village dachshund race on its website. Last year, Dog Fancy magazine proclaimed the city "DogTown USA."
"What better place than Huntington Beach?" Greenfield said. "We're a big dog-loving city."
If You Go
What: "Light a Light of Love"
Where: Main Street and Pacific Coast Highway, Huntington Beach
When: 12:30 to 7 p.m. Sunday, with "Paws for Change" at the Strand from 12:30 to 3 p.m., holiday parade at 4:30 p.m. and pier lighting ceremony at 6 p.m.
Cost: Admission free; $400 to $600 to purchase snowflakes and $20 suggested entry donation for "Paws for Change"
Information: (714) 842-6600