In February of ’99, A&E aired a show called “Investigative Reports.”

The episode focused on animal cruelty and whether it has a connection to human-to-human cruelty (as if animal cruelty weren’t bad enough in itself).

During the program, they played videotape that had been discovered. It showed a group of punky teenagers from Kansas who had taped themselves running into a family’s backyard where their pet dog Scruffy was tied near his doghouse. The boys shot at the dog as he was jumping toward them to be patted …they cut him with razors…cut off his tail…eventually putting him in a bag doused with gasoline, and lit him on fire. All the while laughing and inserting commentary – zooming in on the dog’s face as they scoffed “owwww, look at the poor thing … ”

I was horrified by what I saw. I wanted to drive to Kansas and confront the teenagers and the prosecutor who defended them (saying that it was “just boys being boys”).

In a fit of tears, I contacted Jeannie Hebert, owner of Hebert Candy Mansion and fellow animal lover. She tried to calm me down. It didn’t work. The idea for a festival wasn’t established yet, but it fused an important relationship.

Months later, following some rather Buddhist-based advice from my brother , and a chance meeting with a local folkster at the Club Car, the idea for a festival blossomed. After wracking our brains to figure out a venue (originally, we thought of it just as a music show), I urged her to call Jeannie Hebert to use her venue – the Hebert Candy Mansion – for the festival, and she was eager to oblidge. A short time into the planning, it was clear the folkster and myself had different interpretations of how the fest should run. Jeannie hopped in on the ground floor to help found it and take her place. I thought Leigh Devlin-Grady, owner of the Sterling Animal Shelter, whom I had met through Jeannie (I had written animal-related stories on both for Worcester Magazine) a couple of years earlier, would be an important asset. She was. Thus, the three of us became co-founders of this festival.

We named it Pet Rock, borrowing the name from my band (also called Pet Rock), which has existed a year longer than the festival itself. It confuses some people, but the band name was first.

It was just too perfect a name for this festival… After months of toiling in the conference room at the Hebert Candy Mansion (and everywhere else), we held our first Pet Rock on Aug. 29 of 1999. It was a smashing success. 4,000 people came through the gates. We had five great bands, great weather and an incredible response. We raised a good amount of money (close to $4,000) for the first year – all of which was divvied up between a breed rescue group, the Sterling Shelter and the Animal Legal Defense Fund (who helped prosecute the perpetrators in the Scruffy case).

I couldn’t save Scruffy, or even have the chance to tell those horrible idiots from Kansas how I felt, but hope that in some way this annual benefit can help and fight for the animals who still have a chance. We’re doing it for the Scruffys everywhere … fighting in behalf of those who were killed, for all those who have no homes, for those who are treated poorly or those in need of care.

Thanks to all of you who share in the fight.

Charlene Arsenault

  1. Kaitlyn Serafin says:

    Great story of the founding of this event. The only way to stop people from being evil towards animals is to show that people should be kind to them, should respect their right to live. (ALL animals. Not just the cute ones.) So glad your event offers vegetarian food options. A major plus for it sends a great message. Good luck with all future events. Looking forward to attending 2017 Pet Rock today!!

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