How often do you see six dachshund dogs dressed up as Clydesdale horses pulling a mini beer truck through the streets of downtown Olympia? And, how often do you get to watch a 10-year-old boy dressed up as a giant chicken try to stay upright while throwing treats to throngs of young people lining the streets?
It only happens once a year, and that day is coming next Saturday.
The 81st annual Pet Parade kicks off at 10 a.m. Aug. 21 from Heritage Park and winds through the balloon-lined downtown streets toward Sylvester Park.
Kids who think their pet is the largest, the smallest, the shaggiest, the best dressed or maybe the weirdest will begin lining up for judging before 8.30 a.m. at Heritage Park on the shore of Capitol Lake to compete for dozens of prizes donated by Olympia-area businesses. The Olympian has been organizing Pet Parade for 497 dog years, but it actually began in 1929 (567 dog years ago) by the 4-H club. It was part of a “pagan festival” that preceded Lakefair.
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“By 1932, the event was called the ‘Pet and Doll Parade,’ and children were treated to an afternoon matinee after the pageant. In 1939, The Olympian took over sponsorship of the event, which has grown to “grand proportions,” according to a 1985 book by Shanna Stevenson titled, “Lacey, Olympia and Tumwater: A Pictorial History.”
Our newspaper’s staff has enjoyed staging this event with the help of many community partners over those many decades. We’re doing it again this year, using the theme “Once Upon a Time,” an encouragement for parade entrants to conjure up their favorite fantasies for their pets.
In a special section published in 2004 celebrating Pet Parade’s diamond, 75th anniversary, readers submitted stories about their favorite experience. Sharon (Minor) Schermerhorn wrote one about getting lost during the 1948 parade and being saved by a police officer on a horse.
“My parents decided I should enter the Pet Parade as the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe, so my father made the wooden shoe frame for my doll buggy. ... I knew this was something ‘big’ but I had no idea what a parade was. Maybe it was how I’d become a movie star.”
On the day of the parade, Sharon loaded her dolls into the shoe and was dropped off at the starting point near old Miller’s Department Store. But when the parade started, “Panic set in, and I didn’t know what I was supposed to do.” She ended up going the wrong way until a mounted policeman asked whether she was lost.
“All I could do was sob and say, ‘I want my mommy.’ ... I would become a movie star some other day.”
The costumes and categories have changed over the years, and will again this year, but the purpose remains the same: a family event that inspires fun and creativity, sometimes for entire neighborhoods or preschools.
The Olympian is joined this year by main sponsors Olympia Federal Savings and Bruce Titus Automotive Group, as well as Twin Star Credit Union, the Olympia Downtown Association and Budd Bay Embroidery.
In addition, the Bruce Titus group has launched its own pet project. They are making a $25 donation to the Thurston County Humane Society every time someone takes a test drive at one of their dealerships. Visit our website at www.theolympian.com for the categories and rules for this year’s Pet Parade. Then I’ll see you Saturday — lining up for the parade or as one of the spectators that line the parade route.
There’s more good news on the quest to trace my handshaking roots. I recently shook hands with Kirstin Wagner, a Rotary exchange student who just returned from Ecuador. She lived in Machala, which is the banana capital of the world.
But Kirstin visited the Galapagos Islands during her year abroad and touched a 104-year-old turtle that Charles Darwin surely must have touched himself. That means I now have a secondary Turtle-esque relationship with Darwin. It’s further proof of how the species has evolved (or not).
George Le Masurier, publisher of The Olympian, can be reached at 360-357-0206 or glemasurier@theolympian .com