By: Natalie Cheyette
Every dog has its day, and that day is Burlingame’s annual Pet Parade. Every year on the second-to-last Saturday in September, dozens of pet owners (mostly of dogs) gather on Broadway to parade, show off their pets and their pets’ costumes, and have fun. This year was no exception. As I walked along the closed street at 9:30 AM on September 23, searching for the pre-parade gathering area, increasing numbers of dogs proportionately increased my excitement about petting every single one of them.
The Pet Parade has been a fixture of the Burlingame community since 2004, when it was first held. It was begun by a group of volunteers led by Ross Bruce, head of AVR Realty, a real estate company on Broadway. I spoke with him before the parade and asked him why he’d started it. He told me that he and a few others wanted to have a civic function on the street, but only for half a day so as not to interfere with business. He said, “This gives everybody in the community a chance to… have fun and meet their neighbors.” I glanced around and saw a parrot perched on someone’s shoulder next to two dogs dressed as ice cream sundaes. That certainly seemed to be happening.
I also asked him about what the parade was like in 2004. Apparently, similar numbers of people turned up, but the parade was in chaos due to poor organization. Although in the 14 years since they’ve gotten better coordinated, he quipped, “We’re about to break into the chaos any minute now.”
They’ve added new things since the first year as well. Bruce said, “Numerically we’ve added a little more music and face painting – stuff for the kids.” His employee, Ayn Gilmore, elaborated: “We’ve added the school float competition, just to give back to the community.” The winner of the competition gets $500, and second place gets $250. As there were only two entries that year, everyone would be getting money for their school. Definitely a good way to give back.
Much of the attention at the parade was on the Grand Marshal, Pickles the pot-bellied pig. Pickles has over 11,000 followers on Instagram and volunteers at the Peninsula Humane Society as a therapy pig (a position I didn’t know existed before but which I’m now very glad to know about). He rode at the head of the parade on the back of a classic Thunderbird convertible.
The Pet Parade held six contests. The Best Dressed Pet was given to a Rottweiler/Labrador mix named Lei for its UPS costume, complete with a tiny cardboard box. There was also the Most Unusual Pet, which went to Mr. Big the Polish Dwarf, which is a sort of rabbit that was explained to be “Not Just Any Rabbit”. Personally, I think the prize should have gone to Squishy the Leopard Gecko. The Best School Float was awarded to McKinley Elementary for their cemetery and Vampire Pug, advertising their annual Harvest Festival, and Roosevelt won second place for their Chili Cook-Off Float. The Wicked Witch of the West, her bicycle, three flying monkeys (two dogs, one human), and Toto won Best Non-School Float. Best Pet Trick went to a Papillon mix dressed as Batman who begged (there honestly wasn’t a more exciting choice). And the Grand Prize, the general Best Thing There, was rightfully awarded to Rick the skateboarding tortoise.
Though not everyone went home with a prize, everyone went home with a smile. As Marvic Dizon, the owner of a Greyhound dressed as an apple pie (and Dizon herself an ice cream sundae), said when asked about why she’d decided to join the parade, “I just thought it’d be fun, be a part of the community.” And as Ayn Gilmore said, “That’s the purpose of this whole event. Just to get to know everyone and bring the community together.”
They’ve definitely achieved that purpose. Hundreds of people walked in the parade, proudly demonstrating their pets and the costumes and wagons they’d worked on for the event. I saw guinea pigs in a cage wrapped in leaves and bamboo with a sign warning of two ferocious animals inside, two dogs dressed as Flower the skunk from Bambi and his bunch of flowers, and a Boxer with boxing gloves draped around his shoulders. And hundreds more watched happily from the sidelines, pointing out their favorite pets. Even if the Pet Parade isn’t exactly the New York Thanksgiving Parade, it’s fun, and special to everyone who’s seen it.