Eight years after it debuted as a modest Friday afternoon parade in the Bowery, the annual Mardi Gras Pet Parade drew an enormous crowd Saturday, of both dogs and people.
And that includes both people dressed as animals and other creatures, and animals dressed as animals and other creatures.
On the sun-drenched day, the Mystick Krewe of Salty Barkers easily marked their largest event to date, as a couple thousand people gathered at Riverfront Park, lined with booths, both of fine art and crafts, and food vendors and non-profits, and costumed people and their pets, all eager for the spectacle.
“They know it’s coming and they anticipate it every year,” said Torben Madson, president of the Mystic Krewe, and marshal of the parade.
The park was the location for the second year in a row.
Leading the parade, that met itself nose to tail as it looped around Water and Commerce Streets, was Grand Marshal Andy Bass, a local resident often on the road traveling with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals as an animal handler and driver, and a field team leader and trainer for the Florida State Animal Response Coalition, assisting volunteer teams with large scale natural and manmade animal disasters.
On a few floats over sat Queen Stella and King Red Bono, both homeless hounds that found their way to the shelter after being abandoned, and are now healthy and ready for adoption.
And riding a few entries over in a motorcycle and sidecar were Apalachicola restaurateur Danny Itzkovitz and his daughter Maya. On behalf of all the local merchants who assist the work of animal lovers countywide, such as the Oyster City Brewing Company and Eastpoint Brewing Company, which each donated brew for the event, and Harry Arnold, who offered tables and chairs, Itzkovitz was designated a Hometown Hero.
Golf carts, cars, boats, and most especially dogs and their people, most all of them dressed up in Mardi Gras costumes, paraded down the boulevard, looking like the heart of a special Saturday afternoon. Madson said there probably were at least 400 participants in the parade, including “two brave young ladies” dressed in mermaid attire, Christy Brown, from Enchanted Mermaid Designs, and Alicia Braggs, who was Mermaid Alicia of the Emerald Isles.
A big part of this year’s event was the role played by non-profits and governmental bodies, which either set up a booth or marched in the parade, or both.
The Tourist Development Council, a major sponsor of this year’s event, introduced a new tent at the event, which director John Solomon and his crew set up and which will be featured at upcoming public events.
An inmate crew from Florida Correctional Institution and a group of young people in the Conservation Corps of the Forgotten Coast, all helped set up the grounds, which also included tents and equipment from the Florida Seafood Festival.
Non-profits that set up in the park to share their special projects with the public included the Franklin County Humane Society, which brought puppies and dogs for adoption, and the Florida Wild Mammal Association, which brought their pet pelican and a skunk. Last year, the humane society received a $6,400 donation, and the FWMA a $1,600 donation from the event, and Madson said this year he estimates those amounts will increase once all the proceeds are tallied.
He said the first year of the silent auction brought in funds, as did the several dozen sponsors. In addition, vendors were charged a small fee, as opposed to just being asked to give a donation.
The group Save our Cocker Spaniels, Inc. provided information and sold pet supplies to help their favorite breed of dog, and the BETA Club of the Apalachicola Bay Charter School offered baked goods for donations to raise money for hurricane-ravaged Mexico Beach.
Although not a non-profit, the Apalachicola Bay Animal Clinic set up as well and gave away pet toys, as well as supplies and information supporting the animals of this area.
Taking part in the parade were the Forgotten Coast Parrothead Club of St. George Island, the Panhandle Players community theater touting their upcoming show “Dial M for Murder” March 22 to 24, Apalachicola Main Street, Apalachicola Riverkeeper, Florida Forest Service with Smokey Bear, the city of Apalachicola, the Crooked River Lighthouse, and the Franklin County Sheriff Department, introducing their new boat in the parade.
The Tallahassee band Garnet and Soul kept the gathering entertained throughout. Madson said the event began to wind down shortly after the parade, due in large part to the heat. By the next morning the park had been swept clean of the beads and other festive items, evidence of a really great party.
Madson said t-shirts are still available and can be obtained by contacting Sue Burnfin at firstname.lastname@example.org.