When it started to pour on us during the 2014 Mystic Krewe of Barkus Parade, I wondered what I was doing in the French Quarter of New Orleans with my drenched, dressed-up dog and my weather-weary husband.
But it was our first Mardi Gras living in New Orleans, and we couldn’t give up. Once we saw all the excited spectators lining the streets — even thanking us for being there — I just had to smile and keep going.
When I moved to New Orleans late in 2013, I had only the sketchiest idea of what life would be like here. I’d visited a few times and had the typical tourist experiences, from brunch at Commander’s Palace to jazz at Preservation Hall. But I’d never been to New Orleans during Mardi Gras, and I had no idea it was a whole season; I thought of it only as Fat Tuesday.
I soon learned that dozens of parades roll through the region in the weeks leading up to Fat Tuesday, including the Mystic Krewe of Barkus, designed for dogs. Barkus is one of the few parades that meanders through the narrow, picturesque blocks of the French Quarter -– and meander it does, as spectators often run into the parade route to pet and photograph the dogs. It’s far more chaotic and far less organized than other New Orleans parades. Proceeds from the parade benefit animal organizations across the Gulf Coast.
In 2014, my husband, Allan, and I decided to escort our Golden Retriever, Eagle Ridge’s Miss Lily Marlene, in the Barkus parade. I had shopped for a costume for her, first trying to conform to the theme that year of “DOGZILLA –- Barkus Licks the Crescent City,” ordering a monster-style outfit online (which turned out to be too small), and then finding a beautiful, locally made dress in Mardi Gras colors (purple, green, and gold) at the French Quarter shop Chiwawa Gaga. It’s a confection of purple, boa-like feathers and gold lace befitting our beauty queen.
We awoke that day to torrential downpours, but because it was our first Mardi Gras season, we Velcroed Lily into her comfortably fitting dress, grabbed some umbrellas, and abandoned our own plans to wear Mardi Gras masks. (They surely would have melted.) Once at the staging area at Armstrong Park, we all cowered under an overhang while the parade was delayed, then gamely lined up during a break in the weather. As soon as we began marching again, though, the clouds opened once more and rained on our parade.
I was amazed how many people stuck with it, and even more amazed that the streets of the French Quarter were packed with spectators. Lily was so excited by all the attention and the treats thrown at her that she took the deluge in stride, and her dress held up beautifully as well.
Of course, it was almost impossible to take photos that year.
This year, we were blessed with sunny skies and uncharacteristically balmy temperatures for the parade, which happened Sunday. The theme was “Bark Wars: Return of the K-9,” but Barkus veteran Lily was not at all embarrassed to wear her beautiful Mardi Gras-themed dress for a second year as she pulled me through the streets of the French Quarter, searching for adulation, applause, and especially those ever-present dog treats. Dog-loving spectators often line the streets with water bowls, which was very much appreciated on this unseasonably warm day.
Although the krewe was led by canine monarchs King Andouille “Dewey” Lemarie and Queen Ashley Renaudin, in our eyes, Lily was Mardi Gras royalty, too.
Have you ever been a doggie parade? Let us know how it went in the comments, and please post pics!
About the author: Eileen McClelland is the managing editor for SmartWork Media, which publishes INSTORE, a magazine for retail jewelers. A former newspaper journalist in Houston with a specialty in travel and the arts, she has lived in New Orleans since 2013 with her husband, Allan; golden retriever, Miss Lily Marlene; and former Houston alley cat, Ocelot. Among hobbies she’s acquired in her new location — that she never imagined she’d have — are parade watching, festival-going, gumbo sampling, and jazz appreciation.
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