Who doesn’t love a furry friend with a wet nose and a warm heart? The Purina Pet Parade and Wiener Dog Derby events that take place in the historic Soulard district of St. Louis are the perfect cure for college induced dog deprivation.
Occurring the weekend before Mardi Gras, the Purina Pet Parade boasts that it is the biggest in the world. And when they say the world’s largest pet parade… it’s no joke. We were running late that morning and I was worried about missing the entirely if we arrived too long after the start at 1 pm. I soon found out I had nothing to fear, as dogs were not only still parading full force when we arrived at 1:30 pm but when we left at 3 pm after the Wiener Dog Derby, the parade still had no sign of slowing down. At least two hours of dogs prancing, panting, pouncing, and playing.
Dogs of all breeds, ages, and abilities. There were dogs dancing in tutus. Dogs sailing through the crowd in shimmering Mardi Gras beads. There was a lab dressed as a dalmation as their owners walked behind them as Cruella Deville and another dog was dressed as Max from the Grinch Who Stole Christmas, costume complete with a single reindeer horn as their owners wore Grinch garb. There was unwavering wagging of dogs dawning dyed rainbow tails, puppies skating in strollers, old dogs with a worn white around their eyes wiggling excitedly in wagons, three legged dogs with wheels spinning with streamers. As well as dogs simply led on leashes as they partook in joyful receptions of plentiful head pats.
Halfway through the parade the Wiener Dog Derby was announced. The derby was broken up into class weights all with hot dog related names. The smallest dogs went first. Their owners loaded them into little boxes with gates on either end. When the race started, the gate at the front of the track opened and the wiener dogs were off! They ran towards their owners at the other end of the track eager for a biscuit reward. Every now and then, one got confused and started looking for pets from the fans until their owners came and scooped them up seconds later. Some owners had to chase their furry friends to retrieve from the ring as they were having too much fun playing with their new friends.
Soon after the event had started, a woman approached us at the fence. She was holding a big fluffy white wall of fur on the end of her leash. As she graciously allowed us to introduce ourselves to her dog, she explained that she had another dog that was in the race. We asked if she would like our spots in order to see him better. She declined and instead described to us her small chestnut colored wiener dog was only a year old, he was very skittish but her husband wanted to enter him. “Can you help me in case my dog jumps out of the track?” She asked. “I am afraid he’ll leap out if he sees me, his name is Norman.”
We agreed, though we had seen several dogs try to jump out already that day and none of them had been close to successful so we weren’t worried. Then it was time for Norman to race. The loudspeaker announced the race and the whistle blew for the start. “There he is!” The woman shouted behind us, excitedly. Sure enough, the moment the box gates opened there was little Norman. A small skittish wiener dog with big brown puppy eyes and eyes he seemed to have yet to grow into. Norman cautiously came out of the box, his tail between his legs, his big eyes peering softly over his long nose and surveyed his surroundings. We barely had a moment to recognize him before he used a slight tilt in the wall of the track as a ramp. He leapt out of the track, slipped through the gates and charged through the crowd. The spectators were in a panic as they rushed around trying to catch the slippery sausage dog. He was retrieved within a matter of seconds but what a wild couple of moments it was for the fans of the derby.
Feeling as though we had gotten our fill of dogs, we were ready to leave and fill our stomachs. We decided to give some other observers our spot against the fence and seek out some waffles. We went to the Boardwalk Waffles and Ice Cream Kiosk. We each got a quarter sandwich stacked with a scoop of ladybug ice cream, chocolate syrup and sprinkles. We ate as we walked by towards the car. As we walked away, we heard other dog owners talking about the legend of Norman. The only dog who had successfully escaped the wiener dog derby.