So You Want to Start A Pet Parade?

Every year the Burlingame Pet Parade organizers are asked for advice by other groups, cities, organizations who are contemplating starting a Pet Parade. While we do not claim to be experts we have learned a lot in nearly 10 years of Pet Parade organizing. We have put together some of our thoughts in this document. As they say in Detroit your mileage may differ!

The Burlingame Pet Parade is now in its 9th year and still quite a baby in comparison to others. Los Altos Kiwanis Pet Parade is more than 60 years old and one we look to as a model.

None the less we have learned a few things in our short history. First is that pet parades are a lot of fun and enjoyed by all. Our attendance numbers doubled in the first years and is now about 1,600. As many watch the parade as are in the parade. We haven’t had any real problems with our parade and we do get a little more organized every years ….and we are still very disorganized!

Our rules are simple:

  • No political or commercial promotions.
  • Foot power only (exceptions may be arranged).
  • Groups are encouraged to identify themselves with a banner or sign.

Our biggest learning is that it isn’t the pets that are the trouble .. it’s the owners!!!

Clearly cooperation with the local council & the police is a must and something that has to be scheduled early. One thing that has been a great help was the creation of postcards that we were able to deliver to the merchants early so they could hand them out. We also canvassed the schools and churches to let them know how they could participate in and publicize the event.

When we first were considering a pet parade we met with the Los Altos pet parade organizers. We were surprised to learn that they didn’t have any prizes / awards. Their philosophy is that the parade is the prize.

Despite their advice, we decided to award prizes and that has been our biggest headache to date. You would think it is easy to come up with some categories, enlist some local notables as judges and get on with it! Well its been like teaching pigs to sing .. you can’t do it and it just makes the pigs angry! Despite what seems like a really simple process we have had complete chaos every year and every year it doesn’t seem to get better! Maybe this year we will crack it. But I think the Los Altos approach might be the right way after all.

Our new simplified process since 2008 is …

  • Only three categories (Best Dressed Pet, Best Dressed Group / Combo, Best Float .. none mechanized) and an overall best of show award.
  • Three judges each of whom is responsible for a single category.
    The judges circulate in the assembly areas prior to the parade and hand out some of their 6 (each judge) commendation awards and a colored balloon (different color for each category… note in 2010 we changes this to colored flags as too many participants were carrying balloon!!)  to each to the deserving contestants.  Their volunteer assistant writes down the details of the contestants.
    The judges return to the judging stand and while the parade goes by they can hand out the remainder of their commendations. The balloons help the commentators identify the ones selected.
  • After the parade all those who have a commendation (approximately 18 contestants) are asked to return to the judging area. Those who have commendations / balloons are invited to parade around the judging arena, one category at a time.
  • All three judges then caucus and judged the category winner. We just award one prize in each category.
  • The judges then award a Best of Show which (bizarrely) might not be one of the category winner!

download a PDF of the latest judges instructions

One year we tried online, as well as on-the-day of, registration so that we could capture information about each contestant for the commentators and give the contestants a number to help the judges. That was too much of a hassle!

Our event is co-sponsored by one of the merchant groups in our town. Their objective is to bring more people to their area so we try to extend the parade with events before and after the parade such as face painting, story telling, tastings, kiddy train rides etc. One year we rented out booth space to various groups / organizations. That too was a hassle.

One year we extended the number of performance artists in the parade .. dancers, baton twirlers, jugglers, bands etc. That seemed to make the parade more lively however it slowed everything down and we had a serious back up / congestion. IF we have dancers again we will make sure they keep moving!!

Another parade we know about has a two tiered system. Anyone can just turn up and be in the parade for free. If you want to be considered for judging you have to register and pay a nominal sum. Again we think this is too much trouble for our parade.

Believe it or Not!!

Its hard to believe but not everyone likes pet parades!  For a couple of years we have had one neighbor express their opinion via email to the organizers:  

“I have horrible allergies causing me to having to sleep elsewhere when you have this thing.  … A parade that will trash the area in front of my home as it has every year, force me out of my home, as well as encourage people to put their animals in those horrid little outfits that must be some form of torture.  I hate the annual pet parade more than anything I’ve ever come across and its a horrible thing to be forced to deal with at your own front door..”

As they say it takes all types!

But to get you in the mood for your pet parade (and maybe drive you crazy) here’s a catchy little tune from the late Hoyt Axton: