An Easter Parade for the Dogs
Our contributing editor fulfills a lifelong dream—to judge a dog show.
By Mary Beth Crain
I’ve always had a secret desire to judge a dog show. I watch the Eukanuba Contest of Champions, and the Oscars of dogdom, Westminster, and marvel at how anyone could choose the best from among those breathtakingly gorgeous canines. I look at the judges, all of them ancient and noble, the women in their long, glittering gowns, the men in their tuxes, and think what a marvelous life they must lead. Filthy rich, with the rest of the filthy rich bowing and scraping before them as they decide the destinies of the world’s most elegant dogs.
Well, on Easter Sunday my dream finally came true. To my astonishment and joy, I was asked to be one of the judges of the Haute Dog Easter Parade in Long Beach, California.
Now, this is a famous event that’s been covered by “The Tonight Show,” CNN, and other major media. Every year, hundreds of dogs parade down Second Street in Long Beach, dressed in their Easter best, a testament to human creativity and canine endurance. Dogs sporting everything from tutus and bunny ears to Easter bonnets groaning with flowers, plastic eggs and even birds sit patiently while cameras click, camcorders whirr and onlookers cheer. The female owners often come decked out as well; in fact, sometimes you can’t tell the owners and the dogs apart, especially the ones who have matching Mommy and Me outfits.
At noon on Easter Sunday, I arrived at Livingston Park with my Chihuahua, Truman, in tow. We were not in Mommy and Me attire; in fact, I’d been too busy to dress up Truman, and all he had was a small blue and white Easter bow on his collar, courtesy of his groomer. Needless to say, he looked rather pathetic among the canine masterpieces who were roaming the grounds.
“Would your dog like this?” A kindly woman, noticing our plight, stopped me and held out a Chihuahua-sized necklace made of blue, yellow, and pink plastic Easter eggs.
“How kind of you,” I said.
“Well, he needs a little color, you know.”
I squeezed the necklace over Truman’s head. It just fit. He gave me one of his “Do I have to wear this stupid thing?” looks.
“Yes, you have to,” I said. “You don’t want to be the most underdressed dog here, do you? And me, a judge?”
We wandered through the park. There were lots of vendors—Haute Dog is a rescue organization, and proceeds go to all sorts of good causes, so I took Truman over to the “Cool Things for Dogs” booth and made him try on a set of four doggie boots. Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to put boots on a Chihuahua, but I can tell you, it’s a thankless task. You might as well try to put pajamas on an eel. Truman kept slipping his paws out of the boots as fast as I tried to zip them up, all the while giving me dirty looks.
When we left Cool Things, Truman headed straight for a pug who was dressed as a bumblebee, with a black and yellow striped sweater and yellow fuzzball antennae. Within a minute they were in love, sniffing each other’s behinds and dancing around.
I was given a blue ribbon with “JUDGE” printed in gold, and a clipboard by Justin Rudd, founder of Haute Dogs. Justin suggested that I walk around and make notes on costumes for the categories of Best Float, Best Overall Costume, Best K-9 Bonnet and Best Human Bonnet. The judging, he said, would begin in half an hour.
I felt like Alice in Wonderland as I surveyed the eye-popping terrain. A Standard Poodle dyed pastel blue looked like he was made of cotton candy. A woman passed by me pushing a baby carriage in which a longhaired Chihuahua named Bella Luna was enthroned on a pink satin cushion. Bella Luna was wearing a pink gown, a straw hat with a pink ribbon, and pink sunglasses. She rode along like the Queen of England in her royal carriage, surveying the multitudes with benevolent disdain.
A little ways away, under a large oak tree, a crowd had gathered to ooh and ahh over a tiny Shih Tzu who was sitting on a blanket, dressed in a purple satin gown and purple straw bonnet adorned with purple tulle, pink flowers and lavender pearls. Next to the Shih was a small boom box, also decorated in the purple theme, blaring “In Your Easter Bonnet.”
“What’s her name?” I asked the owner, a thin, intense woman who was wearing a glorious purple bonnet of her own.
“His name,” the woman corrected me. “Ginji’s a he.”
Warning: Dog in drag. Ginji didn’t seem to mind, though. He grinned away as people snapped his picture and gushed, “Isn’t she ADORABLE?”
But you haven’t seen adorable until you’ve seen a Chihuahua puppy in a bunny suit. This tiny vision appeared in front of me, weighing all of maybe three pounds, in a pink felt creation with a little cottontail, four bunny paw boots, and a bunny-eared hood. She was so cute I almost died on the spot.
In the next half hour, Truman fell in love at least six times, with, among others, an Irish terrier who’d gotten the wrong day and was dressed as a leprechaun; Bosco the boxer, who got into my purse while I was talking to his owner and demolished my chicken sandwich lunch; and Sherman, an excited Yorkie who covered my surprised dog with kisses.
“Sorry, he’s gay,” Sherman’s owner apologized. “We knew it the day we were walking him and he heard someone playing Broadway show tunes and went berserk.”
The actual parade, I don’t need to tell you, was the hoot of hoots. Two rescue dogs, Winston and Delilah, were King and Queen. They led the procession, Winston wearing a lovely gold cardboard crown and Delilah attired in a beautiful floral Easter bonnet and a dress that looked suspiciously like an old apron. Behind them came a little King Charles Cavalier Spaniel in a chariot drawn by a St. Bernard in a top hat with bunny ears.
The crowds cheered at the Australian Cattle Dog dressed as a parrot; “awwed” at the three Easter egg Bichons dyed yellow, blue and pink (doggie-safe food coloring, we were assured); roared at “Pope Stevie,” decked out in full papal attire; and whistled at six “retired” Greyhounds in bunny ears, stripped of all dignity and looking suitably mortified.
Dogs, dogs, dogs. 615 of them. Picking the winners was a nightmare, but the four other judges and I finally came to an agreement. Best Overall Costume went to the Whippet in a princess gown and matching hat, and her owner, a spirited gal dressed in a tux as a waiter carrying a tray of martinis filled with Easter eggs. The four tiny Pomeranians dressed as baby chicks in a wagon-drawn chicken coop won Best Float. I forget who won Best K-9 Bonnet, but nobody could forget the winner of the Best Human Bonnet, a sturdy woman whose ingenious headgear was made from a beaded pink bra.
The Awards Ceremony wasn’t exactly up to Westminster standards. No evening gowns, no tuxes, no tense doggie examinations, no stellar displays of beauty, grace and obedience, no majestic pointing to the winners as cheers hit the moon and sobbing owners stepped up to receive silver chalices and $50,000 checks. No, we T-shirt and jeans judges were introduced to scattered applause and whistles in the middle of a big grassy area, and then promptly dispensed with as, one by one, the winners straggled up to Justin Rudd, who presented them with doggie gift baskets as his own canine, Rosie, a big old bulldog in a pink feathered hat, barked jealously from the sidelines and had to be shushed.
Just the same, I knew that the Haute Dog Easter Parade would go down as one of my most cherished memories. I wore my blue and gold ribbon all the rest of the day, and at bedtime I unpinned it from my T-shirt and carefully placed it in the Swiss Colony Christmas tin on my dresser, keeper of various mementos attesting to an odd but interesting life.
In my old age, that tin will be opened like a time capsule, and I will be catapulted, for one glorious moment, back to my mad, astonishing youth and an Easter Sunday when blue poodles, Chihuahua bunnies and Pug bumblebees walked the earth, the heavens shook with laughter, and I got to judge a dog show.
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Contributing editor Mary Beth Crain's last piece for SoMA was Showboating for the Lord.
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