St. Louis Mardi Gras Dogs the Heels of New Orleans

Each year, thousands of pets are adorned in an eye-straining assortment of purple, gold and green costumes, to march in one of the largest pet parades in the United States. The pet parade is the beginning of a weeklong party in the "French Quarter" of St. Louis, Mo.

Held along historic Soulard Boulevard, St. Louis boasts of having the second largest Mardi Gras celebration in the country with more than half a million people attending all of the various festivities. Soulard was once known as Frenchtown, because many French aristocrats settled there, transplanting their lavish parties and joy of life.

This year, the parade was held on Sunday, Feb. 23, and the day was filled with annual pet events, such as the famous Wiener Dog Derby. The Grand Parade is scheduled for March 1.

In previous years, the Annual Mystic Krewe of Barkus Pet Parade – the event's official name – has drawn crowds of 75,000 people or more to watch the elaborately costumed, beaded and even dyed pets of all types. (A "krewe" is an organization, usually a social club, dedicated to organizing parades and throwing balls.)

The vast majority of paraders are usually dogs, but also have included a camel, a llama, a few bold cats, a pot-bellied pig, a calf and a duck.

As the animals walk 11 blocks through Soulard, thousands of people stand by, catching beads and bacon flavored pet treats as they were thrown from various floats.

Following the parade, over 200 wiener dogs (also known as dachshunds) ran a short and somewhat confused race in the Wiener Dog Derby. Although the race is a linear dash to the finish line, most dogs take a circular route as they chase their own tails or those of other contestants.

Both events help raise money for the Open Door Animal Sanctuary, a no-kill animal shelter. The event is traditionally co-sponsored by Purina Beggin' Strips and the Open Door Animal Sanctuary, along with the founders of the Mystic Krewe and Mardi Gras, Inc.