Party Animals


There goes Santa Barbara again.

Folks there think they’re so special. While many communities across the country are going to the dogs, Santa Barbara has to have the dogs come to it.

About 1,500 dogs.

That’s about 6,000 paws, 1,500 wet noses, a bunch of tails and countless fleas, all heading for the downtown State Street area Saturday for the Fourth Annual Big Dog Parade & Canine Festival.


The massive dog-walking event, in which the walkees and the walkers dress in a range of outrageous and stylish costumes, is sponsored by the Big Dog Foundation, the fund-raising arm of the Santa Barbara-based casual clothing-maker, Big Dog Holdings Inc.

Yip, that’s the company with the logo of the big generic everydog plastered on its merchandise.

All proceeds from the parade will benefit charitable organizations, including Canine Companions for Independence, the Dog Adoption & Welfare Group, St. John’s Childrens Hospital and the Delta Society.

The parade will begin at 10 a.m. at De La Guerra Plaza and finish at the newly refurbished Chase Palm Park off Cabrillo Boulevard. There will be pet tricks, demonstrations, music and other family entertainment at the park after the parade.


One dog that wouldn’t miss this celebration for all the bones in the world is Soleil, a 95-pound Great Pyrenees from Ventura. The 2 1/2-year-old pooch will make her parade debut accompanied by owners Kirstie Lambert and Lambert’s daughter Kelsey.

“Soleil is going to go feminine--she’s going to be wearing the stylish Big Dog leash and a scarf,” Lambert said. “I might get ruffle things to put around her paws. I’m not going to overdo it though. She gets embarrassed, she’s funny like that.”

In preparation for the public appearance, Soleil is scheduled for a three-hour grooming session Friday that should get the kinks out of her long white hair. She wants to be presentable for the almost 10,000 spectators expected to line Santa Barbara’s primary downtown thoroughfare.

But Soleil may be atypical in not letting it all hang out, costumewise, for the occasion. If history holds true, the dogs will be putting on the dog for this event.


“We’ve had little toy mini-dogs with windup things on their backs and we’ve had an antique paddy wagon with 10 Jack Russell terriers in striped prison uniforms,” said Mike Walker, Big Dog marketing manager and parade organizer.

“We’ve had antique firetrucks with Dalmatians in fireman’s gear,” he said. “We’ve had dogs dress up like a bride and groom, and we’ve had a woman dressed up as a bride and the dog as the groom.”

There have been doggy ballerinas, doggy basketball players (Airedale Jordans), doggy doctors and nurses (the entry of Santa Barbara’s Cottage Hospital) and the “Around the World in 80 Dogs” entry starring an international collection of dogs dressed in the native attire of their various homelands.

And then there was last year’s winner for best costume, Scruffy, from Van Nuys, who came dressed as a lion.


Scruffy’s owner, Joel Pelletier, said the role wasn’t a giant stretch for his giant Irish wolfhound.

“If you saw the dog, you’d immediately think lion, horse or bear,” Pelletier said. “He’s 3 feet tall (on all fours) and 165 pounds. If he stands up, he’s taller than me, and I’m 6 feet.”

The key to Scruffy’s success was a King of the Jungle-style mane.

“I went to a costume shop--I know the guy there, and the guy gave me a deal on three wigs, like Tina Turner wigs,” Pelletier said. “I went to work with a needle and thread and some elastic.”


The Big Dog parade began in 1995 as a “back in business” celebration for folks at the firm’s corporate headquarters in downtown Santa Barbara. The building suffered damage from torrential January storms and when a second round came along in March, the flagship of the 160-store chain was wiped out.

“Basically we had to shut the doors for five months,” Walker said. “During the process of rebuilding the store, the president came to me and said, ‘When we do the reopening, we want a big event, bigger and better than anything we’ve ever done before.’ ”

From that request, the dog parade was born.

The first parade featured about 100 costumed, four-legged participants and about 150 humans. The number multiplied to 500 dogs and 800 people the second year and 1,000 dogs and 1,500 people last year.


And though it’s a “Big Dog” parade, there really is no size requirement. Walker said he wouldn’t be surprised to see Chihuahuas scampering their way to the finish line at Chase Palm Park. “Every dog is a big dog,” he said. “It’s all about having a positive attitude.”


The 4th Annual Big Dog Parade & Canine Festival, Saturday in downtown Santa Barbara. Registration for parade entrants and their dogs will begin at 8 a.m. at De La Guerra Plaza, with preregistered participants arriving at 8:30 a.m. The parade will begin at 10. The one-mile walk will end at Chase Palm Park, site of the festival. $10 for parade entry. (805) 963-8727, Ext. 1398.