Mardi Gras, or “Fat Tuesday” in French, is a holiday all about celebrating excess. However sometimes excess is a bit too much. For example, if you want to try and celebrate the festivities in the French Quarter of New Orleans with your dog. The massive crowds, loud noises and tons of small edible beads strewn around during Mardi Gras don’t make for a very pet friendly environment.
That’s why, in 1994, Denise Gutnisky started Mardi Paws. This paw-rade is a pet centered event purr-fect for families and pet enthusiasts alike. Each year hundreds of animals dress up and parade through the streets, raising spirits as well as money, which all gets donated to charity.
Families and attendees can expect a tailwaggingly good time watching pets march around town in costume. Anyone familiar with Mardi Gras traditions will recognize those same traditions, but with a pet themed twist, when they show up to Mardi Paws. For example, in the streets of New Orleans, different Krewes (the social groups who put on the parades during Mardi Gras) have different ‘throws’ that they toss to the crowds. Some of the most famous throws are from the Zulu Krewe, who throw glittery coconuts and the Krewe of Muses, who throw special glittery shoes.
However, the Mystic Krewe of Mardi Paws toss out a unique and highly sought after throw; their special glittery poops (no they’re not real.) When asked about them, parade founder Denise Gutnisky said “We wanted to create a throw that would be as coveted as the Zulu coconut or the Muses’ shoe, and we came up with poops.” While pet poop is normally something we toss in the garbage can, attendees all clamour for golden poops to be tossed their way.
Another tradition that Mardi Paws plays off of is the themed parade. Each year a different theme is chosen to inform the parading pets’ costume choices. Throughout the years they’ve had many themes and plenty of clever costumes. For Denise, who’s seen it all, the highlight was “...A chocolate Lab dressed as a Chia Pet. You just saw the face of the dog and the legs, and the whole body was grass growing around...it really was clever.”
In 2019 for their 25th anniversary, the theme was Super Paws, and it really brought out some characters. No matter the theme it’s a fun time for all. Denise says that not only do “Kids love to see dogs in costume,” but that pets in costume “...bring smiles to the faces of young and old alike.” For 2020, the theme is “Beyond All Boundaries: Exploring Sea, Air & Space, celebrating the limitless exploration both above and below.”
Not only is Mardi Paws a barkingly fun time, it’s for a good purpose too. Since its inception, Mardi Paws has been focused on giving back to the community and providing charitable donations to local nonprofits. Denise has been involved in volunteer organizations for decades and says that charitable giving was a fundamental reason for Mardi Paws’ inception. “I started the parade in 94 and it always has benefited non profits that I’ve been involved with.” Mardi Paws functions as a 100% volunteer organized event. “We’re all volunteers... and we try to help kids and canines in our community.”
Several roles special to Mardi Paws highlight how integral charitable giving is to the event. The Mystic Krewe of Mardi Paws nominates a King and Queen pup every year to preside over the parade. In 2019 both the King and Queen were rescued by their humans emphasizing the importance of animal adoption. Also, a grand marshall is chosen every year to highlight a local child who leads by example. In 2020, Ruthie Racine, a first grader with cerebral palsy was chosen as Grand Marshall and she will join the parade alongside King Kizmet and Queen Stella Blue.
The main charitable organizations currently backing Mardi Paws are the ISF or the Ian Somerhalder Foundation and Scott’s Wish. Actor Ian Somerhalder, known for his roles in the television shows Lost, The Vampire Diaries and more, started the ISF in 2010 and since then has worked to provide financial support for animals in need. The Foundation has also purchased over 100 acres of land in Louisiana establishing it as a nature preserve. Scott’s Wish is a foundation that provides financial aid for those undergoing treatment for leukemia and other devastating illnesses. They provide support to families confronting serious medical situations. All of the revenue generated through Mardi Paws (parade entry fees, business sponsorships and more) all go toward these two organizations.
If you want to be a part of the furriest Mardi Gras celebration, you can join the parade in Covington, Louisiana on March 1st this year. Covington is a charming city north of New Orleans on the other side of Lake Pontchartrain and is the hometown of Ian Somerhalder. The parade rolls through Downtown Covington and is a pawsitively charming event! There will be costumed pets, poop throws, and it’s all for charity, what’s not to love! If you’re in the area, be sure to enjoy this incredible canine celebration.
And if you’re a dog lover who isn’t in Louisiana and you’re looking to bring the festival of Mardi Gras to you, then the Inkopious Mardi Gras Collection is paw-fect for you! Find your pup’s furry face in a purple, green and gold feather mask and celebrate Mardi Gras in style. Don’t miss out on your chance for some Fat Tuesday Fun!
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