Arts & Culture

Mardi Gras for Man’s Best Friend

A NOLA krewe for canines celebrates 25 years of dressed-up dogs—and animal-welfare fundraising

Photo: Kent Hardouin

“The Barkus Knight,” 2009.

When it comes to Mardi Gras parades, one krewe leads the pack. On Feb. 19, the Mystic Krewe of Barkus celebrates their 25th year of parading 1,500 to 2,000 costumed canines through the French Quarter of New Orleans.

Like many good ideas, the concept for the parade started in a bar—in this case, Good Friends, a Dauphine Street watering hole, where fans of local meteorologist Margaret Orr were gathered in 1992. “[At the meeting, people] brought their dogs, and there was a dog that was kind of mocked,” recalls Gregory Curtis, president of Barkus. “And a guy named Tom Woods said, ‘You know what, I’m going to start my own parade with my dog.’”

Photo: Kent Hardouin

“From The Dog House to the White House,” 2016.

What began as a lark went big time in 1993, when the city of New Orleans gave the krewe official parading status. Ever since, Barkus has drawn thousands of spectators each year to celebrate the dogs, which are decked-out in costumes ranging from simple collar adornments to full superhero get-ups. This year, the festivities begin at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday with a “pre-pawty” in Congo Square and Armstrong Park, and the parade begins at 2 p.m. (Get the route here.) More than 100 volunteers from local schools and animal groups act as parade marshals or aid in setup, and Orr, who helped inspire the original event, will serve as emcee.

“What we do is a real Mardi Gras krewe and it’s a real Mardi Gras parade,” says Catherine Olivier, who serves on Barkus’s board of directors. “We’ve just made it all about the dogs.”

The parade’s royal court comprises a king, queen, grand marshal, and grand duchess, along with a court of dignitaries. Each year, Barkus selects a rescue dog with a “rags-to-riches” story for the queen—the choice promotes the benefits of rescuing an animal instead of purchasing one. Barkus is a nonprofit organization that has donated more than $1 million to various animal welfare group and shelters throughout the South, such as the Southern Animal Foundation and the Animal Rescue of New Orleans.

“In the middle of having all the fun, you don’t realize that you’re doing so much good,” Curtis says.

This year’s theme is “Pirates of the Crescent City: Barkus Tells Tales of Jean LaFleabag.” Parading dog owners can register the day of or online, and there are no costume limitations.

“We don’t have any requirements,” Olivier says. “We just want you to come and have a good time.”