The Community Pet Parade

Practicing veterinary medicine in a small town is at its best when we can connect with the community outside of the walls of our building. One of our favorite opportunities came around last weekend for its annual visit – Silverton’s Pet Parade.  A lot can be said about this event being a natural marketing fit for anyone in the pet industry and that it’s the perfect opportunity to be exposed to many of our customers.  All true, but more than anything, it’s great fun – and not just as veterinary professionals, but as community members as well.

 

We’ve participated in different ways over the years….as a group with our employees and their pets, as volunteers helping in any way we can, or as sponsors.  This year we sponsored a section of the parade, had two employees carry a banner, and handed out over 300 goody bags to participants.  Our practice’s bags have our logo on one side, Pet Parade information on the other, and were filled this year with a few brochures, candy, “Greenies,” and other items (my thanks to Novartis Animal Health and Webster Veterinary Supply).

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For any practice in a small community that doesn’t already have a Pet Parade, what are you waiting for?  In our town, we’re lucky enough to boast the longest running Pet Parade in the country, and although it’s been around forever, the event has enjoyed some recent acclaim.  Silverton was featured in the May issue of Sunset Magazine for its status as a “pet friendly” community, and information about the parade was front and center.  According to our Chamber of Commerce, out of town “interest calls” went through the roof in the past few weeks.   In recent years, the festivities have expanded, with a local church performing a “Blessing of the Animals” and another group holding a Bobbie “The Wonder Dog” Look-Alike contest prior to the parade.

 

There’s always been a small debate about why the Pet Parade was started in 1932.  Many feel it was to honor Bobbie, a Collie that returned to Silverton, on foot, in 1924 after being separated from his vacationing family in Indiana.  He crossed seven states, traveled nearly 3000 miles, and became famous by any measure.  A replica of his doghouse sits in the middle of town, several books have been written about him, and a local artist’s mural depicts his journey.  He passed away in 1927 and was laid to rest in the Oregon Humane Society cemetery, his grave visited soon after by Rin Tin Tin.  Bobbie’s son “Pal” was the Grand Marshall of the first parade.

 

Nevertheless, it was recorded in the town newspaper that our Pet Parade was started in an effort to get shoppers into town to support local businesses that were suffering during the Depression-era.  Other Pet Parades were started across the country for the same reason, and to this day, “prizes” for participants typically include coupons for local businesses.

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Despite the growth of our parade and the recent national attention, what struck me most on Saturday was what hasn’t changed.  As I watched the participants arrive (there’s no “registration” and no fee), I saw kids with their parents, kids with their pets, and kids without pets.  I saw experienced riders with their horses, and I saw 4H kids on their first public ride.  I saw costumes (sometimes on kids, sometimes on pets), floats, and a lot of parents taking pictures.  I saw the expected, such as dogs and horses, and I saw the unexpected, like gerbils in cages on wagons and frogs in bowls of water.  Most importantly, however, I saw myself.

 

I saw myself as a three year old dressed as an Indian on my tricycle….I saw myself as a proud 7 year old -  walking the family dog alone for the first time; I saw myself as a 12 year old, almost (but not quite) too cool to be seen in a costume; I saw myself as a new parent introducing the parade to my own children for the first time; and I saw myself standing along the parade route, taking a thousand pictures of my kids at every age. 

 

And there it is…..the secret of the Silverton Pet Parade.  While our town has grown, and the world has changed, this one little piece of Silverton history hasn’t. It’s a window into the past for our residents and a reminder for the future that some of the best events can also be the simplest

 

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