Every Easter, in a testament to human creativity and canine endurance, hundreds of dogs stroll down Second Street in Long Beach, dressed in their holiday finest for the Haute Dog Easter Parade. Before the parade and as the procession begins, dogs sporting everything from tutus and bunny ears to bonnets groaning with flowers and plastic eggs are scrutinized by judges looking for the best-dressed dogs as cameras click, camcorders whir and onlookers cheer. This year, I was one of those judges.
When I arrived at Livingston Park, Justin Rudd, the founder of Haute Dogs, came up to introduce himself and handed me a clipboard and a blue ribbon with “JUDGE” printed in gold. As I pinned on my ribbon and surveyed the eye-popping terrain, I felt like Alice in Wonderland.
A standard poodle dyed pastel blue looked like he was made of cotton candy. A long-haired Chihuahua named Bella Luna rolled by in a baby carriage, enthroned on a pink satin cushion and enrobed in a pink gown, topped with a pink-ribboned straw hat and pink sunglasses. She rode along like the Queen of England in her royal carriage, surveying the multitudes with benevolent disdain. Under a large oak tree, a tiny Shih Tzu sat on a blanket, dressed in a purple satin gown and purple straw bonnet adorned with purple tulle, pink flowers and lavender pearls.
“What’s her name?” I asked the owner, a thin, intense woman wearing a glorious purple bonnet of her own.
“His name,” the woman corrected me. “Ginji’s a he.”
Warning: dog in drag. Ginji didn’t seem to mind, though. He grinned away as people snapped his picture and gushed, “Isn’t she ADORABLE?”
The Haute Dog Easter King and Queen, rescue dogs Winston and Delilah, led the procession, Winston sporting a lovely gold cardboard crown and Delilah attired in a beautiful floral Easter bonnet and a dress that looked suspiciously like an old apron. Behind them came a little King Charles Cavalier spaniel in a chariot drawn by the parade Prince, a St. Bernard in a top hat with bunny ears.
The crowds cheered at the Australian cattle dog dressed as a parrot; “aww-”ed at the three Easter-egg poodles dyed yellow, blue and pink (doggie-safe food coloring, we were assured); roared at “Pope Stevie,” decked out in full papal attire; and whistled at six “retired” greyhounds in bunny ears, stripped of all dignity and looking suitably mortified.
Dogs, dogs, dogs. Six hundred fifteen of them. Picking the winners was a nightmare, but the four other judges and I finally came to an agreement. Best Overall Costume went to the whippet in a princess gown and matching hat, and her owner, a spirited gal in fake mustache and tux carrying a tray of martinis filled with Easter eggs. The four tiny Pomeranians dressed as baby chicks in a wagon-drawn chicken coop won Best Float. I forget who won Best K-9 Bonnet, but nobody could forget the winner of the Best Human Bonnet, a sturdy woman whose ingenious headgear was made from a beaded pink bra.
At the awards ceremony, we judges were introduced to scattered applause and whistles in the middle of a big grassy area, and then promptly dispensed with as, one by one, the winners straggled up to Rudd, who presented them with doggie gift baskets as his own canine, Rosie, a big old bulldog in a pink feathered hat, barked jealously from the sidelines and had to be shushed. As for me, I wore my blue-and-gold judge’s ribbon the rest of the day.