Pets Go on Parade on Pier 84


Chai Latte in Pet Parade

Chai Latte, one of the contestants in the Pet Parade, poses for a photo. Photo: Catherine Griffin

Romeo was a fast walker on the red carpet. He practically sprinted past the girl attending him as she tried desperately to keep up. At times she made a mad grab to reposition him on the right path, gently nudging him before he set off again.  Onlookers chuckled at the display, no doubt wondering how a turtle could move so quickly.

The fifth annual pet parade on Pier 84 at the end of 44th Street, just one of two events sponsored jointly this year by the Friends of the Hudson River Park and the West 44th Street Better Block Association/Friends of Pier 84, was officially underway.  Owners brought everything from dogs to rabbits, each of them hoping to win one of the prizes, ranging from most exotic to best dressed, donated by Pets NYC, a local pet store on Ninth Avenue. There were 93 entries in the parade, though a few of them failed to show when their number was called.

The demographic of those who entered, though, surprised the organizers.  “Most are adult owners,” said Katie Martinez, Program Coordinator for Friends of the Hudson River Park. “Most bring their kids just to watch.”

The crowd swelled around the small strip of red carpet.  Many brought their cameras to snap photos of dogs dressed up as cowboys or pirates, while a few children squeezed to the front to see a rabbit or cat.  Judges, including New York State Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, carefully evaluated each pet as it was led, carried, or pushed down the runway.

Two tourists from Copenhagen briefly stopped to watch the parade; they had seen the event advertised online and decided to include it in their tour of the city.  “I liked Sweet Pea the cat,” said Doite Meyea. “She’d obviously never seen a dog in her life.”

Sweet Pea the cat indeed had never seen a dog in her life.  She clung tenaciously to her owner, Arthur Breedy, who with his wife, Cindy Breedy, had brought two cats to the Pet Parade.  “Everyone in the neighborhood knows them,” said Cindy Breedy, describing her two cats, Sweet Pea and Merlin, whom she takes for walks in a baby stroller.

“It’s funny bringing them in a carriage.  People double take and are like, ‘Oh, it’s a cat!’” said Cindy.

The first year, there were only 30 contestants; but the turnout swells each time.  “If you do events and advertise, people will come,” said Linda Ashley, board member of the West 44th Street Better Block Association/Friends of Pier 84.

The pier hasn’t always been so family friendly, though. Twenty years ago, Pier 84 was a wooden construction on the Hudson River, largely unused until woodworms and gribbles took their toll.  When a few of Ashley’s friends visited the pier one morning, they found that the pilings had given out and that it had fallen into the water.  It was condemned in 1995 and, three years later, enfolded into trust parkland by the city.  Since then, the pier has been built in cement.

“I call it the Hudson Riviera,” Ashley joked as she commented how she likes to visit the pier to relax.

The city has tried to revitalize the Hudson River and its surrounding area by constructing the Hudson River Park, a five-mile strip along Twelfth Avenue that will ultimately run from Battery Place to 59th Street; it’s currently half complete.  Although the city’s $21 million budget is dedicated to construction rather than to small events, the Pet Parade is funded by about $500 of City Council money.

“We used to do more events previously,” said Martinez. “But due to a decline in staff, we’re only doing two this year.”

The decline is due to a reorganization of the Friends of the Hudson River Park to turn it into a fundraising operation. Once the park is complete, it will be up to the non-profit group to pay for the maintenance of the park and to sponsor local events; but at the moment, a lack of personnel causes the organization to rely on volunteers from New York Cares.

Many of the awards at the parade were given to children or to those who put effort into their pet’s display.  The best owner/pet lookalike went to a girl and her dog, both wearing matching giant taco shell costumes.  The most exotic pet award went to a small boy named Dylan Leclercq, who brought a Chinese climbing lizard.  As he cradled the reptile in one hand, he carefully positioned the plastic medal over its neck, smiling widely as he posed for pictures.