Right alongside midnight parking at Ye Olde College Inn, meetin’ under th’ clock at “Holmses” and a graduation bash at the Bali Hai, another New Orleans tradition has gone to the dogs: Mardi Gras.

It is called ‘PAWDI Gras’ and it has been going on right under our noses for the past 10 years.

 The Saturday after Mardi Gras, an outfit called PAWS (Plaquemines Animal Welfare Society) stakes out its territory on the Belle Chasse Highway, and 150 or so animals of every description, along with up to 1,000 homo sapiens, do their after Mardi Gras Mardi Gras, replete with a King and Queen, floats, throws, marchers and all the trimmings.

To get a grip on all this, first you’ve got to understand that PAWS operates out of the other half of the building that houses the Plaquemines Parish Animal Control Building. Which is to say one door will lead you to a parish-run facility geared to keeping strays off the street, with the last resort being euthanization. The other door is a “non-kill” facility as one PAWS board member puts it.

“One building, two different approaches,” says Donna Schexnayder, vice-president of PAWS. “This is the only such setup in the country. Animal Control has a job to do and we understand that. We just like to get to those animals and adopt them out. And believe me, nobody wants us to succeed more than Animal Control. We couldn’t do what we do without them. In fact, they’d like to see our partnership with them as a prototype for the rest of the country. Our hats are off to them!

“It’s amazing how some people treat these poor animals,” she continues. “At PAWS we see dogs that have chemical burns and cigarette burns. We had one dog that somebody tried shooting in the mouth. We found that poor little fella in a ditch. We take them in and we pay for the surgery and other medical needs, and we rehabilitate them and find homes for them.”

Schexnayder says that while Plaquemines Parish contributes about 20 percent of the funding need for PAWS, the rest must be made up through various fund raisers such as the selling of T-shirts and other ways of scraping up the cash “needed to protect and help these poor animals.”

Not the least of these fundraisers is PAWDI Gras.

“There’s a $30 fee to register your dog as a member of a krewe and to be in the parade,” Schexnayder says. “It’s $35 if you want your dog to be considered for a drawing to be named King and Queen of the Krewe of PAWDI Gras for that year.”

And don’t think for a second that Schexnayder is one to just whip out a checkbook or volunteer time at the PAWS Center.

At any point she has at least seven dogs running around her home on the West Bank. And many of them are “special needs” dogs that fall way down on that adoptable list.

Poncho, one of Schexnayder’s now deceased adopted dogs and a former King of PAWDI Gras, had frequent seizures. Still, Schexnayder found a place in her four-legged brood for him and gentled prepared him for “the rainbow bridge” – an imaginary crossover that people at PAWS often speak of, a bridge where the deceased dog goes in spirit goes to wait for those who care for him or her and together they walk off into the beyond. “Where there is no pain,” Schexnayder says.

A cool, sunny afternoon at Schexnayer’s West Bank home is one of constant yapping and playful growling with Schexnayder decked out in a “doggie designer” overshirt, yelling at Luca or Logan or Skippy or Sadie.

Over in one corner of the living room, Schexnayder’s husband, Artie,  is stretched out in a reclining chair with Bella, a tiny teacup Chihuahua dozing in his lap.

Schexnayder is talking about the Christmas stocking that each dog will have over the fireplace and of the family life insurance policies that make special provisions for the beneficiaries, “seven special dogs.”

“All of these are mine,” Schexnayder says with all of the pride of a mom of brood of Mensa members. “We’ve adopted them. They’re here to stay. Many of the people at PAWS adopt dogs also. We don’t want see them destroyed. Lord knows they’ve been through enough.”

And who knows? Maybe another New Orleans Mardi Gras tradition – a four-legged one – is just coming of age.