While pets surely made occasional appearances at Mardi Gras for many years, it wasn’t until the 1950s that it became a phenomenon. Small dogs, dressed as can-can dancers and clowns, accompanied their humans to parades, and a housecat on Royal Street was known to sit in a window sporting a jeweled mask during Carnival festivities.
In 1956, those dogs and cat were eclipsed by Helen Peterson’s pet chimpanzee, Caladonia, who sported 3,000 red spangles on a handmade devil’s costume on Mardi Gras Day, attending parades and getting her photo taken. She ended her Fat Tuesday as many do: drinking beer and highballs in the French Quarter.
By the 1960s, ads were appearing for stores selling pet costumes – berets, matador coats, dresses and more. One store promised a pet costume to match your own with a week’s notice.
But it wasn’t until the 1990s that the dog days officially arrived at Mardi Gras with the Mystic Krewe of Barkus. Barkus sprang from an idea formed during a meeting of the Margaret Orr Fan Club at Good Friends bar in ’92. In ’94, their French Quarter parade, complete with reviewing stand and royalty toast, debuted with the theme “Jurassic Bark.” The Krewe gained quick popularity, and within a few years had to set a limit of 1,500 parading dogs.
Spuds McKenzie, the English Bull Terrier and Bud Light party animal, took Mardi Gras royalty to new heights as a Grand Marshal of Endymion in 1988.
But Mardi Gras isn’t just for dogs; cat lovers decided to get in on the action, too. In 1999, The Krewe of Endymeow held its inaugural ball at the Cat Practice on Magazine Street, complete with furry mouse throws, a milk toast to the royal court, a crystal tiara and boa for the queen, and costumed – and most likely unhappy – cats, to the theme of “Cat in the Hat.”