By Gretchen Ammerman
For the TODAY
We all swear we’ll never do it. Put our dogs in an ugly Christmas sweater, a Halloween costume like a hot dog bun, or simply buy special collars for every holiday.
But if statistics about the amount of money pet owners plonk down every year are to be believed, few can resist the dizzying amount of pet products available that have nothing to do with health and wellness.
In our defense, we wouldn’t do it if the dogs just would stop looking so darn cute dressed up.
Waldport welcomes the spirit of canine couture along with the spirit of Christmas every year at the Lighted Dog Parade, the final event in an afternoon of holiday cheer at the Waldport Visitors Center, starting at 2 pm on Saturday, Dec. 8.
“It’s a very fun time that includes a visit from Santa, who will take pictures with kids and he’ll even be giving out some toys,” said Cameron Rauenhorst, corresponding secretary for the Waldport Chamber of Commerce. “The volunteer firefighters bring a firetruck and let the kids get into it if they want to. I will even give a short talk about the history of the bridge; there will be a lot going on.”
Then at 4:30 pm, the event goes to the dogs.
“We start with a dog-show style walk where everyone goes in a circle and shows off the dogs and their costumes,” said organizer and emcee Janet Sutherland. “Everyone laughs and claps as the dogs go around, then I judge the participants. Every year I come up with new categories [or should that be dog-agories?] for prizes. Everyone that shows up gets a prize and a bag of treats.”
Prizes have been awarded for such things as farthest distance travelled, roundest dog, best diva, most suave and debonair, and best Christmas sprit. Though “cutest” is both an eye-of-the-beholder judgement and something most dog owners are pretty convinced they should win, Sutherland said one year a contestant won it paws down.
“Someone brought this really tiny shepherd type dog and it was dressed as an elf,” she said, “it really was undeniably the cutest thing there.”
Once all the dogs have been suitably awarded, the assembly heads across the Alsea Bay Bridge and back, a distance of about one and a half miles, using flashlights and glow sticks to help light the path not already illuminated by the dogs.
“It looks so pretty watching all the lights on our beautiful bridge,” Sutherland said. “It’s really a very fun event, and so far we’ve never had a dog fight.”
This year’s event will be the 14th time in a row of the coordinated canine crossing, but its roots go deeper than that.
“I was looking for an event the chamber could sponsor similar to the la de da parade in Yachats,” Sutherland said. “I thought back to these two women that would dress their dogs up and walk them across the bridge, singing and waving to passersby, and I thought, ‘We could do something like that.’”
Just like the winter weather, there’s no telling what the event will be like; some years more than 20 people have shown up, but one year the weather was so miserable that only two hardy souls doggedly stuck it out. Luckily, the Waldport Visitors Center is large enough to accommodate even a fairly large group.
“It actually turned out quite fun,” Sutherland said. “It was quite cozy inside while the storm went on outside, and those two dogs got lots of attention.”
Weather or not, the visitors center will have hot drinks and some light food either inside or out on the beachfront lawn for people to enjoy after the walk while enjoying music provided by guitarist, and wife of Rauenhorst, Dani Padilla.
“She sings Christmas carols and people always join in,” Rauenhorst said. “It’s such a fun atmosphere.”
Sutherland currently has a schedule that is not conducive to dog ownership, so she is content (for now) to live vicariously through the canine companions she gets to judge, especially because of the effort so many owners put into the costumes.
“Some people just stick a pair of antlers on the dogs’ heads, which is fine,” she said. “But many will festoon them with lights, and then we have those few that go all out. One year there was setup of three dogs — a pug dressed up as Santa followed by a baby carriage made up to look like a sled that was attached to two other dogs by strings of lights that looked like reins. The Santa pug was classic — he even had a beard and he was taking it so seriously. It was the most hysterical thing I’ve ever seen.”
The Waldport Visitors Center is located at the southwest end of the historic Alsea Bay Bridge. The entire event is free. For more information, call 541-272-563-2133.