By Kelsey Hanson • The Bulletin

Oregon Heritage Traditions

Oregon State Fair, Salem (1858)

Wasco County Fair and Rodeo, Tygh Valley (1885)

Linn County Pioneer Picnic, Brownsville (1887)

Astoria Regatta, Astoria (1894)

Clackamas County Fair, Canby (1907)

Pendleton Round-Up, Pendleton (1910)

Fourth of July Pet Parade, Bend (1932)

Klamath Basin Potato Festival, Merrill (1937)

Portland Greek Festival, Portland (1952)

Bohemia Mining Days, Cottage Grove (1959)

Scandinavian Festival, Junction City (1961)

Cannon Beach Sandcastle Contest, Cannon Beach (1964)

Jackie Plath, 88, remembers the summers of her childhood well. The months situated in between school terms were packed with parks, pals and the popular pet parade.

“(Fourth) of July, when we were kids, was something very, very special,” Plath said. “The pet parade was a fun time because all the family got together and you were down at the park and you saw a lot of people … it was a different world, a simple world.”

Bend’s 4th of July Pet Parade, one of the city’s most timeless traditions and iconic tourist attractions, has celebrated children of all ages and pets of all types, for more than 80 years. First documented by The Bulletin in 1932 and recognized in 2014 as one of 12 official state traditions by the Oregon Heritage Commission, the pet parade encapsulates the spirit of a city that loves its history and its pets in equal measure.

“The Pet Parade was, you know, like, the big parade for us when we were young,” Sue Fountain recalled over coffee, looking at a photo of her younger self shot at the 1955 pet parade. “We didn’t have a bunch of other festivals.”

A little over a decade after the city was founded, spectators of the first recorded pet parade cheered on local children, and the 143 registered parade pets, during their promenade through downtown. The march showcased a number of unique variants of “man’s best friend.” The furry (and scaly) friends of that flagship parade included a badger, “a huge desert turtle” named Aratala, a June bug, a can of worms and a porcupine, according to The Bulletin’s story published July 2, 1932.

Plath, too, recalls how her 6-year-old self got creative with her parade entry in the hot summer of 1934. Without a pet of her own to enter, Plath and her neighbor filled a wagon with her neighbor’s rabbits. They won first prize. She and a group of neighborhood kids celebrated their victory, and newfound fame, with ice cream in the park.

“I was really very popular after that in the neighborhood,” she mused. “You got your pet in the parade, that was special ... to us that was a big deal.”

Pets have always been a big deal in Bend and continue to add to the city’s unique culture. Dog Fancy magazine declared Bend “DogTown USA” in 2012 and Bend’s official tourism website has an entire page dedicated to dog-friendly businesses and activities.

It seemed a natural that a parade as old and as pet-centric as the 4th of July Pet Parade should become an officially recognized state tradition. With that in mind, Nathan Pedersen, Deschutes County Historical Society board president, mailed off an Oregon Heritage Tradition application in 2013.

“I landed on the pet parade (to nominate as a Heritage Tradition) not only because of its lengthy history in the area, but also because the pet parade resonates so strongly with Bend’s character today,” Pedersen said. “It seemed like a great fit for the Heritage Tradition designation; tying in a colorful piece of history to a current set of values.”

Now, in 2016, as the pet parade gears up for its 84th year, the organizers are looking for ways to combine nostalgia with innovation.

“It’s one of Bend’s oldest traditions,” said Courtney Finstad, the event coordinator at Bend Park & Recreation District. “You kind of think about what can we bring fresh into a parade that’s been going on since 1932?”

The Oregon State Junior Members of Commerce — the Jaycees — organized the Pet Parade in the beginning. Since 1949, the Bend Park & Recreation District staff has taken its job of organizing such important summer fun seriously.

“I think the fun of it is that it is a traditional event and people love that … it’s kind of nostalgic, and I think that brings people who have been in Bend for years and years and years back to their childhood and that’s something that they can connect to,” Finstad said. “And then … there’s a lot of young families here in Bend, and I think that they get just as excited.”

Throughout the years, the parade has undergone a few changes. Where, in 1932, all pets were welcome, in 2016, there are few restrictions. Cats, for example, are asked to stay home in order to reduce the chance of conflict with their canine counterparts. And although Plath won the parade with her rabbit wagon, rabbits, too, which have a low threshold for heat and stress, are not permitted in the parade.

This year’s parade, taking place Monday will feature new additions such as live music and a hashtag — #BendsBest4th — along with its classic games, attractions and, of course, pets.

“It’s Bend’s best party,” said Colleen McNally, marketing manager at Bend Park & Recreation District. “It kind of represents that life’s a parade.”

— Reporter: 541-382-1811, khanson@bendbulletin.com

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