ST. LOUIS -- From groomers who are dyeing dogs in a rainbow of colors to bakeries whipping up special Mardi Gras cakes for four-legged friends, it's a good weekend to be a pet in this city.
Nearly 80,000 people and 6,000 pets are expected Sunday at the largest pet parade in the nation, organizers said.
The Soulard neighborhood -- with streets of renovated red brick buildings -- has celebrated its French heritage with Mardi Gras festivities for more than a quarter-century.
Area businesses began promoting related events, and Gary Reed, the owner Clementine's bar, dreamed up a parade for costumed dogs.
His own dog, a Shih Tzu named Scarlett O'Hara Butler, was crowned Queen Barkus the First, the queen of the first parade in 1994. To this day pets decked out in the best costumes still can be named queen, king or court jester.
Over 12 years, the event's popularity grew, corporate sponsors came on board, and now the Beggin' Strips Barkus Pet Parade is a major, if unusual, area event.
"I just think, in the dead of winter -- after the cold, bad weather -- what's better to do than dress up the dogs and have a big blowout before Lent?" Reed said.
St. Louis' Mardis Gras festivities are held in the weeks before the fasting and penitence of Lent, the period between Ash Wednesday and Easter.
In past years, the pet parade has brought out an owner dressed as Cruella de Vil with a group of Dalmatians, a reclining cat carried on a pallet through the crowd and more unusual pets, like a llama or a group of chickens in a wagon.
Preparations for this year's event are already underway throughout the region.
Dog groomer Sandy Hilton expects to dye about 15 dogs for the parade -- including her own poodle, Color, in a shocking shade of pink. Hilton uses a natural dye, and said it can only be used on dogs with a white coat.
"People love showing off their dogs and acting silly," she said. "You can always take your dog to the park, but a pet parade, where you can dress up your dog, now that's something."
A bakery for dogs in the St. Louis suburb of Ladue, called Three Dog Bakery, began making Mardi Gras king cakes for dogs Friday. "We have a lot of people who will come by after the parade," said owner Vicki Sence. The shop sells the $5.95 cakes through Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, which is Feb. 8.
The dog bakery leaves out one tradition: that of putting a plastic baby doll inside each cake. When humans eat king cakes, the person who finds the doll is crowned king or queen for the day. That person's duties include providing the king cake for the next party.
A lot of that gets lost in translation when it comes to baking for dogs, but Sence said the furry companions do enjoy the braided cakes made from whole wheat, a yogurt-based frosting and tinted coconut.