About a decade ago, Justin Rudd of Long Beach, Calif. thought his English bulldog, Rosie, could use canine companionship. So he started an informal, weekly "yappy hour" among acquaintances. The dogs could romp and sniff, and the owners could "talk dog stuff," Rudd says. The group met at a small park in Long Beach's Belmont Shore neighborhood, a beachside community of about 8,000 (in a city of half a million) who reside in mostly single-family homes and small apartment buildings.
It didn't take long for the social circle to grow, and for "yappy hour" to customarily end with the group of dogs and their escorts strolling together along the neighborhood's main drag, Second Street. Patrons of the shops, pubs and restaurants on Second came out to watch the procession -- and at that point, Rudd says, "you've pretty much got a parade."
The idea of costuming the dogs began one Easter. Rudd, a beauty-contest coach who has been a renter in the Shore for 14 years, was inspired by the annual fashion parade down New York's Fifth Avenue. "It was just an informal thing: 'Let's do something like that, but with dogs,' " Rudd says. Then he added a community-minded twist: Using the event to raise money for local pet-shelter and K-9 programs.
Ten years later, the "Haute Dog Howl'oween Parade & Pet Adoption Fair" draws as many as 700 contestants annually, some from as far away as Las Vegas, he says, and has become more elaborate in its costuming and presentation -- including pet-scale floats. Not strictly for canines, competitors have included cats, ducks and a pot-bellied pig. As a fund-raiser, its revenues from entry fees brings thousands of dollars to charities, Rudd says, including $32,000 to local spay-and-neutering programs in the past two years alone.
While Howl'oween draws the most attention, it's only one of scores of events organized by the 41-year-old Rudd and his non-profit Community Action Team in the Belmont Shore area. One monthly event, the "30-Minute Beach Cleanup," sometimes brings out as many as 400 volunteers on a weekend to help comb the beach of debris. (Long Beach sits at the mouths of the Los Angeles and San Gabriel rivers, so it's plagued by the garbage that washes out of what are essentially gigantic storm drains.)
Rudd and Rosie's influence includes the apartment building where Rudd has lived for eight years. The policy at his fourplex was "no pets" before he moved in, but Rudd says that once his landlord got to know Rosie, the policy was waived. And now everyone in the building is allowed a pet.
Not the least of Rudd's accomplishments was helping establish Los Angeles County's only dog beach, when he felt that Rosie and other dogs in the area needed a place to run and play in the surf, leash-free. Though the idea was met with some resistance, and was initially adopted on a trial basis, after nine years it looks as if it's here to stay.
After Rosie died at age 12 early this year, the Long Beach City Council voted to name the three-acre stretch of shore after her. It's now called Rosie's Dog Beach.
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