Parading Paws contest is a fun summer tradition

Courtesy of the Florence Griswold Museum

With its devotion to novelty, entertainment, and fun, The Old Lyme Midsummer Festival (July 25-26) channels the artistic spirit of Old Lyme and welcomes both locals and tourists alike.

Yet human participants are not the only the only visitors who are encouraged to get into the mood of the Midsummer Festival fun — the Festival offers a special annual event that celebrates man’s best friend on July 26.

Parading Paws is a parade and contest, where dog owners are invited to dress their furry friends in their finest and funnest attire.

Held by the Florence Griswold Museum and co-sponsored by Vista Vocational —a local community-oriented educational organization that works to provide job and life skill training to adults with disabilities — the Parading Paws event welcomes participants of all different backgrounds and talents, and organizers involved in the event put their best efforts forward to put on a tremendously entertaining show.

Tents and water are available to provide shade and nourishment for canine participants. If you’ve never visited the ‘Flo Gris’ (as it’s known locally), the backdrop of Lieutenant River against the grassy and flowered museum grounds sets an idyllic summer scene.

Parading Paws offers a variety of contests that call for creativity and fun — such as “Best Smile”, “Biggest Paws”, and “Longest Tail.” However, the contests that draw the biggest turnout are “Best Costume”, and “Best Trick”.

“The event always brings a lot of fun and funny sights,” said Tammi Flynn, marketing director of the Florence Griswold Museum and co-coordinator of the event. “Participants really go all out with their dogs-especially with the costumes. One year we had a dog dressed in a Wizard of Oz costume, and another year we had a lab dressed in a Hawaiian shirt with lays. We have a lot of different mixed breeds who compete, so there is a lot of diversity in the dogs who participate. It just all has this great feel to it — where you just can’t help but laugh and have a fun time.”

While every dog who participates receives a prize, the main winner’s goodies consist of toys, gift cards, and — the featured prize — dog treats made by Vista Vocational workers.

Dubbed with the special name of “Vista Vittles”, the dog treats are made on-site at Vista Vocational’s work facilities, and consist of a scrumptious, hearty recipe that includes 100% natural peanut butter.

For Vista Vocational, Parading Paws event brings positive publicity to not only the organization, but also promotes companionship and sharing.

“This is the fifth year Vista Vocational has been involved with the event, and it has been a great experience,” said Amanda Roberts, Vista’s organizational communications director.

“It is a great way for us to increase our efforts in informing the public of who we are, and a great way to get the Vista Vocational students even more involved in the community.”

So no one gets dog-tired, the event is kept short and sweet. Registration opens at 9 a.m.; judging starts at 10:30 a.m. the whole thing is over by 11:30 a.m., rain or shine.

other pet-friendly places to visit

From hiking trails, beaches, historic shopping centers, and dog parks a plenty, there are many local sites that invite both dogs and owners an opportunity to explore, play, and discover.

Sites such as Connecticut College Arboretum, Air Line State Central Park, Amtrak Beach, and the Bluff Point State Park offer up beautiful nature escapes and panoramic views. Most sites require that dog owners abide by safe and considerate visiting rules — keeping their dogs leashed in certain areas and being sure to clean up after them.

As a former farmland, the Connecticut College Arboretum in New London leads adventurous visitors through rolling meadows, streams, and forests. Dogs are allowed on trails, yet should be carefully monitored if they are brought along on one of the hosted tours.

The Air Line State Park Trail follows the former railroad commute from New York to Boston — and offers a long trail of tranquility and stillness. With streams, state forests, town parks and wildlife management areas — the trail is said to be one of the best greenways in all of Connecticut.

There is no parking fee and no lifeguard on duty at Amtrak Beach in Niantic, but leashed pets are welcome at the mixed rock/sand strip. Please note that dogs are not allowed on the nearby Boardwalk.

Although it is closed to pet visitors from May 1 to Sept. 1, the Bluff Point State Park of Groton is the last remaining significant piece of underdeveloped land along the Connecticut coastline. The park runs over 800 acres and brings beautiful sights of plants such as native beach plum, beach pea, and white shore roses.

Touristy areas such as Mystic Seaport and Olde Mistick Village allow canine visitors to stroll their scenic, outdoor paths.

Mystic Seaport entices visitors to immerse themselves in a recreated 19th century New England village, where the seafaring spirit is channeled through waterfront views, boats, galleries, and exhibits. Dogs are not allowed in the exhibition buildings, but are welcome to get a whiff of seafaring life on the grounds.

Olde Mistick Village features more than 60 shops and businesses, duck ponds, flowers, and a water wheel. There are shaded lanes for dog owners to sit and rest with an ice cream cone. The shop “Raining Cats and Dogs” welcomes four-legged friends. This fun-spirited shop sells a variety of pet-themed merchandise — from calendars to specialty treats.

Aside from the trails, tourist attractions and beaches, dog parks are a staple to any dog owner. Some established ones are the Central Bark Dog Park of Groton, Pawsitive Park Dog Park of Norwich, and the Mitchell D. Phariah Dog Park in Danielson.

Check out the rules before you go — regulations vary though most maintain a three-dogs-per-person limit. On-site amenities include shade, tables, and occasionally treats. A notable feature includes small dogs and big dogs getting their own designated play areas.

For out-of-town visitors, there are hotels and lodgings that allow pet guests for an additional fee. Some of the featured hotels are Motel 6 Niantic, the Red Roof Inn in New London, and the Comfort Inn in Mystic. Rates and additional details can be found online.

To view or download the complete Pet Friendly Trail, visit

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