A marching band parading through the Old City, faces young and old grinning from ear to ear, and crowds packed onto narrow streets, all straining to get a peak. What sort of person or thing could be causing such a commotion? 

Dogs. Dogs in costumes, that’s what.

From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday March 7, the Young-Williams Animal Center orchestrated its 13th annual Mardi Growl Parade and Festival presented by Merchants of Beer, where there was music, food trucks, contests, and naturally, dogs and people of all shapes and sizes.

Everywhere in downtown Knoxville from Krutch Park through Market Square was jammed packed with over 60 food truck and craft vendors as well as more than 15,000 Knoxville residents, all brought together for the annual Mardi Growl.

The whole event was the doing of one person: the Young-Williams development manager Grace Bennett. Bennett was the event coordinator for the Mardi Growl this year, which has been historically one of Young-Williams’ biggest fund raisers of the year, providing the shelter with much needed supplies.

Bennett went into great detail about just how important this event is for Young-Williams and how it allows them to better service the Knoxville community as a whole.

“Whether you’re a walker, vendor or sponsor at Mardi Growl, you’re supporting the lifesaving efforts of Young-Williams Animal Center. Mardi Growl is our largest event of the year, raising funds for programs that find homeless pets homes and allows us to be a resource to the community,” Bennett said.

“Mardi Growl also helps fund our low-cost spay and neuter programs. We know spaying/neutering pets is not only important to the ending pet homeless, it also has health benefits for the pet," Bennett added. "We make sure everybody, regardless of income, is able to get their pets spayed or neutered. In addition to the program this event supports, it also supports the pets in our care by providing food, water, shelter, and love.”

And to that end, the people of Knoxville were not shy with their support, because for every person lining the sidewalks of South Gay Street, there were hundreds more in the streets taking part in the parade that started off the festivities, all in support of their local animal shelter.

Starting off the parade was none other than Smokey himself, followed by all sorts of people with their dogs wearing hats, capes, tutus and even the Mardi Gras beads as well. One such person eagerly taking part in the parade was Diana Summers with her 8-year-old daughter Riley, as well as Riley’s best friend Ronny the great dane.

“Walking in that parade made my daughter Riley so happy,” Summers said. “And our dog Ronny was having a great time too. He loved the attention, and we loved supporting Young-Williams because they’re so good for the community. That’s actually where we got Ronny and several of our other dogs, so we love Young-Williams since they’ve done so much for us.”

Many like Summers love to take part in supporting their local animal shelters like Young-Williams because of how places such as these bring families together through the love of pets who want to be loved.

Bennett talked about why Mardi Growl has been able to bring together the Knoxville community for 13 years now, and why this event is so gratifying.

“The most gratifying part of this event for me personally, is to see the support that pours out from our community,” Bennett said. “Over 15,000 people join us at Mardi Growl, helping us raise awareness of our programs and mission and the pet friendly businesses in Knoxville. Not only is this a fun event for those who attend, it’s a lot of fun for us as staff members too. Which makes it worth every second.”

Because of this continued outpouring of support from the Knoxville community, places like the Young-Williams shelter can thrive and provide important services for the people living here, and in turn be able to put on high quality events such as the Mardi Growl and other such fund raisers.

Visit the Young-Williams website for more information and ways to help out.

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