Mandy Marshall is ready to pawww-ty.
Marshall is co-owner of Hounds Lounge Pet Resort and Spa, the presenting sponsor of the Downtown Little Rock Partnership’s Barkus on Main, the Mardi Gras Dog Parade and Block Party, set for noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday, April 10.
“Barkus is a Mardi Gras parade where dogs get dressed up and strut their stuff down Main Street,” she says. “It’s just so cool to see the dogs that come — all different shapes, sizes, breeds, all different kinds of cool outfits. And then it’s really amazing to see the pet parents get involved as well and do a family collaboration of costumes.”
Some of the costumes are quick and easy, like a feather boa tied around a dog’s neck or last year’s Halloween costume hastily tailored to fit Fido. Others take it a bit further.
“Just come festive, because there is a costume contest,” she says. “There are those who really want to win that contest.”
One of her all-time favorites was a family who dressed as a crab boil.
“They were in a wagon, they had a big pot, and there were crawfish and shrimp,” she says.
The event is family-friendly and there is no charge to attend, but there is an entry fee for the parade — $20 for one dog or $35 for two — which is to start at the intersection of Seventh and Main streets at 2:30 p.m. and travel for about 30 minutes, north to Fourth and Main. Parade participants get to take home Wag bags, stuffed with goodies for dogs and people.
Seven prizes will be awarded for parade participants: best pet/owner look-a-like costumes, best small and large dog costumes, most original costume, best float, judge’s choice, best trick and tricentennial treat.
A kissing booth — where people can get their photos snapped as they get kisses from their furry pals — and a pop-up dog park are also in the plans.
A king and queen of Barkus will be declared based on the results of a Facebook contest run by the Downtown Partnership.
There will be a beer garden and a Hurricane station, crawfish boil, gumbo and beads galore. Vendors will be set up along the Downtown Little Rock Creative Corridor, and there will be entertainment.
“We have realized that people with dogs don’t like to get close to a band because the dog doesn’t like the noise, so we’re going to do more of a dance entertainment,” Marshall says. “And we’re going to include trick contests so there are going to be things for people to actually watch that the dogs don’t mind sitting through. That’s new this year so we’re excited to see what kinds of tricks there will be.”
She has been involved since the inception of Barkus, having been approached by Downtown Partnership’s executive director Gabe Holmstrom, whose Airedale terrier was a frequent visitor at Hounds Lounge, Marshall explains.
Marshall made the decision to leave her job in the corporate world and start Hounds Lounge with her partner, Justin Harris, after the house-sitter who cared for their Dobermans, Hemingway and London, moved away and they couldn’t find a boarding location that met all their expectations.
There are four Hounds Lounge locations — two in Little Rock, one in North Little Rock and one in Fayetteville.
Marshall is a self-proclaimed workaholic but says that during downtime throughout the pandemic she found new ways to do things.
“My team didn’t need me anymore. They know what they’re doing. They’re able to make decisions. So now it’s gotten to the point where I can go play with puppies,” she says. “One of my favorite things to do is not only go and hang out with the puppies, but to go during business hours and communicate with the pet parents while they’re dropping off or picking up.”
Business has been booming lately, as things have opened up and pets adopted when people were spending most of their time at home have begun experiencing separation anxiety when their owners return to their busy routines. Packs of them are showing up at Hounds Lounge’s doggy daycare for playtime and socialization.
“One of the most rewarding parts of what we do day in and day out is to teach a dog to be a dog,” Marshall says.
She outlines a painstaking process her staff goes through with each new pup, assessing temperament and slowly, safely introducing them to four-legged friends for playtime.
“What’s interesting about this industry is back … when the economy crashed, the pet industry continued to grow,” says Marshall, describing clients who consider their pets to be on par with human children. “Whereas kids’ toys, candy, clothing, everything else in the world crumbled, people continue to invest in their pets.”
She is, of course, helping spread the word to Hounds Lounge patrons about Barkus festivities.
Hounds Lounge will have a vendor booth at the event, and she and Harris will be circulating to make sure other vendors and patrons have what they need.
“We’ll be making sure the patrons and the dogs are happy and giving booty-scratchings and ear-rubbings,” she says, “and we will be coordinating the parade.”