They were shorter and more brutish than the Scottish noblewomen or the Thistle Dancers, but black-haired Sophie and her blond daughter Molly were determined to be noticed. They trotted down North Fairfax Street in matching black wool waistcoats and bright red kilts, straining to get ahead. As bagpipes and tubas blared yesterday in Old Town Alexandria's 35th annual Scottish Christmas Walk, Sophie and Molly yapped at friend and foe alike.
The foes were any dogs larger than a Scottish terrier; the friends included two dozen or so fellow Scotties and their owners.
No matter how much wool and tartan you wrap up in, it's hard to outshine a dog in Alexandria. In the past 25 years, dogs have become an integral part of the parade, with each breed walking in a pack, some in elf hats, some in wagons and many in plaid.
No one who knows Alexandria should be surprised to hear that dogs have been slowly, if not stealthily, taking over the parade. This is a city with multiple dog bakeries and a well-known dog training academy, where restaurants put out bowls of water for canine pedestrians, Holiday Inn hosts a Doggie Happy Hour and one eatery, Pat Troy's Ireland's Own, has a dog menu with lamb and beef stews. Politicians have even won and lost elections based on their level of support for dog runs.
The parade, sponsored by the Campagna Center, the St. Andrew's Society of Washington, D.C., and the city of Alexandria, attracts dog clubs with British Isle ancestry from across the region. Some are new to the parade; others, such as the Mid-Atlantic Scottish Deerhounds and the Scottish Terrier Club of Greater Washington, D.C., have been coming for decades.
Maggie, a 14-year-old Scottie, covered up the gray in her black fur with a purple crushed-velvet cape and a red hat with purple trim. "She's a member of the Red Hat Society," explained Cathy Kirby, a Scottie breeder from Berryville, Va.
Maggie, mother and grandmother to several participants, used to walk the parade route before she got too old. Now, she rides in a purple cart, like a duchess on a litter. Little girls on the sidelines swooned.
A few blocks down, Sam, a West Highland white terrier, and Buca, a black Scottie, couldn't understand why they weren't in the parade. Their owner, Phil Laporta, owner of Laporta's restaurant, had twisted his ankle.
Not to be outdone, they barked furiously at the dignified deerhounds, with their loose-limbed lope and scruffy, gray beards. They growled at the Airedales and yapped in solidarity with the Scottie club. But when the bagpipers appeared, something in their Scottish blood must have stirred. They shut their mouths.
"They've never heard bagpipes before," Laporta said. "It seems to settle them. It must be innate."
Even dogless spectators said the dogs were their favorite part of the parade. Alexandria resident Jeff Hage said he likes to spot dogs whose faces match their owners'. "There's a lot of designer dogs here," he said.
"And lots of designer coats," observed Mary Fullerton, also of Alexandria.
Even the doggie treats were designer. "They're Mother Hubbard's," said Jenny O'Shea, stopping along the route to offer bone-shaped biscuits to spectator dogs. "It's a very good-quality biscuit. You just want to be sure that when you're giving out something that it's a good quality for the dogs."
Alexandria being Alexandria, the dog fun didn't end after the parade. A few blocks down St. Asaph Street, dogs lined up to get their photos taken with Santa Claus. And at Fetch, a dog bakery, canines and their owners streamed in for Scottie-shaped biscuits and gingerbread postmen and kitties.
Inside the bakery, Donna Kenley, a retired military colonel who makes custom dog clothes, displayed photos of dog party dresses and tuxedos. "I'm really famous for the military outfits," she said, holding up a picture of an enlisted man in camouflage beside a Great Dane in same. "I make them out of real uniforms, and I put the person's unit and rank on the dog uniform."
Steve Cheney burst in with Cody, a golden retriever who had traded his antler look for a striped nightcap with pointy elf ears.
"We had a blast," Cheney said of the parade. "He's about 13, and we thought he might not make it. But he started bounding around like a 3-year-old." Glancing at the Pendleton wool coat and string of bells around the dog's chest, he lowered his voice.
"We don't tell him how silly he looks," he said. "We tell him he looks cool."