The beloved tradition returns in its milestone year May 14, with a photo exhibit running into July.

A shot from the 1970 Los Altos Pet Parade, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year with a corresponding photo exhibit. (Photo courtesy Los Altos History Museum)

Kids and their pets — everything from pooches to parrots, turtles to tarantulas — have taken to downtown Los Altos every Saturday following Mother’s Day for decades for the annual Los Altos Kiwanis Pet Parade. Started in 1948 when Los Altos was still a neighborhood of Mountain View, the inspiration for the parade was to create an event that would highlight local children, says Elisabeth Ward, president of the Los Altos Kiwanis Club and executive director of the Los Altos History Museum.

On Saturday, May 14, the parade will celebrate its 75th anniversary, kicking off at 10 a.m. with its largest-ever number of entrants. (Registration has closed, but parade-goers are encouraged to bring their pets and walk at the end of the parade.) To mark the milestone year, the Los Altos History Museum put together an exhibit, “Kiwanis Pet Parade: Celebrating 75 Years of Community,” on display now through July 10. The exhibit includes photos from the parade over the decades, as well as other mementos and a memory book for guests to leave their own old photos from the event.

Pet Parade photos from (top to bottom) 1990, 1964 and 1961. (Photos courtesy Los Altos History Museum)

“It’s very Americana in the sense of going down Main Street,” Ward says. “It harkens back to a simpler time. … It’s survived for 75 years because people resonate with it right away. If you don’t have a pet now, you had it earlier in your life.”

It has all the traditional elements of a Main Street parade — dignitaries in classic cars, bands playing and community groups marching — with the added element of pets. Ward says it’s always a surprise what pets people will bring with them in any given year. There are always bunny rabbits and dogs, while chickens and horses are uncommon now that Los Altos is less rural, Ward says. Worms, snakes, turtles and tarantulas have also taken part in the festivities.

A scene from the 2009 Los Altos Pet Parade. (Photo courtesy Los Altos History Museum)

The corresponding exhibit at the Los Altos History Museum includes photographs, newspaper articles and video footage of prior parades.

“We were trying to capture the spirit of the parade, a little humorous and kind of folksy,” Ward says.

After two years without a traditional parade due to the pandemic, Ward says she hopes the event’s full return “helps us relax and focus on the positive.”

“The parade is meant to evoke that sense of empathy, and that’s how you build community. We all care about our pets and we all care about our children, so this helps us care about each other.”

Rabbits, turtles and a roly-poly have taken part in the Los Altos Pet Parade over the years. (Photos courtesy S.M. Lieu and Los Altos History Museum)

The Los Altos Kiwanis Pet Parade takes place at 10 a.m. May 14 in downtown Los Altos. The exhibit, “Kiwanis Pet Parade: Celebrating 75 Years of Community,” is on display at the Los Altos History Museum from May 12-July 10, 51 S. San Antonio Road. The museum is open from noon to 4 p.m. Thursday through Sunday. Admission is free.

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