People often think our city is defined by the annual Calgary Stampede, that everyone spends the week at the Stampede grounds to watch chuck wagon races. I used to attend Stampede occasionally, but stopped going after a traumatic experience there eons ago. I stupidly ate a corn dog and then hopped on a very twisty turny upside-downey ride, somehow forgetting that I suffered from motion sickness. Since then, I rarely visit the grounds, although I’ve heard, in addition to the adorable baby pigs, there are cooking demos and food offerings besides deep-fried Oreos. Now I’m reconsidering.
You’ll be surprised to hear, then, that when PALS called for volunteers to participate in a special Stampede parade this year, Jelly and I volunteered excitedly. “Pick us! Pick us!” I wrote, closing with a seasonal “Yee-ha!” I’m sure Jelly would love nothing more than to be in a parade, surrounded by hoards of adoring fans cheering and waving.
But this was not THE Stampede parade, the one that closes roads downtown for hours as 150,000 people line the streets watching endless floats and horses and marching bands pass. No, this was a special shorter Stampede parade held annually at the Alberta Children’s Hospital for those children who might not otherwise be able to participate. PALS has marched in this parade for the past 10 years.
Then came the local heat wave. Sadly, the dogs were not allowed to march this year because the steaming asphalt would have fried their delicate paws. That meant all we could do was hang out in the shade and accept endless loving from adoring children and their parents for three whole hours. It was a sacrifice, but someone had to do it.
Many young visitors swung by before the parade, petting the dogs and vibrating with the overstimulation. Loving parents snapped many a photo. What I did not realize was that, after the parade, all of the people who had been marching, along with those who’d been watching, would make their way over to hang out. The marching band, after a short break, reassembled nearby for another rousing song or two. The horses ventured within metres of the dogs and assembled briefly on the adjoining lawn before trotting off. There were princesses and Star Wars characters and mascots galore, there were lots of trucks, both with sirens and without. Even a few helicopters dropped in.
Sure, I shed a few. Even happy sick kids made me sad. No child should have to hang out at this wonderful hospital, ever. I teared up when I saw the chairs set up for the oncology kids, set well apart from the potentially infectious crowds. When I saw a cheery policeman waving up at the building, and realized he was acknowledging the children too sick to leave the hospital right now, I was a goner. Thank goodness Jelly had brought Kleenex.
How did my little PAL cope with the hubbub around her? She found a patch of grass in the hot sun, laid down, and napped. Occasionally she raised her head, but she was largely oblivious to the endless children petting her. Thankfully, they didn’t seem to care.
They say that being a love sponge is exhausting. Jelly is living, and sleeping, proof.