Dolly Departed

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Gretchen Birch was still several blocks from the doll shop when Charlene Maize, better known to her friends as Charlie, failed to suck in enough air to feed her panicking brain and various other vital organs. She keeled over in the center of her miniature doll shop, Mini Maize, amid the clutter from a tipped display case. Charlie took the dive in full view of a group of Parada del Sol spectators gathered in front of the shop's window to watch Old Scottsdale's largest western parade.

No one noticed.

A marching band, passing at that precise moment, struck up the familiar beat of "Louie, Louie," and people along the parade route swayed and bopped to the music. Caught up in the swell of humanity, Gretchen was running late, and as if enough hadn't gone wrong already, her teacup poodle, Nimrod, was slowing her down even more.

"Here comes the parade!" someone shouted as Gretchen hurried past a crowded corner on her way to Mini Maize. Nimrod, all five inches and three pounds of black puppy fur, heard his cue. He pitched his fluffy body out of Gretchen's white cotton purse, which was adorned with red bows and embroidered with little black poodles, Nimrod look-alikes. She frantically grabbed for the pup, managing to break his fall to the pavement. Then she lost her grasp, and Nimrod shot off toward the street.

Every time the miniature pup heard the word parade at home, he headed for the kitchen doggie door, burst through into the backyard, and trotted around the perimeter of the privacy fence that encircled the pool, barking away as though he were the grand master of a parade. It was a cute stunt at home, but out in public . . . well, she'd never expected it to be an issue. Gretchen raced after the wayward canine, jostling past a rowdy group on the curb who had obviously started partying well before the ten o'clock a.m. parade began. One reveler almost stepped on Nimrod.

"Watch out for the puppy!" she yelled. "Don't move!"

No one heard her. "Help!" she screamed, imagining the worst as she lost sight of Nimrod. "Catch him!" A few people turned and stared at her, but no one jumped to her assistance. Gretchen burst through to the front of the parade line, knocking over a lawn chair and almost falling across an elderly couple sharing a sun umbrella. She saw Nimrod dart back into the street directly in front of the parade's lead vehicle, a Scottsdale police cruiser. The squad car, strobe lights flashing in honor of the event, jerked to a halt, and a uniformed Scottsdale police officer jumped out.

Nimrod scampered for the other side of the street, where he was instantly enveloped in a circle of kids. Gretchen waded in, not far behind him.

"You've disrupted the parade, lady, you know that?" the cop said. "I ought to write you up for having an unleashed animal. Move back and try to stay out of the way!" He hurried back to his car, slammed the car door, and began to edge forward.

Gretchen and Nimrod ended up on the wrong side of the street, forced to wait for the parade to pass. Parada del Sol, Spanish for walk in the sun, was a spectacle to behold on this warm and brilliant February morning. The world's largest horse-drawn parade meandered down Scottsdale Road. Cowboys on horseback pranced by, and women in carriages threw candy into the crowd. Kids scrambled off the curb, grabbing Tootsie Rolls and bubble gum. Giant floats rambled along, trailed by clowns rolling wheelbarrows and cleaning up behind the horses.