Andy Plauche says he never envisioned that Krewe des Chiens would reach the size it reached Saturday when he started Lafayette’s Mardi Gras parade that puts dog owners with their beloved pets front and center.

“We simply started it 18 years ago as a way to increase awareness of pet population and also to give money to the organizations that shelter dogs and deal with adoptions,” said Plauche, a Lafayette veterinarian and owner of Lafayette Veterinary Care Center.

“As a vet, compassion for animals is huge, but I never could figure out a way to help a bigger number than just at my office,” Plauche added. “It started off very small, with about five or 10 animals walking in the parade, and this year, we’ll have about 300 animals walking.”

Bryce and Felicia Martel, of Lafayette, brought their three dogs — Duke, Layla and Cooper — to be a part of the downtown festivities. Felicia Martel said she’s always been an animal lover and said the annual parade is a great way to raise awareness for animal needs.

“I know that all the funds go to a good cause and it helps shelters and rescues, and I am all for that,” Felicia Martel said. “I think it is cool for the dogs but also for the children. They can come out here and have a good time without having to worry about anything crazy.”

Since 1998, the krewe has raised more than $400,000 for area shelters and animal organizations, according to Plauche. Owners who want to walk their dogs in the parade must either pay a $25 preregistration fee or a $35 registration fee on the day of the parade.

The parade featured a king, queen, duke and duchess, all chosen from a raffle, with raffle tickets each costing $25.

For the first time in the krewe’s history, a human king and queen were chosen — King Rex I and Queen Regina I. King Rex I is Gifford Briggs and Queen Regina I is Stacy Beard; both were chosen at the krewe’s annual ball Jan 22. Plauche said he sees the tradition of a human king and queen enduring as the krewe’s efforts continue to grow.

“This is a pivotal year,” Plauche said. “We wanted to make it a little bit bigger this year, but it didn’t work out. We’ll have it next year where the route will double in size. We want more floats, and we want more people to walk.”

He said the krewe gives to 10 organizations each year and 99 percent of what it generates goes back to the organizations.

With the Super Bowl next weekend, the krewe chose for its theme: “Super Bowl Pawty: The Ultimate Tailgating Experience.” Animals and their owners alike got in the spirit by wearing football jerseys, and spectators wore their favorite Saints, Tigers or Cajuns shirts to get in the spirit.

Plauche said it’s a unique Mardi Gras parade for Lafayette.

“It’s a short parade route, and folks come out and they can spend it with their pet and it is very family oriented,” he said. “It is probably one of the most family-oriented parades that exists.”