Meet Petaluma’s most famous animal mascots
Some are carved out of stone or molded from fiberglass. Others are built from cloth or iron or wood or neon tubes. Many are assembled from parts. Many more are simply stuffed.
But whether born of an artist’s imagination or literally born in the wild — on the way to immortality at the hands of some strong-stomached taxidermist — inanimate animals of every species and medium can be found from one end of Petaluma to the other.
It helps, of course, that they don’t move around so much.
A pair of large metal roosters stand proudly in front of Pete’s Henny Penny restaurant, both sporting pandemic-appropriate masks. At the fairgrounds, a large cement chicken is perched, surrounded by a white picket fence, while a bronze statue of an ugly dog — homage to the fair’s annual Ugly Dog Contest — lives in the fair office. Numerous old hatcheries retain chicken imagery of fading neon, the Petaluma Creamery has a prominently placed cow on its roof and the Foundry Wharf lawn is home to an inch-thick bovine made of iron, decorating the riverside complex with its simple, silhouetted splendor.
Near the playing fields at St. Vincent High school, a marble Mustang rears up majestically. Over at Petaluma High, the school’s sprawling wildlife museum is absolutely crammed with taxidermy animals representing several continents. There are even a few dinosaurs cavorting atop a nearby storage shed.
The list goes on.
There is even an abandoned rooster on the roof of the former Chicken Pharm restaurant. The forgotten fowl can be seen only from the top level of the adjoining parking garage.
Every one of these zoologically edifying effigies has a story to tell. But it’s up to the folks who spend the most time around them to share those tales.
“Charlie Horse came up out of Southern California, maybe 10 years ago or so,” explains Don Benson, owner of Rivertown Feed & Pet Store on 1st Street, where a life-sized fiberglass horse stands sentry at the front door. “He belonged to an art collector, I guess. We bought him along with that little one over there.“
He points to where a small fiberglass horse perches proudly near the store’s rear entrance. Though it does not presently have a name, the animal does carry a sign stating, “Please Do Not Ride the Horse.”
“On the way up from Southern California, the driver got pulled over two or three times on the highway,” grins Benson. “Highway Patrol thought he was a live horse, 'and I guess he was facing the wrong way in the trailer.”
Currently bolted to a rolling metal trolley that allows Charlie to be rolled inside the store at night, the striking equine has become a popular figure in town.
“Oh, yeah, he’s been in a couple of parades, he’s been used for Kentucky Derby Day parties, he’s been borrowed by a few stores downtown for various events,” Benson says, reciting other notable public appearances. “One time, an antique store dressed him up in official equestrian parade uniform. He’s kind of iconic. Once in a while we dress him up, ourselves. Charlie Horse is a lot of fun.”
Travis Day, owner of Thistle Meats on Petaluma Boulevard, confesses his regret that the shop’s own sidewalk sentry, a semi-lifelike fiberglass pig, has never been given an actual name.
The staff just call it “the pig.”
“I guess that’s kind of silly,” Day admitted, “considering how famous he is. If we forget to put out the pig in the morning, people think we’re not open. We don’t even use an open or closed sign. We just put the pig out and people come on in.”
Once or twice, the pig has spent the night out on the sidewalk when someone forgot to bring it in. On such occasions, strange things have occurred.
“Before COVID, during Happy Hour, we’d get people walking between the bars at Seared and Risibisi,” recalls Day. “And a lot of people would try to ride the pig. A kid riding the pig is one thing. That’s cute. But when you have adults sitting on him, trying to take a selfie, it can get pretty hilarious. Fortunately, the pig seems to have a very high weight capacity.”
Day, who took over ownership of the butcher shop four years ago, says the pig was part of the deal
“All I know about its background is that the pig is French,” he says, “and ever since the original owner bought it, it’s become a hallmark of Thistle Meats.”
Oh, and one more thing.
“I don’t know the details,” Day says, “but I’ve heard that the pig was lent out once to be used in a play somewhere around town. So he’s got stage experience, too. And now I guess we’d better think up a good name for him. He definitely deserves it.”