VERMILION — As the Festival of the Fish kicked off Friday afternoon with the pet parade, those in attendance may have seen a figurative passing of the torch from Cleveland legend Dick Goddard to Friendship Animal Protective League’s Greg Willey.
Goddard and Vermilion are linked by the annual Woollybear Festival, which will celebrate its 45th anniversary this September, but Goddard also has long been the emcee of the pet parade at the summer kickoff festival in Vermilion.
This year, festival organizers asked Willey to assist Goddard with the duties. Willey assumed that he would just be a sidekick in the background, but Thursday night he learned that he was going to be more involved with the parade than he originally thought.
“I assumed I’d be on stage to help (Goddard) out on the stage — maybe just pushing him around in a wheelchair, or something along those lines,” Willey said. “I then got a call (Thursday) that told me there was a chance Dick wouldn’t be able to make it to the festival at all.”
Goddard, 86, retired from being a weatherman at WJW-TV in Cleveland in November after 55 years in the television business. He may be known more for his work regarding animal welfare; he is the namesake of Goddard’s Law, which made it a fifth-degree felony in Ohio to knowingly cause serious physical harm to a companion animal — including depriving a pet of food, water or shelter, or inflicting long-term pain.
When the pet parade began, Willey announced to the crowd that Goddard would not be in attendance. Halfway through the pet parade, though, everyone in attendance, including Willey, got a surprise and Goddard arrived with his daughter and made his way up onto the stage.
“I know it means a lot to him to be here today,” Willey said. “He’s a mainstay, and he’s been a part of Vermilion now for going on 45 years. I know it means a lot for the community to have him here, as well.”
Goddard and Willey shared the emcee duties for the rest of the parade, which included a longest tail contest, most unusual pets, owner-pet lookalike, best trick and cutest pet contests.
“I love the excitement of all the owners being up there with their pets,” Willey said. “I love seeing how their relationships are with their animals. Having the kids come up on stage all dressed up with their pets as superheroes, it was really cute.
“It was a huge honor to share the stage with (Goddard) today.”
When asked if he felt that it was a symbolic passing of the torch, Willey wasn’t ready to go quite that far.
“I don’t know what the intention is for the future,” he said. “Dick and I have been working together since I started. For 15 years, I worked in Cuyahoga County and we were part of the Dick Goddard Dogs. We’ve been friends ever since.
“I’m hoping he can be a part of this for as long as he’s able to be.”