Move over, El Palo Alto, the city is about to get a new icon.
Palo Alto Perry, a 3-foot-high stuffed animal wearing a set of matching saddlebags, is on a sojourn to find out what's lovable in Palo Alto.
Sporting a gray coat, white muzzle, and unusually lifelike, gentle eyes, this fuzzy official "Neighborhood Ambassador of Palo Alto" will travel throughout the city for the next two months in search of the most endearing places and things.
The donkey's travels, which are part of a city-sponsored project to identify and celebrate what's great about Palo Alto, will start with the 93rd May Fete Parade in downtown on May 2 at 10 a.m. Mayor Karen Holman will be the first of a string of ambassadors who will host Palo Alto Perry through July 4.
Residents, organizations and employees can become ambassadors too, taking the donkey for "walks" around neighborhoods, offices and schools and gathering good will along the way, said Alison Williams, city recreation events coordinator and Palo Alto Perry Project team member.
Potential ambassadors will need to fill out an online application, where they will describe where they'll take the donkey and why they want to be a diplomat, she said. As Palo Alto Perry and his human ambassadors make the rounds, they'll take photos of the donkey with people and the places where he has been. The pictures will be posted on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
People who encounter the donkey can place notes about what they love in the city into the saddlebags, she said.
Williams and her team members said they hope the Palo Alto Perry Project will help counter some of residents' negative feelings that have cropped up in the city in recent years. The idea sprang from a challenge by Peter Kageyama, author of "For the Love of Cities: The Love Affair Between People and Their Places," during a city-sponsored community workshop in February called For the Love of Palo Alto, she said.
"The last thing in this seminar was for our groups to come up with an unusual Palo Alto 'thing' that could make our city come together and see the lovable aspects," she said.
Palo Alto's beloved live donkeys, Miner 49er and Pericles (Perry), seemed like the perfect catalysts, Williams added. Since the donkeys, who live in a paddock in Bol Park, often go out for Sunday strolls with their handlers to greet park visitors, a traveling stuffed-toy ambassador in search of warm, fuzzy feelings seemed to fit right in.
As co-winners of the Kageyama challenge (the other is the Arborist's Project, which plans to spread some humor with a joke a day), the Perry Project received a $500 stipend. Team members used some of the funds to purchase the sturdy donkey from Amazon.
When he arrived, Williams said she could hardly wait to get him out of the shrink wrap.
The donkey is already creating a buzz, Williams said. People stop when they see him, and he has gotten 39 "likes" on Facebook without any publicity.
"Nice horse," a man said and smiled, as Perry made his way down the stairs at King Plaza outside City Hall.
Palo Alto Perry, in his diplomatic way, gave nary a bray at the misnomer. He has way too much to do.
In preparation for his public outings, he plans to visit key institutions.
"He'll receive a wellness check from doctors at Palo Alto Medical Foundation, and he'll get a license and his vaccinations at Palo Alto Animal Services," Williams said.
The donkey will make his final appearance at the 34th Annual Summer Festival and Chili Cookoff at Mitchell Park on July 4, where festival goers can add the final notes to his saddlebags. Then, sometime in the weeks thereafter, he will present the notes to the Palo Alto City Council, and they, in turn, will grant him a proclamation.
More information about Palo Alto Perry is posted at facebook.com/PaloAltoPerry and on Twitter at @PaloAltoPerry. Anyone who wants to apply to be an ambassador can go to cityofpaloalto.org/paloaltoperry.