It's time once again to dress your dog up in costume and bring him or her to Fort Greene Park for the annual Great PUPkin Contest. I'll be judging again this year (and it's a relief to not have to think of something to top last year's winner- a working dog fountain!). Bring your A Game.
The 11th Great PUPkin Dog Costume Contest will be held on Saturday, October 31 (rain date November 1) at noon in Fort Greene Park. Held by Fort Greene PUPS, the contest usually has between 60-80 dogs in costumes parading in front of judges for prizes donated by local merchants.
To find out more about the history of the event, I recently chatted with my neighbor Kath Hansen, the founder of PUPS, who has been organizing this annual contest for over a decade as a way to get neighborhood dog owners together. Why does PUPS organize the PUPkin every year? Because I can't wait to see what crazy costumes people will come up with for their dogs. Plus I've been lucky enough to have two dogs in a row who are pretty easy to costume. Is the PUPkin part of the Fort Greene Park Conservancy's Halloween Festival? We started the Pupkin in 1999, and Ruth Goldstein, who was head of the Conservancy back then, thought it was a fun idea. So she expanded on it and the Conservancy has been doing their Halloween Festival since 2000. Their event is larger and geared more toward children, with face painting and games and such. Since they usually have a horse-drawn hayride, we try to keep the dog event separate since dogs can get freaked out by horses. How much does it cost to enter a dog in the competition? What do you do with the donations raised at the event? It costs $5 per dog for entry. We use the money to cover the costs of running the event, and to keep the park's poop bag dispensers filled. Each plastic bag costs about five cents. We go through about 200 per week, and that's not even enough. We also occasionally buy trash cans for the park.
What do you tell people who say their dog won't wear a costume? Be sneaky about it. Attach something to their collar or harness and they won't even know they're wearing a costume. Actually, that's how some of the most creative costumes are made.
And how about people who think it's ridiculous to dress up dogs for Halloween? Well, American Idol is ridiculous and people seem to love that! As long as it's doing no harm to the dog, it's hilarious to see them dressed up. You can tell some of the dogs are really into the attention.
When did this event start, and why? How many dogs showed up the first year? In 1999. I did it because I had started up Fort Greene PUPS and was trying to think of ways to get more members. I knew of a few people who said they'd dress their dogs in costumes if I put together some sort of judging panel. It was about twenty dogs in costumes. It's sad, but nearly all those dogs are gone now.
What has been your favorite costume to date? The elaborate ones with working parts are always impressive, but I tend to prefer the ones that are simple yet creative. Like the person who dressed their dog in all the things it had destroyed that year. I remember him being festooned in pantyhose, shoes, and pizza boxes. Also, people still remember the Big Bird costume I did for my dog Cameron years ago. I've been told there's a picture of him in this costume hanging at the Applebee's on Flatbush!
Any suggestions for those serious about winning a prize? Store bought costumes never win a prize, unless you're Rosie Perez. I think the judges were starstruck by her, but her dog was in a store bought costume. Things like pumpkins, devils, bats, and angels are cute but there are generally multiple entrants in these sorts of costumes. Costumes that suit the dog's personality or appearance always impress the judges.
The event has moved farther into the park this year, correct? Yes, we're doing this on the stairs at the bottom of the monument, near the crypt. We've gotten complaints that it's too hard to see the contest because it's been all on one level on grass. With the stairs, I hope it will be sort of like stadium seating and everyone can have a view.
What about this year's prizes? The local merchants have been super generous this year. Go on our site to see a list of them all. I am jealous of whoever wins. We will award first, second, and third prizes, and three honorable mentions.
How will participants know for sure if the event is being moved to Nov 1 due to rain? Will you put something on the PUPS site? Yes, and I'll also send an email to the PUPS list if we have to move it. But I hope we don't because that's also Marathon day.
(Note: check out the interview we did with Kath back in 2006!)