As I add today’s post to the blog, I hear a small dog barking outside my window, or more precisely, crying or yelping. I notice an elderly couple with a child’s toy stroller. The woman is chasing the off-leash dog while her husband is pushing the stroller pursuing his wife. The dog is captured, re-leashed and returned to the stroller; the family continues on their sunny Sunday, autumn walk.
Halloween is a little over two weeks away and it’s prime time for costume planning. Parents are making or purchasing storybook, fantasy or movie character costumes for their children who, by their age and nature, are drawn to dress-up play. Adults are strategizing with friends, creating group or themed outfits, dressing up to titillate their dates, or shock, frighten and impress their family, friends and coworkers. Some people feel safe this time of year to act out aspects of their secret fantasy life. A creative competition infuses the holiday with fun.
Some of the favorite costumes I created and wore in the past include: Karen Silkwood, a victim of radiation poisoning. I danced that Halloween night with a skeleton at Lysistrata, our Madison, Wisconsin, feminist-cooperative bar and restaurant; the Halloween I was the outlaw Belle Starr, the namesake of my former freelance graphic design studio, my date that night was my partner, a look –alike Amelia Earhart, and finally, the night I was Zorro, where at the party I attended, I met a Spanish maiden dressed in black lace with a red rose in her hair. We danced the tango and French-kissed.
Our canine companions are often asked to join us in the festivities. Actually, let me edit that statement, they’re forced to participate. As people, we enjoy our holiday celebrations including fireworks on the Fourth of July and trick or treating and parading in our costumes on Halloween. Our dogs, I think it would be fair to say, dislike these holidays. Dogs will sometimes run away when they hear the boom of fireworks, or bark in fear at trick or treaters, thinking they’re interlopers and invaders of their home and pack. When we dress up our dogs in Halloween costumes, they appear embarrassed or distressed.
Remember, dogs have feelings too. That’s just one reason why we love them. They are emotionally intelligent. Dogs are members of our family, faithful companions, and give back to us in many ways as loyal members of our pack. Our responsibility is to care for their needs: feed, groom, exercise and play together, keep them safe and healthy, as their ancestors did in as pack animals in the wild.
A hierarchy existed in the packs as it often does in our families today. As the alpha or top dog in the family pack, don’t dress up the dog on Halloween! I know this plea will make me unpopular with some of my friends and family members, who soon will be proudly posting pictures of their canine companions in costumes on Facebook and Instagram.
I cringe when I see these photographs. The expression on the dogs’ faces and their body language seems to convey embarrassment. Surprisingly, some veterinarians and animal behaviorists agree that dogs don’t feel embarrassed, it’s not part of their emotional vocabulary, yet dogs do feel distressed. Some experts also believe that a dog in a costume feels more vulnerable for potential attack. Dogs, like people, don’t like to wear uncomfortable or silly clothes and most importantly, don’t like to be laughed at.
If you look at photographs of dogs in costumes you’d be hard-pressed to find a happy dog. Look at the sad eyes. One can imagine the tucked tail, the drooped ears, and watch an animal that normally thrives in the company of its pack family, wander off alone.
I know some of you are probably thinking as you read this that I’m projecting my feelings onto the dog. You may be right. I can’t watch any of the television commercials for the ASPCA with Sarah McLachlan or Willie Nelson, pet food commercials for Purina, Pedigree, or Cesar’s, and not have my heartstrings tugged and my emotions managed. Yes, I’m easy.
Having admitted to my soft spot for manipulative commercials and public service announcements, I ask my readers and friends to treat, not trick, your dogs on Halloween. Protect them from the four-foot-tall ghosts, goblins, superheroes and zombies knocking on the door of their homes.
Don’t dress your dog in uncomfortable costumes, make them resemble food, or facsimiles of people. They’re dogs, loving animals and members of our families.
Give them a treat and remind them when you dress up as someone unrecognizable, that you remain their companion and protector.
Here are more photos of sad dogs from New York’s 2016 Tompkins Square Halloween Dog Parade.