LOS ANGELES – Fifteen dogs attended Sue Subkow’s first Halloween party in 2005. Half wore costumes, half were naked and all went home in about an hour.
The next year, turnout doubled – this time with a potluck, “Pooch Parade” and awards ceremony. Today, her San Diego Golden Retriever Meetup Group includes more than 1,000 dogs and as many as 80 show up in costumes for her Halloween party.
“Halloween is our biggest shindig of the year,” Subkow said.
As Halloween has grown in popularity across the country, pets haven’t been left out. In 2010, 9 percent of dog owners surveyed by the American Pet Products Association said they bought a Halloween costume for their dog.
PetSmart Inc., one of the largest pet costume retailers, won’t divulge how many they sold last year, but dog and cat apparel buyer Reyna Jew said they more than doubled their assortment this year. The most popular costumes are bees and pumpkins, Jew said.
In the Virginia Highland and Morningside neighborhoods of Atlanta, hundreds of neighbors, their kids and pets gather with local firefighters every year to celebrate. A fire engine from Station 19, Atlanta’s oldest, leads a 400-yard people parade, said fire Capt. Eric Banaszek.
“We know the people here by name,” he said. Much of the fun is the photos the firefighters take with the partygoers.
“People bring their dogs, cats and birds to this event,” Banaszek said. However, he’s only seen dogs in costume.
“Some people do get festive and are creative with Superman and silly stuff, bandanas and masks. Of course the dogs don’t tolerate it too well, so many will just put a blanket over their backs,” Banaszek said.
But hardcore partiers like Subkow have gotten more elaborate. One year Subkow made her four dogs costumes as three little pigs and “Jack the Wuff.”
Subkow’s parties have included bobbing for frozen hot dogs and apples. Kimberly Schlegel Whitman, who has written several books, including “Dog Parties: Entertaining Your Party Animal,” has had animals bob for tennis balls.
Other tips from Whitman, who is PetSmart’s Halloween party expert:
• When prepping a yard, because dogs can be territorial, there should be several water stations set up. For Halloween, Schlegel Whitman likes to hollow out pumpkins and use them as bowls.
• Every dog should be on a leash, and treats in different sizes, shapes and colors can be placed where only humans can reach and control them. Halloween-themed toys can be put in doggie bags or given out as party favors.
• One of the biggest hits at any dog party, no matter what the occasion, is a photo booth. It can have backgrounds and props or not, but the photographer should be on the ground, shooting dogs at eye level.
• For decor, rawhide bones make good props in a fake cemetery. Or carve the likeness of a dog in a pumpkin. People who can’t draw can get sketches or stencils of almost any dog breed online.
And what do the humans do while the dogs are running, strutting, bobbing and celebrating Halloween?
“People stand around and tell stories about their dogs and why they love their dogs so much. The real beauty of these events is you are celebrating this community you have with other dog owners who understand the bond you have with your pet,” Schlegel Whitman said.