This photo of Raven is one of our favorites.
When Christine Rishty picks out Halloween costumes for her dogs, she aims for matching sets. Last year, Rishty dressed Puppet, a 17-year-old Westie, as a sheriff and Mr. Cuddles, her five-year-old Maltese, as his prisoner. A few years ago, Mr. Cuddles was Carmen Miranda—fruit-topped hat and all—and Puppet, in a miniature tuxedo, was his dance partner.
“I wouldn’t personally get dressed up for Halloween,” says Rishty, a financial consultant who lives in Arlington. “But it’s a festive time to play with your dog, a fun thing to do with other dog-friendly people. It makes people smile.”
According to the National Retail Federation, 17 million Americans—about 12 percent of pet owners—dress their animals for Halloween. Among the most popular costumes: pumpkins, devils, witches, hot dogs, angels, and vampires.
Kristina Robertson, owner of Alexandria’s Barkley Square Gourmet Dog Bakery and Boutique, has seen a spike in costume sales. This season, a Hugh Hefner–style smoking jacket and a black-satin take on a Playboy bunny’s outfit are flying off the shelves.
“Most people either don’t have children and they’ve chosen these pets to be their children or they have kids and it’s a way to get the dogs to join in the family fun,” Robertson says. She offers made-to-order costumes—which have included a sequined butterfly and an embroidered white-satin witch’s cape—for $55 and up. Pet costumes generally sell for $12 to $30.
Many local pet shops and animal shelters host costume parties, contests, and parades. Last year, a man used thrift-store wigs and neckties to dress his three Wheaten terriers as DC mayor Vincent Gray, former mayor Adrian Fenty, and former schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, earning raves in Doggie Style Bakery’s costume contest near Dupont Circle.
Not all getups are so popular. “We had one costume that was supposed to be a monster dog—it had a big eye and teeth hanging out. Nobody would buy it,” says Krista Heinz, who owns Doggie Style. “People want to dress their dogs up as something cute or funny. They don’t want them to look scary.”
Costumes with multiple pieces are best for pets accustomed to being dressed up, shop owners say. Some animals, such as Puppet and Mr. Cuddles, seem to enjoy showing off.
“They stand there like models and help their owners put their head through the hole. They lift their legs up and put them in through the arms,” Robertson says. “We always think it’s small dogs, but it’s not—it’s both. If there’s a diva dog, it will go sashaying around the store.”
Some pets are less willing to play along. Pam Champlain of Arlington was able to keep her tabby cats, Cally and Tucker, in their pirate and Puss in Boots costumes just long enough to take a picture for Halloween cards. People with cats or uncooperative dogs may fare better with simple costumes without leg openings. Most animals won’t keep hats on, says Cindy Williams of Arlington’s PetMAC, but many shops sell festive bandannas.
At Wylie Wagg in Falls Church, operations manager Allison Swanberg recalls a customer who bought a small dog costume for his iguana. During last year’s Del Ray Halloween Parade, Robertson saw ferrets dressed as devils, while their owner was decked in Grim Reaper attire. When Christine Rishty dressed Mr. Cuddles and Puppet as lifeguards, she put her cockatoo, Chew Chew, in a matching red swimsuit.
“It is a little crazy,” Rishty says with a smile. “But it’s harmless crazy.”
This article appears in the October 2011 issue of The Washingtonian.