First, and most importantly, I need to apologize to Willie. I needed a photograph for this blog and I exploited Willie to get it. While Maggie played with a neighbor’s dog, went on a long walk in the woods, and worked sheep at a friend’s, Willie got to 1) lie on the rug and 2) put on a Superman costume so that I’d have a picture for the article.
When I went to buy a costume for the photo, my local, large pet store (Mounds) was almost out of them. The shelves were basically bare. Lots of empty shelf space, suggesting that lots of people had bought Halloween costumes for their dogs and cats. (Costumes for birds? Please tell me there aren’t any…). According to the National Retail Federation, pet owners spent $350 million dollars on costumes for their four-legged family members. That’s a lot of green stuff.
However, I’m not as interested in the economics of it as I am in wondering why people enjoy dressing up their pets for Halloween. It does seem to be a good example of how the life of our dogs has both been enhanced and denigrated by our thinking of them as family members. The benefits to dogs are huge: More attention paid to their health and comfort, more consideration of their emotional and physical health, more fun “hobbies” for them like agility, flyball, etc. However, as a group of us will discuss in the CAAB chat on October 28th, (free if listened to live, a fee if downloaded later) there are some downsides: More restrictions of their freedom, less time investigating the great outdoors, and a different set of expectations imposed upon them. For example, in the 1950’s, if my dog growled while eating her dinner when I approached her bowl, I was told, “Stop bothering the dog.” Now a growl over a food bowl is a behavioral problem to be treated, and some veterinarians argue that “resource guarding” is a medical condition that can only be treated by a medical professional. Don’t get me wrong, I personally don’t like dogs growling over food bowls, and all of my dogs are conditioned to look upon intrusions while eating as opportunities, rather than threats. However, the fact remains that our expectations of dogs have changed greatly, and not always in ways that make life easy for dogs. I can’t think of anything that better exemplifies our changing perception of the social role of dogs as the current splurge in dressing them up for Halloween.
I have to be honest about dressing up our pets: I’m not a fan. Perhaps my feelings are influenced by my own experience being dressed up as at the age of five as a housefly, complete with huge wings that made it impossible to move and a mask that I couldn’t see through. My mother spent weeks creating it (it was brilliantly done if I remember correctly, she was a great seamstress). I was, however, frightened and claustrophobic. It is one of my worst and earliest memories.
Okay, granted, I’m a wuss. But what about the family Labrador dressed up like Batman? Or the Persian house cat dressed up as a mouse? Are they having as much fun as their owners? I suspect that many are not. On the other hand, I have to admit, after a brief period of time, Willie ignored his costume and was perfectly happy to play ball while wearing it. Here he is looking quite perky. Relatives of mine have one cat that seems to enjoy being dressed up, and one who clearly goes into shock about it. So, I’m trying to have a open mind about it here… help me out. What do you think? Have you ever dressed up your dog or cat? If so, how did your pet behave? Did you pay careful attention to their response? Any good dog or cat costume stories?
One last thing about Halloween: Please, please don’t torture your dog by leaving them loose in the house or yard if you have a lot of Trick or Treaters. Put the dog in a cozy crate or their favorite back room, or put him in the garage, or drive away with her and keep the porch lights off… Anything to keep your dog from being distressed by multiple doorbell rings and/or monsters at the doorstep. (Dogs really don’t get the costume thing, honest.) Like July 4th, this is a holiday that can be awfully hard on a dog, so do what you need to do to avoid your dog wishing that dogs still lived outside and out of our crazy houses.
MEANWHILE, back on the farm: What a glorious weekend! Perfect weather–sunny, cool and dry. We need more rain, but still, we spent most of Sunday outside, and it was heaven. Poor Willie didn’t get to enjoy much of it, his shoulder is far too bad right now to allow him to run hard in play or work sheep, but he did get lots of attention when we were inside, and is soaking up all the belly rubs he can.
Here’s Maggie enjoying a long walk in the woods on a perfect fall day: