Can Pet Costume Couture Go Too Far?

Patty Khuly

It brings a huge smile to my face to spy a big dog all geared up with saddlebags getting ready to lead his owner up a mountain trail. I also adore any dog donning full rescue-pet regalia. Indeed, any pet wear that helps integrate animals into our lives more fully and functionally is a wonderful thing to behold.

Unfortunately, not all dog garb is created equal. For example (at the risk of offending half of you), I confess I’m not so thrilled when it comes to the little Maltese wearing a pink tulle skirt to her annual visit –– much less the teensy teacup bearing a “Because I’m a Bitch” tee or the cat whose public paraphernalia is designed to elicit coos instead of comfort.

While it’s undeniably super-adorable (in most cases), it’s also kinda odd at times. That is, if you take the outfit at more than its cute-overkill face value and head down the whole humanization path. After all, people who choose to dress their pets up on a daily basis are not necessarily looking out for their pet’s best interest.

This is especially true where I live given that truly useful cold weather gear is not de rigeur in Miami. I mean, a scratchy skirt or spiky collar doesn’t always seem so cozy. Which perhaps explains why, as a veterinarian, I tend towards the prickly on this topic.

Enter Halloween …

On Halloween (and its adjacent weekends), Miami Beach’s famed Lincoln Road transforms into a veritable Mecca of canine costume couture. The dogs step out in fido’s finest, all apparently competing for the informal title of best-dressed dog on the street.

The costumes range from the ridiculous to the sublime but they’re almost uniformly over-the-top. Consider:

  1. The Basset Hound dressed up as an iPhone carrying an unwieldy, black cloth-draped slab of Styrofoam on his back. Cute but … he can hardly walk a block without all that stuff on his person.
  2. The English Bulldog dressed up as a flower wearing a thick, post-op style Elizabethan collar covered with real orchid petals and a similarly-adorned sweater to match. Can you say heat stroke? (It’s usually well over eighty degrees on our balmy South Florida nights).
  3. The Pekinese struggling with Swarovski crystal-encrusted angel wings that weigh more than she does.
  4. The Dachshund decked out in spiked leather biker dude duds bearing faux ear piercings running up and down his pendulous pinnae.
  5. The Pit Bull trussed up as serial killer. (Dexter’s BIG here in Miami. And sarcasm is a close second.)

SO here’s the issue: As a veterinarian I can’t help but observe that…

  1. More than half these dressed up dogs are obese. Which means these costumes are just plain unsafe and even borderline cruel. Miami weather does NOT recommend head-to-toe body gear as most of these costumes are wont to enlist.
  2. The outfits don’t always seem animal welfare-friendly. Aside from being potentially deadly where heat exhaustion is concerned, they’re often physically and emotionally taxing in that a) they’re heavy, b) they’re itchy, c) the dogs aren’t used to wearing anything (“Much less this obnoxious hat!”), and d) the items they are asked to wear are reminiscent of the evils of veterinary medicine (heavy Elizabethan collars seem to be a big part of many a costume) and NO pet wants to be reminded of the vet, right?
  3. Finally, I can’t help but mention that costume regalia often comes off as somewhat disrespectful to our dogs. It’s almost as if our dogs are appendages or accessories and NOT the companions we normally accept them to be.

vincent petalsSure, dressing up is almost always entertaining and enjoyable (reference my pic of Vincent in his flower costume), but to ask our pets to shoulder the burden of our often-outsized egos in the above-mentioned ways is WAY too much. So just keep that in mind, no matter the season.

With that in mind, how will YOU be dressing up your pets this Halloween? And I’m just curious: Have any of my personal opinions on the subject swayed your choice of costumes? Or are my strange veterinary sensibilities way off base on this one?