Dog costume contest sees ruff competition

The 32nd annual Tompkins Square Halloween Dog Festival featured costumes of Jesus, a uterus and dragons.


Susan Behrends Valenzuela

Two dogs dressed in red costumes at the Halloween Dog Parade at Tompkins Square Park on Oct. 22. (Susan Behrends Valenzuela for WSN)

Tori Morales, Deputy News Editor

At 17 years old, Gizzard, a tiny cream-colored chihuahua, drew a crowd with his flowing brown wig and stigmata at the annual Tompkins Square Park Halloween Dog Festival on Saturday, Oct. 22. With his tongue perpetually sticking out and dressed in full Jesus regalia — including a cross and crown of thorns — Gizzard, last year’s fourth-place champion, looked comical as his owner Chris Kerr carried him throughout the park.

a middle-aged man wearing a leather jacket and a pair of black sunglasses holds a chihuahua in a brown wig and red costume.
(Tori Morales for WSN)

“He has a good time,” Kerr said. “He’s a little blind, a little deaf. He has had some heart and kidney issues, so he spends a lot of time on the couch, but then we come here and he gets to spend the day with a lot of people.”

Gizzard joined over 350 dogs at the 32nd dog festival, all competing for prizes and parading through the park in store-bought and handmade costumes. Two stages — one for the general competition and another specifically for small dogs — saw hopeful contestants vying for awards in one of the 11 costume categories, which is the largest of its kind in the United States. 

A woman dressed as “Game of Thrones'' character Dragon Caraxes leashes two dogs dressed in matching “Game of Thrones” costume.
(Tori Morales for WSN)

Meredith Johns, a special effects artist from Austin, Texas, outfitted her friend Anna O’Brien and their dogs, Nibbler and Data, as characters from the “Game of Thrones” prequel “House of the Dragon.” O’Brien, whose makeup took three hours to complete, dressed as the dragon Caraxes, while Nibbler and Data were Daemon and Rhaenyra Targaryen, respectively. Nibbler sported hand-crafted EVA-foam armor, which bore the Targaryen house’s crest, and Data wore an embroidered silk dress.

“We put this together in about a month and a half, and we’re going for best group costume,” O’Brien said. “I saw this competition 10 years ago — before I had a dog — and I said ‘some year, I’m gonna come back and win it.’”

Ilene Zeins and her 14-year-old maltipoo ZZ have been competing at the festival for years, and she takes a more haphazard approach to costume creation — she pulls together items she already owns and accessorizes with items from Amazon or a dollar store. Zeins doesn’t hope to win, but instead wants to have a good time with ZZ and create a costume the picky pooch will love.

“She’s very, very particular,” Zeins said. “She is only happy when she likes the outfit. I know it sounds crazy, but it’s true. She has to be proud of what she’s wearing, and I like to make her happy. It’s a team effort.”

This year, Zeins themed her and her dog’s costumes around a caution-tape jumpsuit that Kim Kardashian wore at a Balenciaga fashion show during Paris Fashion Week. They wore matching blonde wigs.

A couple dressed in “Ghostbuster” outfits. The woman on the left dressed in a neon-green monster outfit holds a cat dressed in a white costume. The man on the right wears a beige work jumpsuit.
(Tori Morales for WSN)

Even non-dogs participate in the event. Elizabeth Bays and Diego Aguirre dressed their 16-year-old cat Screamy as the Stay-Puft Marshmallow man from “Ghostbusters,” and accompanied her with their own ghost and ghostbuster costumes. Skunks made a special appearance, too — event volunteer Olga Rodriguez and her daughter Eliza brought their 8-month-old skunk Kimchi, though not in costume.

Some pet owners use their costumes as social commentary. One dog was dressed as a uterus on the Supreme Court’s leash, and another came as a box of Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago documents. 

Long-time participants like Ruben Santana, last year’s “Best in Show” winner, have often competed with multiple generations of dogs and see the event as a significant tradition that extends beyond the park.

Santana, who has been competing at the festival for nine years and has won several awards, dressed his pomeranian Amun as Pinocchio and accompanied him as Geppetto. He had previously teamed up with his dog King Tut, who passed away in 2020, sending Santana into a depression that sapped his creative inspiration.

Though Amun was initially averse to clothing, which upset Ruben, they slowly became more comfortable with each other, culminating in last year’s win. 

“It was sad because I wish I had done it with the dog that I started with, but I was happy that it was a new start with Amun,” Santana said. 

Volunteers organize every aspect of the beloved festival, which draws thousands of spectators and participants. This year’s director, Joseph Borduin, a freelance photographer, organized the event as a labor of love for the dog park he visits with his 5-year-old dog Biscuit. 

“The day of the event, when you see families get together dressed in costumes with their dogs, it just means so much to me,” Borduin said. “We’re just a very passionate group of people who love dogs.”

Contact Tori Morales at [email protected].