LOS ANGELES - Olive and Mochi are pugs with a passion for fashion. No wonder Halloween is their favourite time of year.
They've been dressed up as geisha girls, surfer girls and even pieces of sushi over the years. They may not understand the tradition, but "pugs understand positive energy," explains dog owner, partner and costume designer Lisa Woodruff of Huntington Beach, southeast of Los Angeles.
Ten years ago, it was hard to find a Halloween costume for a cat, dog or duck. Today they are everywhere, from the dollar stores to Beverly Hills boutiques. Offline or on, there are costumes galore.
A little bling or properly draped scrap of fabric can transform your pet into almost any animal, character or celebrity, says Steve Major with All the Same Wild and Tame, an animal sanctuary that sells pet accessories in Sherman Oaks, northwest of Los Angeles.
The most popular ready-made pet costumes so far this year are Superdog, bee, jockey rider, hot dog, pirate, devil, prisoner, Yoda, cowboy rider, Batman and groom, according to public relations manager Lori Samsoucie of buyseasons.com, the largest online costume retailer in the United States, based in Wisconsin.
But the most unusual, most creative costumes - the ones that will win contests - are designed in the imaginations of pet owners, Woodruff says.
Olive and Mochi, stepsisters who are both five, already have their outfits for the ninth annual Haute Dog Howl'oween Parade and Costume Contest on Oct. 31. The Long Beach event is the largest pet costume contest in the country, according to organizer Justin Rudd.
About 750 pets - mostly dogs - are expected for the hourlong parade, he says. When you add spectator dogs to the six-block parade and contest, there will be more than 1,000 animals on hand. Last year, more than 700 pet owners paid the $15 entry fee.
There also will be a dog treat stacking contest, bobbing for howl-o-weenies, a pumpkin drop, a kissing booth staffed by Rudd's bulldogs Rosie and Riley, pet adoptions and a children's costume contest. For Rudd's group, it's a fundraiser.
Prizes are given in 13 categories, but four main trophy winners receive dog food for a year. For the first time this year, roads along the route will be closed because the parade has become so big.
Juliet Tomac of Long Beach and her chihuahuas Lola, Roxy, Sophia and Fionna are repeat winners. They won one year as "Grilled Chi's," two lobsters and two hot dogs on a grill with attending chefs, and then as "Stinky Chi's," four dogs on a Dumpster with spiders and rats and orange jumpsuit-wearing sanitary clean-up workers.
Tomac and the rest of her six-person team have donated their free supplies of dog food to Hearts for Hounds, a Long Beach rescue group for small dogs.
"We do it because it's a blast," says Tomac. "We are just a bunch of friends having a great time."
The dogs - Roxy, 7, and Lola, Sophia and Fionna, all 4 - are not easy to dress. "They don't enjoy it, but they put up with it for the parade," Tomac explained.
She is mum on this year's costumes but says "we have a current event and we are trying some new things."
They will all march and may bring a few other dogs along, too. And everyone will be in costume. "We make everything. There is nothing store bought. We like the original idea so much that everything is from scratch," she says.
Woodruff, the owner of the two pugs, says her dogs seem to like the idea of wearing something fun. "People don't believe they like getting dressed up. But when I show them their clothes they get all excited. If I put clothes on one, the other twirls and starts sniffing and gets jealous," she says.
To get your dogs in the mood, "Dog Whisperer" Cesar Millan suggests a pre-dressing trick. "Walk the dog, get him tired so when you put the outfit on, he is relaxed," he says.
If a dog relates getting dressed with fun, it will work. The more you laugh while getting the dog dressed, the more they will clown around, he says.
Without the fun, some dogs will seize up or slip into a corner and just cower in a daze.
Woodruff's pugs haven't been spooked at the parade. Three years ago, she and her husband made a rickshaw and called it "Memoirs of a Geisha Pug." The dogs' kimonos were custom made in Japan and Woodruff made the wigs. "My husband finished that float 20 minutes before we were supposed to leave. We didn't practise. We had no idea if they would sit in that thing."
They got to the parade and "they sat there like little princesses. They loved it. They seemed to do much better because they didn't have to walk."
The next year, Olive and Mochi went as sushi (one shrimp, one tuna), complete with wasabi, ginger and chopsticks. Woodruff was a giant soy sauce bottle and her husband was a sushi chef.
Though the pugs have yet to win a free dog food prize, pictures of them have made it onto blogs and websites. A Japanese variety show came and filmed the parade. Her relatives in Japan taped the show and sent it to her. They made it onto cuteoverload.com, a site dedicated to documenting adorable critters.
The crowd makes it all worth it, she says. "I will never forget this one lady. She took a picture of the pugs on her cellphone and told me she was sending them to her son in Iraq right then."
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