Once a year in October, the dogs of New York City congregate in the East Village to show off comical, topical costumes and compete for the accolade Best in Show. The Tompkins Square Park Halloween Dog Parade has been a New York cultural institution for almost three decades. Initially launched by canine-training expert Garrett Rosso in 1990 as a fundraiser for the Tompkins Square Park dog run, it now attracts around 25,000 spectators from the five boroughs and beyond. So many people, in fact, that the Parks Department substantially increased its insurance and liability requirements for the 2018 parade.
When word spread that the 29th annual parade had been canceled due to unforeseen costs, community outcry ensued. Disappointed visitors lamented having scheduled their vacations around the contest, commenting on the event’s Facebook page: “Waahh, we changed our flights from Australia to arrive a few days earlier so we could take in the spectacle of this parade. So sad,” and “Flying up from Daytona Beach, Florida with my beloved chihuahua for this event! Hope they change their mind and find a way to make it happen.”
The owners of Instagram-famous dogs, who had been diligently crafting costumes and floats for months, were crushed.
“I think I almost cried,” says Katie Renfroe, an advertising creative from Astoria, Queens, whose two-year-old dachshund Lincoln was a finalist in the 2017 parade with his lauded Game of Bones costume. “Last year he was Drogon from Game of Thrones. He had a little float with a bone throne on the back, and I handmade the costume. There were over a thousand hand-cut scales on it. That one took me around a month.”
Lincoln, who is no stranger to cosplay and has over 11,000 Instagram followers, was going for gold this year, with an even more elaborate Alice in Wonderland-themed ensemble. Renfroe estimates she spent around $500 on supplies in order to build a papier-mâché, tiered-teacup float, spreading the cost over several weeks to make it more affordable. Lincoln was to star as the Mad Hatter, in an oversize hat and bow tie.
Unwilling to let their favorite event of the year go down without a fight, the community rallied, launching a GoFundMe campaign and tagging potential sponsors on social media. Before long the organizers triumphantly announced that the parade was back on. It was a combined effort by the housing and preservation organization GOLES (Good Old Lower East Side), which took on the insurance liability; ESPN host (and host of the dog-costume contest) Katie Nolan, who donated $10,000; and the dog-loving community, which contributed $6,503 to the crowdfunding campaign.
“The Tompkins Square Park Halloween Dog Parade is a moment to forget the serious issues that are happening and relax and have fun,” says Ada Nieves, who took over responsibilities for organizing it this year. “We need to recharge, and what can be better than celebrating Halloween with our pets?”
The event took place on October 28 at the temporary location of the East River Park Amphitheater – a last-minute alternative offered by the Parks Department, with enough space to safely host the anticipated turnout of 500 dogs and more than 25,000 spectators.
Lincoln the dachshund beat off fierce competition – from a terrier dressed like a Peruvian llama, a pomeranian inside a box of Puffs tissues and a pit bull impersonating the Notorious B.I.G. – to claim first place for his Mad Hatter costume. Renfroe, who complemented her dog’s outfit with her own Queen of Hearts look, is planning something equally marvelous next year, when the parade hopefully returns to Tompkins Square Park.
“My biggest thing is, I just want a ribbon and I just want to see people’s reactions,” Renfroe exclaims. “That’s really why I love doing it. It’s great to see people get excited and they can’t wait to post him on their Instagram accounts. It’s just the joy it brings.”
Scroll down to see more photos from the 2018 Halloween Dog Parade.