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Correct Opinions

Is it Morally Defensible to Put Dogs in Halloween Costumes? A Brief Debate

Dog parents Molly Osberg and Max Rivlin-Nadler present their opposing views.

10:07 AM EDT on October 24, 2022

A dog at the Tompkins Square Park Dog Parade (Christian Hansen / Hell Gate)

Racked with debates about air conditioning and eye contact, Hell Gate now finds itself torn apart (again) by dogs. Specifically, whether it is appropriate to dress one's pup in a costume. Dog parents Molly Osberg and Max Rivlin-Nadler present their opposing views below.

Dignity for Captive Species

Many years ago, when I lived in Greenpoint, I would regularly stumble into the yearly Halloween dog costume parade in McGolrick Park. It looked like hell on earth. As someone who had not yet adopted a dog, I wondered, briefly, if my aversion to all the animals in wigs whining and barking and being led around in a ring by their over-excited owners was about not being a dog person, the same way small children give me the creeps. 

A French bull dog, get it? (Christian Hansen / Hell Gate)

Today, in my fifth year with a dog who will never be forced into an uncomfortable costume for the sake of my own clout, I can safely say it wasn’t about me at all. Stop putting your dogs in Halloween costumes. It’s gross. They’re animals, and no matter how cute you think you’re being with your “where’s woofdo” or “Woofgang Mozart” schtick, they deserve to retain whatever dignity they, as domesticated animals, have left. 

Your dogs do not know they’re in costume; they can’t see the photos you post of them; they don’t care about the references you’re making, no matter how clever. Most likely they are wondering what they did to deserve being strapped into an itchy, uncomfortable piece of fabric—or, in the worst-case scenario, becoming extremely agitated and stressed. Dressing an animal in costume doesn’t give them a meaningful job or a feeling of joy. A costume is not a special treat. Look at these dogs. Most of these dogs are not having fun. 

A hound in a jacket waiting to go home. (Christian Hansen / Hell Gate)
A woman enjoys the highest form of a dog costume party: Taking photos (Christian Hansen / Hell Gate)

As a dog owner myself, I know that living with a domesticated animal is an exercise in self-delusion. Sure, our dogs love us, and we love them, and no doubt they appreciate all the cuddles and peanut-butter-filled Kongs. But what we as a species have done to these formerly wild animals is fundamentally fucked up: These are creatures, many of them the product of what can only be called eugenics, endlessly inbred for qualities like “intelligence” or a “smooshy face,” some to the point of being in near-constant physical pain. 

A dog dressed as a witch gazing sorrowfully into the middle distance. (Christian Hansen / Hell Gate)

We take these animals and we cut their balls off and install them in our cramped apartments, punishing them for the barking and chewing and rambling that comes most naturally to them. And in exchange for all of this, we treat them like toys, giving them silly names and Instagram personalities and stupid outfits and awful, cutesy meme voices.

The dog's eyes ask "Why?" (Christian Hansen / Hell Gate)

Of course our dogs love us, they have no other option. Over centuries we selfishly domesticated these animals as pets, having identified the only characteristic that matters to us: A capacity for blind loyalty to humankind. The least we could do for these animals we claim to love so much, and have willed into being through sheer hubris, is show them a little goddamn respect. 

(Christian Hansen / Hell Gate)

This is, naturally, just my personal opinion—my colleagues at Hell Gate have a proven track record of profiting off of a costumed dog.

Molly Osberg

A princess dog waiting patiently to go home. (Christian Hansen / Hell Gate)

Counterpoint: Can I Pet Your Adorable Costumed Dog?

Ah, so cute! Look at the guy! He’s a spider! Spooky! Can I give the “spider” a pet? Oooooooooooo, yes! Who’s a good boy?

Max Rivlin-Nadler

A dog of unidentifiable mood dressed as a lobster (Christian Hansen / Hell Gate)
A dog dressed as the big bad wolf having a great time. (Christian Hansen / Hell Gate)
A dog dressed as Jesus, enjoying itself mightily. (Christian Hansen / Hell Gate)
A dog dyed green of indeterminable origin. (Christian Hansen / Hell Gate)
A dog, but also, Chucky. Looks fun! (Christian Hansen / Hell Gate)
Wilmaaaaaaaaaaaaa! Ha Ha! (Christian Hansen / Hell Gate)

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