Houston and Hester, dressed as the Greyhound Buses, were winners at the in-person event. (Photo: May Chan)

On the debate stage last week, President Donald Trump called New York a dying city. And yet dog lovers and their little ones– some dressed as Ruth Bader Ginsburg– gathered Saturday afternoon for the 30th annual Tompkins Square Park Halloween Dog Parade. Not even coronavirus could stop the community from getting decked out in their most creative and glitzy costumes, which this year also included a number of Tiger King-inspired getups. 

The event did, of course, look different this year. In the past, the massive spectator event has drawn upwards of 10,000 people; some even call it the largest dog costume parade in the world. To accommodate social distancing rules, participants submitted photos and videos of their costumed dogs in advance. Only a select few were invited to a “secret location” where they could mingle (at a safe distance) with other dog parents. 

Ziggy, dressed as Falkor from “The NeverEnding Story” and pictured with his owners Natalie Weiss and Bob Jones, was one of three winning dogs at the in-person event. (Photo: Pooja Salhotra)

“Participating in this is just really keeping spirits alive,” said Natalie Weiss, who was dressed as the childlike empress from The NeverEnding Story, the popular ‘80s fantasy film. By her side, her partner Bob Jones held a massive homemade version of the red storybook and her cockapoo Ziggy, sitting pretty in a pink feather boa, played the Luck Dragon. Weiss was one of the few participants who attended the event in the open-air back patio at Lucky on B, a dive bar located steps away from Tompkins Square Park. 

Meanwhile, other participants watched a broadcast, which switched sporadically between showing the live event at Lucky on B and a slideshow of the more than 200 virtual entries submitted before or during the event. Candy Pilar Godoy, a New Yorker known for blogging about traveling with her pets, offered commentary on the virtual submissions, which included a toy poodle dressed as Harry Potter, a dachshund playing the slinky dog from Toy Story, and a chihuahua who recreated horror scenes from Psycho.  As of Sunday evening, event organizers were still parsing through virtual submissions to select the winners. “Over 200 photos and videos to choose from is making it VERY TOUGH,” a post on the event’s Facebook page read. 

Gryphon and Phoenix, pictured here as caterpillars, were fan favorites. (Photo: Bonnie Abelew)

The Tompkins Square Park Halloween Dog Parade started 30 years ago as a grassroots fundraiser to support the Tompkin Square Dog Run, which had just recently been established as the very first dog run in the city. Although the run is under the purview of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, the city doesn’t pay for its maintenance. Local volunteers and private donors finance the run’s upkeep. The Halloween parade, through annual sponsorships, has raised more than $200,000 for the park over the years. The event has even gotten so large that in 2018, the organizers moved it to the amphitheater in East River Park to accommodate more people.

This year’s Halloween event didn’t include the fundraising element. Event co-organizer Jennifer-Jo Moyer said it didn’t feel right to ask businesses, which are themselves struggling, to support the event. Several businesses did, however, provide funds for trophies which will be given to event winners. 

Breezy and Starlet won with their coordinated costumes as the rainbow and stars. Their dog mom Stacy McCosky dressed as rain. (Photo: Pooja Salhotra)

Still, Moyer said she always felt it was important to uphold the tradition of the parade.

“I think it would just be a terrible crime to not be able to say we’re the longest running, continuous Halloween parade,” Moyer said. “To me, it’s most important that we stay together as an event.” 

Like any virtual event, the parade was not without technical difficulties. At the beginning, the live stream was glitchy, and participants tuning in couldn’t hear what was happening at Lucky on B. Despite the rocky start, attendees– both virtual and in-person– said they appreciated the opportunity to have a reason to celebrate during a challenging year. 

Buttercup and dog mom Ami Schreger dressed as the parachute club. (Photo: Pooja Salhotra) 

“Halloween has been my favorite holiday since I was a child,” said Ami Schreger, who attended the in-person event wearing an inflated airplane getup while her 11-year-old dog Buttercup was dressed as a parachuter. “It’s been a tough year, and we need to find happiness wherever we can.” 

“It was a little chaotic at times, but it was fun,” added Bonnie Abelew, a Long Island resident who submitted photos of her and her sister Beth’s costumed golden retrievers, Gryphon and Phoenix. “The dog parade we usually go to on Long Island was just cancelled. I appreciate that they still tried to make this one work.”