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Tompkins Square Dog Parade Draws Thousands After Near-Cancellation

Despite the gray skies and light drizzle, costumed dogs strutted along for the Tompkins Square Halloween Dog Parade on Saturday as they have for more than three decades. But for the first time since the event’s inception, they had an official parade route.

The dogs came on floats, leashes and in their owners’ arms — but they almost didn’t come at all.

Organizers of the East Village event nearly canceled it this year after outgrowing their location in Tompkins Square. What started as a small gathering of friends for Halloween has ballooned into a cornerstone of New York City’s spooky season, drawing thousands of spectators to the East Village. To stage the parade and costume competition, organizers needed to have the streets blocked off, which would have costs thousands of dollars in permits and fees, they said.

Organizers announced the cancellation last month, sparking backlash on social media before help stepped in.

Credit…John Taggart for The New York Times

The event was revived with assistance from the office of Mayor Eric Adams, which coordinated with multiple agencies to secure the proper permits and bring down costs. Last month, Get Joy, a dog food and wellness company based in Connecticut, stepped in and offered to sponsor the parade, covering all the expenses, after its owners heard the event might not happen.

“We saw a ton of social posts and comments about how it was canceled, and we really saw how meaningful it was to people,” said Tom Arrix, the founder and chief executive of Get Joy. “When we saw that, we quickly raised our hand and said, ‘How can we help?’”

Joseph Borduin, who has run the parade as a volunteer for the past four years, said that he always had aspirations of it becoming an official city parade, but that he didn’t know it would happen so soon.

Many dogs rode on homemade floats made out of carts and wagons for the parade.Credit…John Taggart for The New York Times

“It’s a dream come true,” Mr. Borduin said. “It’s something I’ve always thought about in the back of my head that we could possibly do in 10 years.”

Coming back from the brink of cancellation, the parade almost doubled its numbers from the previous year. The event’s organizers estimated about 15,000 people were in attendance on Saturday, including dog owners and spectators, compared with 8,000 last year.

Both dogs and their owners dress for the Tompkins Square Halloween dog parade. The event drew thousands of spectators.Credit…John Taggart for The New York Times

Local pet owners were similarly ecstatic to hear the parade was back on. Many had spent months planning their pet costumes.

Robyn Howard, who drove from New Jersey to participate, said she had come up with her dog’s costume months ago after watching “Barbie.”

Ms. Howard’s small, tan-colored dog, named 89 after her address, was dressed Saturday as Weird Barbie, Ms. Howard’s favorite character in the film, in a pink dress with scribbles all over it and different colors in her fur. Seemingly unbothered by her appearance, 89 slept atop a homemade float decorated as Barbieland, while Ms. Howard lugged the cart covered in green turf and bright pink signage through the East Village. Despite what Ms. Howard called the “unforgiving sidewalks,” she was determined to get 89 to the parade.

“Honestly, the drive from New Jersey is easier than getting this cart here,” she said.

Credit…John Taggart for The New York Times
Credit…John Taggart for The New York Times

89 was hardly the only dog on a homemade float — seven dogs, including some Maltese mixes and a few Yorkshire terriers that were dressed as King Henry and his six wives, packed onto a single float for the parade. Their costumes, their owner said, were based off the Broadway musical “Six.” In fact, their owners had even hired a designer to make the dogs’ costumes look identical to those worn on Broadway, said Ilene Zeins, one of the owners.

Other pop culture-inspired costumes included the L Train, a Beanie Baby, the New Year’s Eve Times Square ball and a dog surrounded by fire inspired by the “This is Fine” meme.

Some dog owners had been planning their costumes for months when the parade was almost canceled last month.Credit…John Taggart for The New York Times

About 600 human participants were given wristbands so their dogs could compete in the costume contest, with judges nominating the 40 costumes for best in show. After being narrowed down to six, the winner was determined by audience applause.

Eventually, Pookah, a Pomeranian dressed as “Winnie the Pookah” — inspired by Winnie the Pooh — took best in show. The Upper West Side pup wore a red sweatshirt and sat in a fake pot of honey. His owners, Sam Carpenter and Michelle Leone, who matched their pet as Tigger and Piglet, were awarded free passes to doggy day care. Ms. Leone said that this year was their first parade, and that they had spent about a month prepping the costume.

Pookah the Pomeranian and his owners Michelle Leone, left, and Sam Carpenter, won Best in Show at the Tompkins Square Park Halloween Dog Parade costume contest on Saturday.Credit…John Taggart for The New York Times

“We are elated,” she said. “We’ve always wanted to participate.”

She said they planned on competing again next year.

“This morning, we already started discussing what we would do,” Ms. Leone said.

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