mercredi 3 novembre 2010

The end of the costume, or do dogs like to dress up for Halloween?

Angel wings, mm, mm, good

Or paw lickin' good. Something like that.

It only took a second, and I was right there, only facing the wrong way to catch them before it was too late. I had left the angel costume, over which I had labored for hours, on a chair at the bottom of the stairs, near Rapide's back-supporting comfort foam mattress bed, and there it sat for a day, two days, and nearly a third. Then, I hear the noise of paper being rustled energetically and turn to look behind me to see what Rapide has gotten into. In her maw is a clump of wet tissue paper and feathers, more strewn at her paws, the elastic band with the other half of the snap that held them to her back lying in the middle, and Fia's tail end just disappearing under the end table. It takes me about 3 seconds for the carnage to register as Fia's angel wings.

"Non, Rapide!" I shouted, dashing around the other end of the sofa and coming to face Rapide, who dropped her mouthful as my hand flew out to grab it all up and -- do what? Save it? For memories of how hard I worked, only to be so careless? I dropped what I had in my hand and reached for the camera instead, the urge to document always present, always strong.

Fia crouched under the edge of the low table, melting into the shadows, trying to get a bit without my seeing her.

Or, I attribute too much cunning to so small a dog.

The boa was lying on the floor near the door. I thought of Sam's having spotted the halo in Fia's mouth last evening, as she played on the floor between him and Audouin. He had pried it loose.

"Fia! Lâche ça! Fia!," he demanded, and then, "Ugh, Mom! C'est tout humide --". He handed me the twisted, damp bit of pink and black pipe cleaner, wire and ribbon.

"Fia!" said my husband, looking up from the floor at me and bursting out in a delighted laugh, "Elle a un ruban dans la gueule! Mais ça vient d'où?" he asked, before returning to trying to get the ribbon out from between her pointy little baby teeth. "Fia! Fia, donne ça. Fia --"

I pointed to the halo. The ribbon she was trying to hang onto in her mouth was the other one that tied the halo to her lovely sleek neck. He handed me the length of sheer black ribbon, which I lay on top of the soggy pipe cleaner halo, the little silver stars hanging precariously where she had chewed on it.

This, then, is that to which my hard work comes. I consoled myself.

You still have the photographs, you know, and it's not like she was going to wear it ever again. Now you can throw it away instead of trying to find a place to save it.

"I know, but why do I feel so badly?"

Well, maybe you have the answer to your question, do dogs like to wear Halloween costumes. At least, they like to eat them.

"I know. It does feel a little like just desserts."

I had just finished reading an article across which I had come in the New York Times, reading a blog entry in the Well section, All the Good Dogs You've Loved Before by Dana Jennings, diagnosed a year ago with an aggressive form of prostate cancer, and there, down in the right column under "Comments of the Moment" was the first one, which read:
"Why would anyone dress up a dog? Everyone knows that dressing up is for cats."

It was signed Jim Frank, and the title of the blog entry on which he was commenting was Do Dogs Like to Dress Up for Halloween? Obviously Mr. Frank and all the others who had commented on the post do not read my blog, or else they might have shared their thoughts on the subject in response to my post of yesterday, L'Halloween, bienvenus les trick or treaters. Happily, I am not a jealous sort, and I don't even really expect anyone to read me. I write on as a form of addiction.

What would I do if I didn't anymore?

I clicked on the post title, and the name Barnard College jumped off the screen at me. Tara Parker-Pope had just read an article in the most recent New Yorker in which Barnard professor of psychology, animal behavior and canid cognition (I swear, they didn't have that when I was there), Alexandra Horowitz tells the reader that dogs probably don't like being dressed up, only her reasoning, it struck me, is as overblown as architectural theory built of deconstructivist philosopher Jacques Derrida's thoughts: elaborate cloud castles of canid cognition. She tells us that alpha dogs show dominance by doing something referred to as "standing over", or as she describes it the dominant dog "literally placing his body on top of and touching the other, as a scolding or a mild putting-in-one’s-place." As such:
"To a dog, a costume, fitting tight around the dog’s midriff and back, might well reproduce that ancestral feeling. So the principal experience of wearing a costume would not be the experience of festivity; rather, the costume produces the discomfiting feeling that someone higher ranking is nearby."

Now, I don't have to point this out because another reader did it for me in the comments section, but this would mean that dogs resent those dog coats you see the breeds without Labrador Retrievers' undercoats to keep them warm when the temperatures hover around and drop below freezing, which they don't. You only have to take a second -- and have a little more respect for the bounds of canid cognition --, to see that there is a world of difference between an alpha dog placing his body on top of you and dominating you and your trusted alpha mistress or master placing an item of clothing on your back and then standing back to offer you a tasty liver treat, clapping with delight, and snapping a terrific photograph before removing the whole thing.

Puh-lease. It would appear that at least Ingrid agrees with me:
“ I think dogs tear costumes off because they feel strange and uncomfortable, not because they think they're being scolded by an invisible wolf.”

Thank you, Ingrid, for that refreshing bit of common sense.

Not that this answers the question whether our dogs like being dressed up for Halloween, but I'll let you read the other comments and decide for yourself. Personally, I tend to agree with those who point out that their dogs show great forbearance of their young mistresses and masters, who dress them up and play with them, taking it as loving attention, and not thoughtless domination and correction. But, anyone who is worth anything as a dog owner can tell when Rex has had enough, is willing to play along, or at least humor a silly master, IMHO.

I can tell you that when we went to visit family after the Trick or Treaters' ringing at the doorbell petered out (and they didn't throw this 12-week-old puppy off one little bit, contrary to what that wet sock, doom and gloom vet had to say in the comments), and I had put her costume back on her for the benefit of my niece and nephews, she trotted right up the sidewalk, into the gate, stopped for a pipi, her wing tips grazing the stone pavers as she squatted delicately along the railroad ties and woody ornamentals, and then trotted right on up the front steps and into the hall to say her hellos, boa, drooping halo, wings akimbo, and all.

Besides, costumes make great chew toys after Halloween. With proper supervision, of course.

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