The first time I heard about parties for animals was when I got into fostering pugs—those huffy little inbred dogs that look like space aliens. I found out the rescue center I'd been fostering for had "meetups," and I could see photos of past events on their Facebook page. Back then, I was fostering an extremely overweight cocker-pug who needed to lose something like 20 lbs in order to move around comfortably and live to a ripe old age and was overcome by the desire to watch her waddle around a park with happy tiny pugs and blind pugs and pugs with three legs. Sadly, she was adopted before we ever made it to a meetup together, but I'd found an opening into a new subcultural world.
Now, a quasi-connoisseur of animal events (I do have a life that keeps me from every dachshund race and bring-your-pet movie screening), Pugoween is a highlight of my year. There are Pugoweens worldwide and Toronto's is run by and for Pugalug pug rescue. The concept is often harder to explain to my friends than I feel it should be: small dogs with bulging eyes bred to possess an unlimited capacity for cuddles wear dog-sized Halloween costumes because it's Halloween, or the day after, or the week before.
While the event is effectively a fundraiser for the rescue hosting it, Pugoween is kinda, sorta for the dogs in a non-fundraising way too, as most are stoked to be in a room where they can run around with other short, whimsical, four-legged creatures. But unlike Halloween-for-kids, Halloween-for-dogs is implicitly for adult humans: if dogs enjoy wearing costumes it's only because it earns them attention from their non-canine owners and admirers.
So as I made my way to the enclosed space where there was definitely going to be pee on the floor, I had to ask my adult self: What's the deal? Is there something wrong with me if a dog party is my most exciting Halloween plan amid all the weekend's FOMO and debauchery?
As my shy pug follows in tow, I meander like a ghost through the crowd of urbanites who have come to observe a bunch of dogs running around in a room that has florescent lighting and no booze. Short of the event's laissez-faire costume contest for the pugs, there's no hierarchy of cool here. Eventually, I realize I'm here for more than the squees: I'm relishing the feeling of not giving a fuck.
At Pugoween, nothing you do matters. All eyes are on the dogs running around the room sniffing butts while pieces of their ice cream sundae/devil/pirate/bumblebee costumes fall off. I don't even notice that two different humans are wearing the same amazing oversized-pug-face shirt until the party is almost over, and trust, I normally notice if someone is wearing a cool shirt with a dog on it. The freedom I believe I'm supposed to feel (but rarely find) at concerts or on nights out, that unshackled sensation of being wholly at ease with myself and the present moment, is here in this room where furry creatures with a toddler's understanding of language and social decorum mill about occasionally pausing to accept neck scratches or climb into a lap. And this vibe in the room isn't just from the dogs, other people are experiencing their own form of mega-level happy, even if they're playing it off like they only dragged themselves here for their curly-tailed bff.
The big secret at dog parties is you don't really need a dog. Often there are so many running around that everyone assumes you have one in the mix. And beyond that, people who bring their dogs to dog parties are the types of people who will stop on the street to let strangers coo over their pets even when they're running late for work—the type of people who know how much comfort a brief interaction with an animal can bring.
For a couple of years (before I became a new pet owner and did all of the above), I was petlessly attending pet events from adopt-a-thons to "Woofstock" to a 99-pup Bernese Mountain Dog walk-and-swim. It was around the time of my first Pugoween that I started saying stuff like "animal parties are better than people parties" or tweeting jokes like "[X event] needs more dogs," because I thought it was funny and because it was true. I pitched ideas for pet-friendly festival productions and stalked the internet for word of impromptu pug runs knowing it was weird.
As an adult I've found I'm rarely into human gatherings, even though it would be nice if my late twenties brought forth some new social skills on par with those my peers seem to be developing, like a love of dancing at techno parties just for the music or going to a gallery opening for the networking. Instead I'm chatting about antler chews with condo-mortgaging normies and basics from the burbs (just making assumptions here, as dog people typically only talk about dogs) or skipping live bands to pet porcupines and loving it.
If I find the human world unstimulating and superficial, does that mean I'm too lazy or frightened to level up my human relationships beyond vapid, surface-lurking, safety-zone bullshit? Is my quirky hobby actually soul-sabotaging regression?
Maybe I just really like dogs.
Donate to Pugalug online: pugalug.com