The first time I heard about parties for animals was when I got into fostering pugs—those huffy little inbred dogs who look like space aliens and are, genetically, often barely breathing abominations in the face of god. I found out the rescue 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 so she could move around comfortably and live to a ripe old age (for pugs that's like 13), and I was overcome with desire to watch her muddle around a park with happy tiny pugs and blind pugs and pugs with three legs. She was adopted before we ever made it to a meetup together, but I'd found an opening to 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: Toronto's is run by and for Pugalug pug rescue. The concept is 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 wearing dog-sized Halloween costumes because it's Halloween, or the day after or the week before Halloween or whatever.
While the event is effectively a fundraiser for the rescue, Pugoween is kinda, sorta for the dogs in a non-fundraising way too: 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, which I hear is still going on, Halloween-for-dogs is implicitly for adult humans: if dogs enjoy wearing costumes it's only because it earns them attention.
But as I make my way to an enclosed space where there will definitely be pee on the floor, I have 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 with florescent lighting and no booze. Short of the event's laissez faire costume contest for the pugs, there's no hierarchy of cool here. 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 notice two different humans are wearing the same 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 I know the vibe in the room isn't just from the dogs: other people are experiencing their own form of mega-level happy, even if they might play it off like they only dragged themselves here for their curly tailed bff.
The big secret to 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 greet 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 offer.
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 adoptathons to Woofstock to one 99-dog Bernese Mountain Dog walk-and-swim. It was around 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 like, weird.
As an adult I've found I'm rarely into human gatherings, but it would be nice if my late twenties brought on some new social skills on par with those of my peers, maybe an affinity toward dancing at techno parties for the music or going to gallery openings for the networking. Instead I'm chatting about antler chews with condo-mortgaging normies and basics from the burbs (going on assumptions here—dog people typically only talk about dogs) or skipping live bands to pet porcupines. And loving it.
It's a challenge to describe the way I feel with animals because when I'm in the moment, I'm lost in my happy place, but in between—the rest of life—that joy dims to a flicker, just warm enough to remind me that I can get back there. Interacting with animals is a natural high for me, which will sound creepy in light of reasons, and is actually peculiar in a philosophical light: why do I want to hang out with animals more than with people? 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.
You can follow my dog on Instagram: @lanadelsatan_minipug
Donate to Pugalug online: pugalug.com
Submit dog events via Twitter: @aubreyjax