By Tami Kamin-Meyer
When Kim Slaton’s son Micah outgrew playing with stuffed animals, she decided it was time for the real thing. But when they found the perfect dog to adopt, they realized they would never have his exact date of birth. Instead, they decided to mark his adoption date as a day of celebration.
On the first anniversary of Taz’s adoption, the suburban Cincinnati family held a party that included several other small dogs. The pups were treated to homemade doggie treats; a canine cake Slaton had baked in the shape of the letter “T”; and games for both people and pets, including “Taz Tag,” in which humans try to tag a dog before it reaches a bowl of treats hidden somewhere in the yard. “Everyone had a great time,” she says. The family will host Taz-Mania to mark the fifth anniversary of his adoption in 2009.
According to Charlotte Reed, a New York City-based pet expert, when it comes to hosting a pet party, try to be creative. Reed is the author of The Miss Fido Manners Complete Book of Dog Etiquette: The Definitive Guide to Manners for Pets and Their People. She says the key to a successful pet party is inviting dogs that already play together and get along. “You need to invite socialized dogs or else the party [could] be ruined,” she says.
Once the party’s theme, guest list, and invitations have been determined, Reed advises party hosts to be cognizant of another important aspect of a successful pet party: things to do. “A great canine event features plenty of activity,” she says. For a Mardi Gras-themed party, for example, Reed suggests painting dogs with food coloring, dancing to zydeco, and even parading the canines up and down the street. It’s also necessary, she says, for people to stay at the party with their pets for its duration. “As the host of the party, you’ll have enough to worry about without the added responsibility of someone else’s pet,” she says.
Reed plans pet parties for clients and hosts them for her own three dogs, as well. She suggests hiring some kind of professional for the party, whether it be a trainer who leads the dogs in playing games, a trick trainer who teaches the canines a skill, or even a specialist who leads the dogs in agility training. “Having professionals on hand alleviates the host from overseeing every aspect of the celebration so they can enjoy the party with their own pet,” she says.
Party bags add another fun element to the festivities. Reed suggests all-natural treats in small packets to accommodate dogs that are overweight or have other medical issues. Other ideas include custom-made leashes or play toys that are appropriate for each dog to play with alone. “It’s also important to think about the size of the dog,” she says. “It doesn’t help to give a small dog a gigantic toy that pet he can’t enjoy.”
According to Reed, there are several ways of budgeting for a pet party. For example, a host can purchase a pet party kit from various online retailers such as PawShop.com. It offers a party kit with invitations, dog party hats, and doggie loot bags ($40). The company also sells other celebration staples such as muffin tins and cake molds in dog-bone shapes and even an edible doggie rawhide birthday card ($5 each).
At PartyAnimalWrappedUp.com, humans can purchase more extensive party kits. Its “Best in Show” kit ($150 plus shipping) includes a cat piñata filled with tennis balls and a postman toy for the birthday dog.
Cathie Filian, who co-hosts the show Creative Juice on both the DIY Network and HGTV, suggests setting the mood with invitations. She also recommends hosting the party outside if possible. “Inside is good [only] if small dogs are guests or if they know one another,” she says. If the dogs are not previously acquainted, she advises the host to properly introduce each dog to one another at the party.
Two years ago, Filian and her husband threw a birthday party for their mixed-breed dog, Max. It was such fun they plan on hosting another shindig, although the theme will be less conventional. Since the couple lives in Hollywood, Filian envisions holding an Oscar-themed celebration. “Dogs will have to dress up like a character in a movie or as a certain actor or actress,” she says.
Reed says a Halloween pet party she hosted a few years ago was the most memorable. She rented a doggie daycare, played scary music, and decorated the place with faux spider webs and skeletons. The highlight of the evening was the requisite costume parade. One guest, who worked at Vogue, dressed her dog like Sherlock Holmes, Reed recalls, while another outfitted her pup in full ballerina attire, including a pink tutu. “I later learned the woman had been a ballerina in her earlier days,” Reed says.
All holidays can be cause for celebration with pets. “It’s natural for people to want to take part in celebrations with their dogs, since for many, their dog is part of their family,” Reed says. “However, it’s important to remember not every celebration is right for every dog.” She cites, for example, the fact that some people hold a “Bark Mitzvah” for their canine. “Some people think a Bark Mitzvah isn’t right, that it’s sacrilegious,” Reed says. “[But] if religion is important to you, and your dog is important to you, why not celebrate with your dog?” Other events to plan with your pet may include anniversaries, Christmas parties, and canine weddings.
However, Filian says there are some definite do’s and don’ts when hosting a pet celebration. First, do make sure plenty of fresh water is available for your animal (and human) guests. Also, place clean-up supplies, like doggie bags and a pooper scooper, in an obvious place, she says. Hanging a cute sign above the supplies subtly reminds attendees that nobody enjoys stepping into doggie doo-doo.
A major party no-no is displaying people food in a low place. And while it might be eye-pleasing to place poochie bites on a table, doing so might also encourage Fido to jump up to get a taste. “Don’t encourage future bad behaviors in the dogs you’re hosting,” she says.
Both Filian and Reed agree that pet guardians can celebrate with other animals, too. For example, Filian says a tea party—complete with children, tea cups, and small animals such as cats or hamsters—is a wonderful way to enjoy a pet shindig. A feline-focused party could include making paw prints using nontoxic fabric paints to create festive bags, T-shirts, or personalized gift cards. Both dogs and cats would enjoy a buffet so they could taste different types of pet food or waters, she says. For instance, a water buffet could feature flavored, bottled and tap waters for the animals to test.
Leash or collar decorating is great fun for a cat party, Filian says, noting that cats are not as likely as dogs to participate in games or activities. Whatever you do, she says, “keep it loose. It’s all about having fun.”