Facing Cancellation, Halloween Dog Festival Gets a Formal Parade Route

It’s hard to say which New Yorkers love more — Halloween or their dogs. For more than 30 years, those two passions have converged at the Tompkins Square Halloween Dog Parade, as canines have transformed into charcuterie boards, celebrities, Jesus and even bodega cats.

But the 33rd annual iteration of the event appeared to be in jeopardy last week as park construction, bureaucratic red tape and insurmountable fees forced organizers to call off this year’s parade.

But the party is not over yet. In fact, it’s only getting bigger.

The East Village festival, which organizers estimate drew about 8,000 spectators to a single park last year, will have a formal parade route instead of a gathering in the park for the first time on Oct. 21.

The move came after news media reports of the cancellation drew a public outcry, and Mayor Eric Adams’s office stepped in to help coordinate among multiple agencies and secure proper permits. The parade will be sponsored by Get Joy, a dog wellness and food company, which is covering all of the expenses, including permit fees and insurance.

“This means the world, I thought this only happened in movies,” said Joseph Borduin, who has run the parade as a volunteer for the past four years. “The outpouring of support from across the entire United States has been phenomenal.”

What started as a small gathering among friends has ballooned into a cornerstone of New York City’s Halloween season, drawing thousands of spectators to the East Village to marvel, coo and laugh at creations that somehow become more elaborate every year.

A victim of their own success, organizers past and present say a formal route through the East Village was needed to accommodate growing attendance and interest.

Abby, in costume as the house from “Up,” last year.Credit…Caitlin Ochs/Reuters
A hot dog, made of real dog.Credit…John Nacion/NurPhoto, via Reuters

Parade attendees will meet at 14th Street and Avenue B and at 1 p.m. make their way down to Seventh Street. The cross street between Avenue A and Avenue B will be reserved for competitors. The stage, where judging will take place, will still be held inside the park.

Mr. Borduin said he had been planning for this kind of growth since last year’s event, when thousands of people tried to cram into the small park and spilled out onto the streets. At one point, the police had to close the park.

But the expansion plan hit several snags over the past year. For months, Mr. Borduin had asked for meetings with necessary city agencies, including the Parks Department and the police, to no avail, he said.

When Mr. Borduin found out last week that he was still expected to pay the $45,000 needed for permits, on top of $10,000 for a stage and a $6,000 fee for the parks department, he said, he decided to call the whole thing off. The obstacles, including leading the efforts by himself, were too much, Mr. Borduin said in an interview punctuated with barks from the dog run.

But with help from the mayor’s office, Mr. Borduin said, the city was able to coordinate the parade with its Open Streets program and significantly cut the permitting bill down to $5,000. Mr. Borduin credited the office of Councilwoman Carlina Rivera, whose district includes the East Village, who “really made it clear to the city that this event supports the city park,” he said.

“Our goal is always for New Yorkers to enjoy celebrations safely,” a spokeswoman for City Hall said. “We look forward to seeing this iconic event goes on as scheduled.”

Securing a sponsorship was also key, Mr. Borduin, and he found that in Tom Arrix, the founder of Get Joy, who reached out on Facebook asking to help.

“Any time a dog’s joy is threatened we want to help,” Mr. Arrix said in a statement.

The about-face has “made me believe in miracles again,” Mr. Borduin said.

He added that he hopes this year will be a turning point for the Halloween festival, transforming it into one that does not require the planning to solely fall on one person with a planning group going forward.

Councilwoman Rivera said she understood Mr. Borduin’s frustration. She said she wanted to make sure that “logistically we never encounter these challenges again. I want it to be as smooth as the Met Gala.”

Mimi, dressed as a bodega cat, last year.Credit…Caitlin Ochs/Reuters

When everything runs smoothly, Mr. Russo said, the parade can raise more than $50,000 for the Tompkins Square Park dog run, where dogs can run around off-leash in a gated area. It was the city’s first. The money goes toward resurfacing the dog park and regular maintenance, and many of the city’s dog parks have arrangements with private groups to take care of such areas.

Mr. Russo said he hoped for a parade that “rivals the West Village Halloween Parade.”

Enthusiastic dog owners have included Jessica Marx, whose black pug Beast won best in show at Tompkins Square Park parade last year dressed as a lantern fly, while she and her husband went as two Converse sneakers, ready to stomp out the invasive bug.

“Halloween is a creative competitive sport for me,” she said. “Heidi Klum, who goes all out for her costumes, is my idol. I want to be like her but for dogs.”

Last year was their first time competing, and “it was pure dopamine,” she said. “It’s really refreshing to have a purely silly event and think of the most ridiculous costume.”

Ms. Marx said she began working on this year’s costume a couple of months ago, but was not ready to reveal the costume just yet.

“We want there to be a big element of surprise,” she said.

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