The following article appeared in BBC’s Newsbeat:
WARNING: The following article contains pictures of dogs in outfits and hats.
Be honest, the sight of a Jack Russell hopping across someone’s bed in a Santa’s little helper outfit on Facebook does make you crack a smile.
Why wouldn’t it? Well, according to Dr Samantha Gaines from the RSPCA, the dog isn’t smiling, or in on the joke.
“The RSPCA certainly doesn’t want to come across as party poopers, we don’t want to come across as the fashion police either,” she says.
“For some dogs being in a costume can be particularly scary, or worrying, especially if there are bits on the costume that the dog isn’t used to that are flapping around.”
“Dogs use signals to tell us what they’re feeling, they use their ears, their tails, body positions and their eyes. If we start to cover those up it makes it very difficult for them to communicate with us and other dogs.”
Samantha claims it’s a seasonal problem, typically around Halloween and Christmas when distressed animals appear online.
“In some costumes where they’re completely covered we can’t see how they’re feeling, and that in itself is a cause for concern.
So what if you briefly put a turkey hat on your pooch for that amusing photo? Apparently that’s not OK either.
“Putting a hat on a dog still restricts its ability to tell you how it’s feeling. The RSPCA’s general position is not to put costumes on dogs.”
But fear not, what with it being winter and all… it appears dog coats still have a role to play.
“If you’ve got a particularly old dog, a young dog that is ill or particularly short haired, and more susceptible to the cold in winter, then yes, we would expect and hope that people put on an item of clothing like a coat to keep that dog warm.”
In short if it can still use tail, head, ears and show its body position, you’re OK.
So if you can’t give your pet that complete Chrimbo look, the charity has come up with some, if slightly obvious, advice.
In a statement it suggests “playing a fun game or going for a walk” with your pet.
Christmas will never be the same.
So. It’s official – we shouldn’t be dressing up our pets, and all those of us who do are evil animal abusers. OK, I may be slightly paraphrasing here… but for goodness’ sake. Yep I admit, I am slightly annoyed that one of the leading animal welfare charities in the UK has now made me feel guilty about showing, what I feel to be, nothing but adoration and glee towards my fluffy companions. The fact they may very well be right… I’m choosing to gloss over that for now.
It’s not just Christmas time, and it’s not just dogs – my array of pets have been dressed up for as long as they’ve been unfortunate enough to share a home with me. I don’t mean to any sort of weird extremes – they don’t waddle around in tutus or anything like that – but birthdays, Christmas, any sort of other themed festivities and you can bet my cat Crumble will be wearing a hat. The fact she looks miserable is not the point. In fact, it’s almost become her signature look.
The reason I am not flagellating myself and taking Crumble to therapy following the RSPCA’s statement is because quite honestly, Crumble is one of the most spoiled, pampered, adored and contented animals I’ve ever known. And I would bet a large pile of cat hair – seriously, take it – that for everyone reading this, they feel exactly the same way.
The RSPCA references the fact dogs “use signals to tell us what they’re feeling, they use their ears, their tails, body positions and their eyes. If we start to cover those up it makes it very difficult for them to communicate with us and other dogs.” They also, if they’re anything like the dogs I’ve had, will simply point blank refuse to wear the costume in the first place if they really don’t want to.
Admittedly there is a sliding scale here. If you have a nervous dog and you stick it in an ill fitting Santa outfit, then leave it stuck (literally) in said outfit all day then yes, that’s pretty cruel. But are those kinds of people really the ones RSPCA is aiming their statement at? Surely there are more effective ways to get such a message across to those people as, if a dog is stuck in a miserable costume all day and is clearly stressed, then I would suggest the owners perhaps aren’t as caring towards their pet as they should be. But come on – this does strike me as slightly extreme… what about you?
Do you dress your pet up at all? Does your pet/s love or hate it? Where do you stand on the RSPCA’s comments?
I’m not berating the RSPCA for their standpoint on this issue, really I’m not. I support the organisation enormously and think good for them for raising issues which are seen as less popular as the usual fluffy puppy campaigns. I just think we have bigger battles to wage here in the fight against animal cruelty, and I think rather than blanketing all pet owner who dress their beloved companions up, it could perhaps have been more effective had they offered some simple advice, based on a sliding scale of costumery.
Can your pet breathe?
- Yes – well done.
- No – bad pet owner.
Is your pet twitching, crying, or looking like it wants to lamp you one?
- Yes – you need help, get it out the bloody costume now and stop being so stupid. Then give it a hug.
- No – good stuff.
Is your dog wagging its tail or cat purring while wearing said costume?
- Yes – wonderful, see if you can stick a hat on.
- No – hmmm. Perhaps not your audience.
And at the end of all of this I would suggest never, ever leave a costume on for more than a few minutes. In the case of Crumble, the hat stays on her head literally long enough to take a photo – and after five years, she is well used to the routine. Don’t leave the outfit on your animal all day. Just use some common sense, and think how you’d feel. Especially in the case of the dog above in the giant turkey.
Most importantly, have a lovely festive season. May you and your fluffies wear as many ridiculous outfits as you want to, and as few as your collective reputation can stand.