If Halloween is right around the corner, it means it's also time for the Great Pupkin, the Fort Greene Park event where dogs strut their stuff and show their tolerance for sporting fanciful costumes. This year, the Fort Greene Park Users and Pets Society (PUPS) is putting on the 12th Annual Great Pupkin tomorrow (registration begins at 11:30 a.m.; the contest begins at noon—more details here). We chatted with Kath Hansen, the group's founder, to find out more about the festivities, changes in the neighborhood, and why bulldogs and pugs have an unfair advantage with Halloween costumes.

How many contestants were in the first Great Pupkin event? About 15. That was in 1999. My dog went as a cheerleader. Sort of a lame costume. [Ed. note: Last year, Kath and her husband were Siegfried and Roy—and their dog was a Siberian tiger!]

What are some of the most creative costumes you've seen? A dog with a working water fountain strapped to his back; I think that was an homage to the dog fountain it took us four years of red tape to have installed in Fort Greene Park. It's obvious some people spend lots of time and money on their costumes, but I think some of the best are the simplest. A dog dressed in all the things he had destroyed that year was one of my all-time favorites. Bulldogs and pugs have an unfair advantage because they are already funny-looking. People seem to love it when dogs wear things on their heads.

What are the prizes for best costumes this year? Fort Greene and Clinton Hill businesses donate various certificates for veterinary care, restaurant visits, wine, dog supplies, framing, theater tickets, and more. The top six contestants get prizes.

Dressing dogs up on Halloween isn't just the domain of weirdos any more. How have events like this made dog Halloween costumes more popular? I'm pretty sure I still fall under the domain of weirdos. Look, I realize this is really frivolous and silly. But as long as it's safe for the dog to wear and you have a sense of humor about it, dog costumes can be a great creative outlet. I think dog costumes are popular because dressing up your dog can be a lot more fun than costuming a child at Halloween. Dogs can't argue that they look stupid, or they want a Buzz Lightyear costume or whatever.

The entry fee is $5, suggested. How will that money be spent? With donations, we break even on this event. We have to rent equipment and buy supplies. If there's any money left over, it goes into our fund to buy poop bags for the dispensers PUPS installed in the park. We're a registered nonprofit, so we have to account for everything.

What inspired you to start Fort Greene Pups? There was a political battle to abolish the off-leash courtesy rule in the parks back in the late 90s. I basically carried a clipboard to the park with me every day and asked people to sign up. Today we have over 500 members. We worked with NYCDOG (the umbrella group for all NYC dog groups) and the Parks Department to codify the off-leash rule into law back in 2007.

You're a real off-leash advocate. What are some pros and cons of letting dogs be off-leash? The main pro is having an exercised, quiet, happy dog. Dogs get much more exercise and socialization when they can go off-leash in the entire park rather than in a tiny dog run. But people have misconceptions when it comes to off-leash in the parks: it boils down to a few hours in the morning before 9:00 am and a few hours at night after 9:00 pm, when there is very little park usage. And off-leash is only for parks that don't have dog runs. I would say the biggest con is that some people don't pay close enough attention to what their dogs are up to and that can lead to problems.

Would you do away with off-leash hours in general if you could? No, I think off-leash during limited hours works better than dog runs. If you can't control your dog, don't take your dog off-leash.

How would you define a responsible dog owner? Somebody who exercises and picks up after their dog, and has taught their dog basic obedience commands.

What are the biggest changes you've noticed in the neighborhood since you started in 1999? Well, obviously gentrification, but that's everywhere. I think the word got out that Fort Greene was a dog-friendly neighborhood so it seems like there a lot more dog owners in the area now. The restaurants all put water bowls out for the dogs. And now we have fancy dog spas and whatnot.

Photograph of Kath Hansen by Leo Moreton
Additional contribution from Jen Chung