There are so many beloved NYC Halloween traditions and events, from the Village Halloween Parade to the Tompkins Square Dog Parade to the decked out Ditmas Park haunted house to Subway Halloween. But only one of these hallowed traditions included me as a judge this year: the Great PUPkin Dog Costume Contest in Fort Greene.

Originally scheduled to happen Saturday, the 23rd annual Great PUPkin was postponed because of the weather until Sunday, when New Yorkers filled the park to watch dogs in costume on parade. I was warned ahead of time that the contest goes by quickly, but that's an understatement—it was a blur of dogs in shark costumes and homemade wigs.

There was one pup wearing a "Tax The Cats" dress in honor of AOC, a dog outfitted as Ziggy Stardust, and another in an elaborate Where The Wild Things Are getup. There were rainbow dogs, mermaid dogs, dogs draped in various flowers and plants, and Beanie Baby dogs. There was a Royal Tenenbaums-themed family costume, a dog in a MetroCard (alongside a B52 bus), and dogs dressed up as the COVID vaccine.

One family, who were all dressed as different kinds of breads (the dog was a very cute loaf), handed out pieces of bread to each judge; I most definitely did not eat it... next time bring Absolute Bagels and we’ll talk. A dog dressed as a "Mythic Autumn Beast" completely ignored the crowd and instead came straight over to me—mostly likely because he wanted to eat that piece of bread—allowing me to vigorously pet them. Besides those two, there were no other attempts to bribe a judge during the contest, which really disappointed me, because I would have very much enjoyed petting more dogs.

Altogether, there were a whopping 87 pups who participated in the contest; I would guess that at least two-thirds of the owners and their families dressed up alongside their animals. There was also a ridiculous outpouring of creativity and DIY craftiness—one organizer apologized to us judges early on about how tough it would be to choose, adding this was the most impressive group of costumes they had ever seen at PUPkin.

Make no mistake: every dog there was a winner (many were also wieners, but that's besides the point). But we were instructed to harden our hearts to the merely excellent and focus on the sublime. Ultimately, we were forced to narrow it down to a top ten that showcased a lot of fantastic costumes and displays, many of which incorporated large props that likely took hours of prep.

That included Scrooge McDuck And His Lucky Coin (the owner was in a full homemade Scrooge outfit, the dog was the coin); Nutella Bradoodle (the dog was wearing the nutritional facts); Furmula 1 (including a ridiculously well-made race car); The Doggy Reaper (including a whole wagon and scythe); Amelia Earhart (complete with plane); The Dog The Earth Stood Still (which kicked off the entire contest, and may have had the best presentation); and Phantom Of The Opera, which included a freakin' smoke machine!

Any of these costumes would have stopped me in my tracks on the street, but we had to further narrow it down to just the final three: Gimme S'More Puppy, which was a dual action costume (the dog started out on the owner's chest in a graham cracker, then popped out wearing chocolate); Up, an impressively accurate recreation of the Pixar film's house (with balloons); and Howie's Hot Dog Cart, a true-to-life NYC Sabrett hot dog cart on top of a chiweenie with wheels instead of back legs. (You can learn more about Howie here.)

The final winner of those three was decided based on audience applause, and there was no contest—Howie was by far the most popular dog of the day.

Now to get to the important questions: Was I wearing a hot dog outfit as a reference to I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson? Yes. Was I wearing a sweatshirt I got off Etsy underneath the costume that read, "The Skeletons Will Pull Your Hair/ Up, But Not Out"? Yes. Did I think I was being somewhat clever wearing a hot dog costume to a dog contest? Unfortunately, yes. Was I the only judge wearing a costume? No, but mine was by far the most annoying to sit in for an hour and a half.

But did my choice of costume mean I was biased in favor of a dog dressed as an authentic NYC hot dog cart? Absolutely not. All I have is my integrity, my dignity, and a loaf of bread I refuse to eat.

A photo of Ben Yakas as judge of the 2021 Great PUPkin Contest in Ft. Greene

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"We're all trying to find the guy who did this"
Tod Seelie