Another excellent idea put into practice at First Run is to print up playbill brochures to thank to all those who have donated. It’s likely you won’t even have to spend a dime on them, especially if you can find vendors and suppliers who are dog lovers. Everyone loves Halloween, and everyone wants to be part of the fun.
Take advantage of your group’s unique talents, and don’t limit your vision to those who can design posters, t-shirts and promotional materials, Rosso says. “Each year, we're amazed at how the most ‘certifiable’ folks who drive us nuts at the run all year turn out to be the best at selling raffle tickets!”
Yet more advice from Rosso (this man could run the city, I swear): If you find over time that your event is growing and more and more dogs are entering the contests, plan for the greater amount of time it’s going to take to register the dogs, parade them, judge them, offer prizes and so forth. “Not everyone is going to hang around until the very end to see if they won,” Rosso says. “So at First Run, the organizers started to award prizes every half hour or so.” Their system is to break up the contestants into groups and offer first, second and third prizes to that group. In 2008, there were about 400 dogs and they had four rounds. “This not only builds excitement, but it will save you the headache of having to register all the participants with their contact information in order to contact them later to [send them] their prize.”
Speaking of prizes, Rosso recommends giving lots of prizes and lots of runners-up. “We have categories such as Best Large Breed, Best Small Breed, Best Dog with Child, Best Dog Team, Best Owner/Dog Combo. And it’s also fun to invent categories on the fly. At election year, we invented a category ‘Best Dog for a Democratic Regime’ because so many made political statements with their costumes.” (After Katrina, the best Owner/Dog prize went to a woman dressed in a FEMA uniform, accompanied by a group of dogs with life preservers and flotation vests.) Haute Dog also offers multiple prizes, including Best Float—which is something tiny Tompkins Square cannot accommodate.
The First Run judges also award separate prizes for “Best Store-bought” as well as “Best Original” costume. At any doggie Halloween parade across the country, you’re always going to find little dogs dressed as flowers and herds of black-and-white dogs dressed as cows. You’ll see the Superman costumes, the cowboy, the bride-and-groom—and the dogs always look irresistibly cute in them. Since store-bought costumes are so readily available, however, the hip and jaded New York City judges lean more toward the homemade costumes. Try to picture a Harlequin Great Dane dressed up as a giant sunflower. Or a matted grey Shih Tzu dressed as a mop and accompanied by a short guy dressed as a frumpy housewife. At Tompkins, you’ll see a Shepherd mix in a curly black wig, Gene Simmons makeup and a leather jacket embossed with the Kiss logo. Or a couple dressed like farmers and carrying a basket of produce with a tiny Chihuahua in a pea-pod costume tucked amidst the vegetables. Or six Dachshunds transformed into a bunch of yellow bananas, accompanied by a large man in a gorilla suit.
All of the contestants at Tompkins are vying for the top prize (an iPod), while at Haute Dog, the first-place winner receives a year’s supply of dog food. No matter what the prize (the simplest prize offered last year was a Kong), they are rapturously received.
Both Rosso and Rudd strongly recommend inviting “important people” to judge. Rosso has invited politicians, local council members, Parks Department employees, best-selling authors of dog memoirs and members of the community board. Plus, bringing on VIPs is a great way to gain attention for and local support of your cause, whether that be a new dog run or a new animal shelter. “And of course, invite the press to be judges,” Rosso says. “We’ve had editors from both Vogue and Time.”