The Great PUPkin—the beloved, long-running dog costume contest—has been an annual Halloween tradition for Brooklynites for 22 years. Normally held in Fort Greene Park and attended by thousands of spectators, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic forced this year’s PUPkin to go virtual.
“I’ll be honest, I was a little concerned,” said organizer Emily Lawson. Lawson and the rest of the organizers at Fort Greene PUPS, the Brooklyn-based non-profit that hosts the PUPkin, were worried about their ability to translate the joy of the PUPkin to a Livestream.
But Lawson and her team felt that consistency was critical, despite the pandemic and the myriad challenges of 2020. “The PUPkin will go on,” she said.
“We knew it was really important to the community,” Lawson said. “Our goal was to get people to a place where they feel like they’ve experienced the PUPkin.”
Despite their initial concerns, the organizers were blown away by what Lawson called an “incredible response” to the virtual PUPkin. With 63 contestants and over 2400 votes cast, participation in this year’s PUPkin was on par with previous in-person contests.
On Thursday night, the PUPkin’s top ten finalists were interviewed via Zoom by the event’s long-time master of ceremonies, Justine Keefe. The top costumes included a French bulldog dressed like a grandma pushing a walker, four dogs dressed like the rock band Kiss, and a Labrador Retriever on a skateboard dressed as the viral Tiktok sensation doggface208.
But it was Pepe the border terrier, dressed like a gigantic coronavirus, that took this year’s top spot. Pepe’s owner Ana James said the costume was her seven-year-old son’s idea. “His whole world has been impacted by coronavirus,” James said.
“I didn’t want to give up one more fun tradition because of coronavirus,” James said. “For us, the Great PUPkin is about creating memories and being part of the community. We can still do that virtually. In some ways, being virtual means more of our friends and family can watch from home.”
Lawson and her team also celebrated the ability of audiences to watch from outside of Brooklyn. Throughout the hour-long event, Keefe announced locations where viewers were tuning in from around the world.
“Oh man, we’re going global,” Keefe said, as she listed countries ranging from Scotland to Colombia.
As Keefe put it, this year’s contest was the first “and God-willing, the last” virtual Great PUPkin. Still, the organizers were proud to see the cheer of the PUPkin reaching far beyond Brooklyn, representing the way that collective joy can unite people despite difficult times.
“Nothing keeps down the PUPkin,” declared Keefe.