West Orange ‘goes to the dogs’ at Barktober parade

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WEST ORANGE, NJ — The inaugural “Barktober” Halloween parade brought nearly 60 dogs with their families to O’Connor Park to show off their Halloween costumes and raise money for the West Orange Animal Welfare League on Oct. 20, while also facing off to win the “Top Dog” prize.

When residents began sharing photos of their pets in costume in the “West Orange Dogs” Facebook group, dog owners Laura Lab, Stacey Reese, Beth Platner and Jessica Fiorilli decided to gather everyone in the park’s roller hockey rink to show off their clever costumes.

“We saw people posting pictures in the Facebook group in September, so we thought why don’t we do a dog parade?” Lab said in an interview with the West Orange Chronicle at the event. “So we put this together and all of the money goes to the animal shelter. October is also Adopt-a-Pet Month.”

In addition to collecting registration fees, the event also accepted donations of pet food and blankets for the shelter. Later in the day, the WOAWL held its annual pet-adoption event at the animal control facility on Watchung Avenue.

West Orange Mayor Robert Parisi served as a judge at the parade, along with Kelly Elementary School fifth-grader Liam Berzolla and Edison Middle School sixth-grader Emma Healey, to decide which dogs would take home trophies. Categories included “Best Pack” for a family or group costume, “Most Creative,” “Most Fur-ocious,” “Best Couple” for a dog and owner, and the overall “Top Dog.”

To decide on the winners, Liam told the Chronicle he would be looking for originality and how well the costume fit the dog’s breed, and Emma said it was important to see how unique the costume was.

The WOAWL is a local nonprofit organization that works to avoid needless killing of abandoned and unwanted animals in the area. Lab said that because the WOAWL is run by volunteers, there is always a need for donations.

“It’s primarily run by volunteers, and people’s first thought is to call them when they want to adopt or if their dog runs away,” she said. “But unless you support it, it won’t be there.”

The final total hadn’t been tallied by the end of the event, but Lab said the parade committee estimates that approximately $2,300 was made from the event, in addition to other donations. There were also sponsors who set up tables on the basketball courts at the park, including West Orange resident Mary Curran of Concierge Pet Sitting.

“Everyone started talking on the Facebook group, so there’s been a lot of people here that I’ve been talking to for years but only met today,” Curran said in an interview with the Chronicle at the event. “This is great because the shelter still needs towels and sheets and beds, even more as it gets towards the colder months. They’re always in need of donations, so this a good turnout for the first year.”

Councilwoman Michelle Casalino was at the park to watch the festivities, and said it was a great way for families to become involved in the township.

“I loved having the families participate, this was fun. I’m glad I didn’t have to judge because that would have been too hard,” she joked to the Chronicle at the event. “When it’s the first year, you never know how it’s going to turn out, so hopefully there’s more in the future.”

Lab said she wants to bring the parade back for next Halloween.

“I’d like to keep continuing; it was pretty easy to organize,” she said. “It came together in a short period of time and was really fun to do. It’s nice to see smiles on people’s faces. This wasn’t about anything except having fun with your dog.”

Photos by Amanda Valentovic