Petember is a pet dress-up competition and fundraiser run by Variety. Throughout the month of September, participants post pics of their pets posing in themed outfits. Proceeds go towards providing assistance dogs for families with special needs. Rita Bratovich spoke with Mandy Burns, Variety’s CEO, for an inside pawspective.
“The main thing is to have fun,” says Burns about the competition. “We’re obviously in lockdown so [this provides] the opportunity to do something that allows us to provide focus and mindfulness, plus spend time with our pets and connect with them – and at the same time, we’re making a difference to kids.”
Petember was held last year for the first time and it immediately garned huge interest and engagement. One week into this year’s campaign and it looks like being even bigger. To enter, people just need to sign up, register their pet and set up a fundraising and gallery page. The competition is divided into weekly events which have a specific costume theme. You can enter any or all of the events (although week 1 has already closed) and vie for prizes that include pet treats and vouchers.
Although the promotional literature focuses on dogs, Burns assures us that it is an inclusive competition welcoming all creatures, great and small.
“We have a professional set of judges who obviously will take their job very seriously,” advises Burns. (It should be noted, however, that all said judges are of the canine persuasion!)
Themes for the remaining weeks are: Spawty Spice, Pup Stars and Spooky Pooches. Judging criteria includes: originality, creativity, humour and charisma, although it seems that imitating a celebrity might also be a winning tactic.
“Last year, what still stands out in my mind was a particular pooch that was looking very much like Jimi Hendrix,” says Burns.
And, when asked for suggestions, she offers: “Maybe ABBA, given ABBA’s going to be releasing their new album.”
The range of costumes available for pets is equivalent to that available for humans, however you can also try teddy bear or doll’s clothing, children’s clothing, opp shops or just improvise.
But … is it cruel to dress pets up?
“It’s hard to imagine that somebody who loves their pet would hurt them in any way,” responds Burns. “The people I see – I get the impression their pet is as important as any human friend.”
That said, she does stress that the animal’s wellbeing and happiness is paramount. There are guidelines on the Petember website, but basically: do not force your pet to do or wear anything if it resists or appears unhappy; never restrict their breathing, sight, movement; don’t let them overheat (or freeze); do not let them out of your sight with the costume on. Take the photo as quickly and comfortably as possible and then remove their outfit.
This is about having fun with your pet, but more importantly, it’s about raising money.
Last year, Petember helped support funding for two assistance dogs.
“Assistance dogs help and really change lives for children who might be experiencing autism or epilepsy or have anxiety,” explains Burns. “[The children] might have sensory processing disorders that mean our environment can be quite demanding for them.”
It costs $40,000 for an assistance dog and they can take up to two years to train. They are incredibly intuitive and can detect triggers that might cause a child anxiety or discomfort, or alert when a child has a seizure. The security of having a dog watch over their child also frees up parents to do simple things such as duck into a shop to buy milk or even get a good night’s sleep.
“An assistance dog is especially trained for [a particular child], paired to them, and can provide that sense of calm and connection with a child. And it’s meant families are not needing to be alert 24/7 because they fear the well being and safety of their child,” says Burns.
You can read about Milo, the assistance dog who was gifted to Jett, a young boy with autism, on the Petember website.
Entries for Week 2 of the Petember competition open on 8 September and close at 11:59pm, 12 September.
For more information and to register, visit: https://fundraise.variety.org.au/event/petember/home.
To see photos of past and present entries, visit the website or Instagram: @varietypetember.
Rita Bratovich is the arts and entertainment editor of the Sydney Sentinel.
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