The profitable combination of Halloween and dogs has become a cottage industry, with retailers hawking canine costumes and the media issuing warnings about holiday risks. Dogs certainly do look adorable dressed to the canines (or sporting skull-and-crossbone collars and leashes); and dark-chocolatey treats certainly should be kept out of Spot’s reach, to prevent Theobromine poisoning. On nights like Halloween, dogs deserve to be included in the festivities, naturalparty animals that they are, but please keep their nighttime safety top of mind, indoors and out, andpreventthem from escapingvia the front door if it’s frequently opened for trick-or-treaters.
Butthere’s more to Halloween than costumes, candy, and carousing.An importantaspectof this holiday is frequently overlooked: The spiritual side of Halloween. How appropriate that this year, Halloween falls on Sunday: a perfect reminder that it’s a holy day.
Halloween – All Hallows Eve, or the night of all saints – has roots in the Celtic festival Samhain (“summer’s end” in Old Irish), which celebrates the end of the “lighter half” of the year and marks the beginning of the”darker half.” The ancient Celts believed that the border between this world and the “other side” becomes blurred on Samhain, permitting spirits – harmless as well as harmful ones – to pass through.
On this magical night,the souls of loved ones were honored and invited back home, while evil spirits were shunned, frightened away by carved, candlelitjack-o-lanterns. It’s believed that the desire to ward off evil spirits is also what led to the wearing of masks and costumes.
If you believe in that blurring of worlds that allegedly happens on Halloween night – and even if you’re not sure whetheror not tobelieve -then take time to remember four-footed loved ones, and invite their spirits to cross your threshold oncemore.
If one familiarpresence could fill my room again in this lifetime, I wish it would be that ofa beautiful brindle pit bull named Britannia Tige, B for short (that’s her in thepicture above,sufferingHalloween drag to pose for photographer Dana Rose Lee). My Bdied two years ago. Wow, has it been that long? It feels like only yesterday we were spooningtogether in bed.
The day sheleft merushed by in a furious blur.One morning, in a scene straight out of a horror movie,B urinated blood. Irushedmy girlto the animal hospitalhoping whatever ailed her could be cured, buther spleen had ruptured; she had to be put down that afternoon. She couldn’teven muster the strengthto eather favorite treat, McDonald’s apple pie.
As time passes, I find myself missingthat creature more and more, despite having a house full of lovely dogs to care for. No oneelse has such coppery brown eyes, or groans with such delight when stretching out on her back, her head on my pillow and one eyetooth peeking out from beneath her floppy lip. So this Sunday I will light a candle forB, a fragrant beeswax votive in a candle holder made of pink rock salt. It willstay lit in the bedroom (her favorite place), high out ofthe other dogs’ reach (safety first!), soB will find her wayin caseshe decides to pay usa nocturnal visit.
My friend Bettina Werner uses salt in a different way to honor her dog, a handsome Dalmatian named Tibino who died in 2005. Bettina is an internationally recognized artist who invented a special technique of painting with pigment-saturated salt – hence her nickname, “The Salt Queen.” In Tibino’s honor,she created a large series of artworks called “101 Dalmatian Paintings.” Variations on a theme of ink-black spots on white salt, they are some of her best work.
The range of these abstract, minimal paintings is delightful: one isa rectangle coated in white salt and dotted with black spots, ascarlet stripe signifying Tibino’s red collar; another is a circlepaved with solid, shiny,black salt.
Inspired by the Halloween festivities, the artist recently completed a beautiful painting called “Tibino in the Pumpkin Patch.“It’s a field of textured orange salt, withlines drawn by the artist’s fingers to resemble the ridges on a pumpkin. At the center of the orange color field are two spots: one white and one black, symbolizing her beloved dog.
“This time of year is one of the most spiritual, beautiful, and deeply emotional,” Bettina says. “It’s a time to open up and connect with nature. I feel Tibino’s spirit is still guiding me, constantly giving me inspiration. He comes with me on all my walks around the city. I miss him terribly, but I know we will always be connected, and he is at peace. I can’t wait to see him again.”
If you’re looking to spend Halloween with friendly spirits, consider a visit to a nearby pet cemetery (go here to find one in your area,or consider taking a road trip).In New York, where I live,the country’soldest such landmark is Hartsdale, founded in 1896. It’s the final resting place for some 70,000 animals. When the time comes, Ihope to have my ashes interred there too, alongside those of my beloved pets.
Touring the grounds, it’s impossible not to be moved by people’s strong feelings for their departed dogs. One elaborate gravestone is decorated with a bas-relief of a Bulldog; it’s inscribed thus:
OUR LOVED ONE
G R U M P Y
Aug. 4, 1913-Sept. 20, 1926
HIS SYMPATHETIC LOVE AND UNDERSTANDING ENRICHED OUR LIVES
HE WAITS FOR US
On a pet-cemetery outing, consider paying your respects by bringing flowers and staking them to the ground near your favorite monument (at Hartsdale, plastic vessels are provided); orange gerbera daisies look especially fetching at this time of year. Sodo pumpkins, large or small.
How will you observe the holiday? Please tell us in the comments!