Dressy Dogs

LAS VEGAS, NV -- Natural fur coats are no longer enough. Today's top dog can wear a textile wardrobe.

Some outfits are designed as practical protection against the elements. But most dog togs are keyed to specific holidays.

''I think it's delightful, as long as they remember the comfort of the animal,'' says Mary Hero, head of the Animal Foundation, which serves as the animal shelter for Las Vegas.

The way Hero sees it, most pets love being ''part of the fun'' at holiday time. She views pet clothing as another sign that owners ''really recognize these are fellow beings sharing the planet, as opposed to something they just own.''

Other manifestations of people's increased attention to their pets are doggy day care and doggy massage.

''People now cook for their animals,'' Hero notes. ''They're incorporating them into the family. They're indoor pets, where before they were outdoor pets.''

Pet garb is as close as your neighborhood Wal-Mart, which, for $2.97, is selling a canine Pilgrim outfit (hat and collar), or a set of angel wings plus halo, or a clown hat and collar.

Or, step over to the Galleria at Sunset, Fashion Show or Meadows malls, which each lets a storefront to the Halloween Experience, a seasonal store with an extensive selection of pet attire. Think barking skeleton, wagging witch or drooling devil.

If Halloween themes aren't your doggy's bag, the Halloween Experience also sells holiday-neutral costumes to turn Spot into a striped convict, soldier, Elvis, ballerina, bride or bumblebee. The costumes run from $9.99 to $19.99.

Higher-end dog duds are available through the Internet. Rag Dog is one business that serves this market (RagDog.com). The California company was founded and is run by Sharon Day, a Hollywood costume designer.

''There can never be too many wonderful items for our beloved best friends,'' is a statement on Rag Dog's Web site. Day offers apparel from generic Hawaiian shirts, satin tuxedos and pink tutus to a Christmas Santa Claus and Halloween jack-o'-lantern, sized to fit every dog from a palm-sized miniature to a robust, barrel-chested Rottweiler.

Rag Dog garments are made one at a time, with prices to match. A washable cotton Hawaiian shirt is $35 for the larger breeds. A waterproof poncho in military camouflage runs $50 for larger breeds. For Halloween, a ''Puff the Magic Dragon'' outfit—complete with ridged back and tail—goes for $55.

But canine couture also is made locally. Beatrice and Festes, two dogs that live in Henderson's Green Valley, have a custom designer: their doting owner, Barbara Tatton.

''I started it when my son was younger,'' is how Tatton traces the onset of her sewing specialty. As her son grew and his interest in doggy dress-up declined, Tatton continued sewing.

Beatrice, a Shih Tzu, can dress as a winged ballerina or jester. Festes, a boy, is a Lhasa apso with his own gold-trimmed Musketeer outfit.

This year, the two dogs will greet trick-or-treaters in matching caveman outfits, down to the shellacked dog bones that bear their names. ''I have nephews and they and my husband and I just get a kick out of it,'' Tatton says.

According to Tatton, the two dogs lap up the attention that wearing costumes generates. ''In fact, they act like they're special. They kind of strut around.''

Because of Las Vegas' torrid summers and tepid winters, dogs here rarely need attire to keep themselves warm. As a result, Las Vegans are less apt to buy practical dog clothing, such as sweaters, than owners in colder climes, reports Brenda Hamm, owner of Purrs and Wags Grooming Salon, 55 S. Valle Verde Drive, Henderson. Her shop stocks various animal outfits including a faux-leather biker jacket with the motto ''bad to the bone.''

Like Hero, Hamm attributes the trend of dogs in clothing to people's stronger emotional ties to their pets. ''Nowadays, their dogs are more (like) their children.''

Hero offers a parting caution—some dogs have what she calls a ''dignity issue.'' While they may tolerate wearing a costume, they won't look happy. Studies have shown dog intelligence as equivalent to that of a 3-year-old child, or higher, and ''you know they (toddlers) can be embarrassed,'' Hero warns.

To see more dogs in clothes, attend Clark County's 10th annual Strut Your Mutt, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Nov. 18 at Dog Fancier's Park, 5800 E. Flamingo Road.

Admission is $3 per participant, or $1 per spectator. Spectators can waive the admission fee by donating a can or bag of dog food.

Among other events, participants can join the dog-owner look-alike contest, a dog costume contest and a dress-your-dog timed contest. ln the last event, the county provides miscellaneous hats, scarves and garments for owners to put on their dogs.