Social media provides a strange juxtaposition of events right now, from the the grisly execution of a journalist to the lack of leadership in American politics and the increasing ubiquity of pet costumes. It turns out that more than 30 million people (roughly the total population of Texas) will spend nearly half a billion dollars on pet costumes — anything from mini Superman outfits to dog hoods that look like lion manes.
Try to think about what half a billion dollars could buy instead of pet costumes: How many potable water could you get in Flint, Michigan? (The answer is 62 years worth, at the last known rate of $22,000 per day.) How many homeless veterans could you house? (Given the average rental price in America, you could house every one of our 40,000 or so homeless veterans for 8 months each.) It feels like half a billion dollars could be put to a more practical use than buying millions of tiny Chewbacca-themed sweater vests.
And, yet, I have to grudgingly admit that I can see the value of indulging in something as frivolous and diverting as dressing my dog up as a walking taco. Who wouldn't rather watch a dog waddling around in a pumpkin outfit than read stories about how we’re all going to burn up and die due to climate change?
Go to any local big-box pet supply store, and it's clear I'm not alone. At the one by me, shoppers are greeted at the entrance by a rack of miniature hot pink tutus, tiny blue capes and orange pumpkin costumes. One small pet-size t-shirt reads “Only Here For the Boo-ze.”
I wander aimlessly down another aisle, past animal costumes for animals and, a staff person, noticing my perplexed face, asks if I need help. I ask if there are any cat costumes. John tells that they only carry costumes for dogs, but adds that many of the smaller dog costumes also fit cats — and, at a different location, they carry costumes for guinea pigs.
John then proudly shows me a picture of his toy poodle in a monkey costume; his colleague, Kelly, shows me one of a large pet rat in a cowboy hat, and assures me she has the cutest picture of her snake in a tiny top hat, but can’t seem to find it on her phone.
John and Kelly, asked to explain why people dress animals in costumes, both shrug. “It makes people happy,” John says.
I give in to happiness and buy a sheriff's costume with a cowboy hat, a monkey costume with a furry hood and a black floppy witch’s hat — all reasonably priced on sale — for my three pets. (They'll probably get more expensive next year, with Trump's new tariffs.)
I get home and quickly find out why none of the costumes are billed as for cats: I can’t even get any of the tiny hats on either of my two cats. My younger cat, Peanut, crab-walks backwards after I slip the tiny witch's hat on her, and eventually just lays down in a puddle of fur.
My older cat, Bisu, registers her disdain for the cowboy hat by chewing on the elastic and then the brim of the hat, finally swatting both at me and the hat with a paw full of claws before running to hide under our bed.
Morgan, my dog, eyes me dubiously as I walk over with the monkey hood, which she shrugs off as soon as I get it on her. Then, she whips her head back and forth as I try to put the witch’s hat on her head. The cowboy hat was a total no-go.
I manage to snap a few photos while holding the hats in place while Morgan gives me irritated looks, to document her cuteness and exasperation on social media, like a not insignificant portion of other pet owners. (One doesn't want to get FOMO, of course.)
I’m probably anthropomorphizing her looks — but, then again, I am trying to dress my pets up in tiny costumes.
I go back to working, open up Twitter, and try not to get too discouraged when my pet pictures garner more interactions than the stories I've worked so hard to report and write. But I can’t blame people for wanting a break from bad news.
It makes sense that people would choose to watch a video of my dog eating broccoli over clicking on another story about the gender pay gap. Humans, like any other animal, tend to avoid pain. Who am I to judge that tendency? Don’t we deserve a little levity or silliness or even joy in the midst of all our collective pain?
Also, who doesn’t love a cat in a cowboy hat?
Tanya Tarr is a regular Forbes contributor and an executive business educator who teaches corporations and entrepreneurs how to negotiate and win. She believes in the power of getting smarter together.