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Gone to the Dogs (& Kids): El Cerrito Halloween

Cerrito Vista Park's baseball turf was a different "field of dreams" Wednesday when the City of El Cerrito held its Halloween dog parade and costume contest. A haunted house and indoor carnival rounded out the annual city event.

When Lula's moment in the spotlight arrived on Wednesday afternoon, it was the result of planning and careful attention to costume – not just her 49ers jersey but also the garments of her three human attendants, two of whom were dressed as referees and one of whom was a giant walking football.

But instead of basking in the glory of being named "Best in Show," Lula seemed far more interested in the doings of the dozen other costumed canines in her immediate vicinity.

Each year, El Cerrito stages a community ritual that's slightly surreal and likely to uplift the spirits, with liberal amounts of fun and cuteness.

It's the annual Halloween dog parade and costume contest, which features a not entirely stately parade around part of the baseball field at Cerrito Vista Park. It's one of the highlights of the city's annual Halloween event, which also includes a Haunted House, indoor carnival and firetruck display at the Community Center across the street.

The dog costume contest also requires judges. There were five distinguished ones this year – the mayor, the chief of police, a school principle, a vet and a PTA leader, all of whom carried clipboards as they carrried out their duties with not entirely solemn faces.

"I wasn't trained for this in the police academy," said Police Chief Sylvia Moir. "This is more pressure than I'm used to in my daily duties. But I'm up to the task."

Mayor Bill Jones owned that when he first ran for City Council, he never expected that the job would entail service as an arbiter of canine couture. Rounding out the judges' panel were veterinarian and Abbey Pet Hospital owner Lee Prutton, Harding Elementary School Principal Linda Takimoto and PTA member Georgina Edwards, who heads the Madera Afterschool Enrichment Program.

Prizes were awarded in four categories in addtion to best in show: best duo, creativity/originality, attention to detail, and cuteness and personality. Prizes included $50 certificates for Abbey Pet Hospital and either a free physical for three-month flea regimen from All Creatures Veterinary Clinic.

Over at the Community Center, kids in costumes, many accompanied by adults also dressed for Halloween, played games and received candies.

There was a also Haunted House that came in two versions, a non-scary, lights-on session for little kids and a later, scary one for older folks.

Braving the latter were two visitors from Japan, who said the Haunted House made their hearts beat faster and that the overall event will be a memorable part of their first trip to the United States.

"We envy America," said Akiko Maeda, 22.

"We don't have this in Japan," said her friend, Shiori Ozawa, 21, speaking in Japanese. "I'm really envious."

Ozawa said they was impressed also by the sense of community they experienced at the gathering. 

Maeda added, "We felt like we weren't viewed or treated any differently."

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