Do Pets Enjoy Dressing Up for Halloween?

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gpointstudio/iStock via Getty Images

Each Halloween, social media becomes congested with pictures of people's furry companions decked out in capes, caps, wings, and other Halloween flair. A Labradoodle is adorable to begin with. Put him in a bee costume and people melt.

But look closely at some of these photos. In the pet’s eyes you might see a note of humiliation or sadness. Like the court jester, they’ve been made to be comic relief. Shame seems to envelop them like a dark cloud. It’s as if a dog knows his dignity is circling the drain.

In forcing your cat to wear a bunny costume, are we depriving our pets of a basic right to decency? What if they’re just doing it for us?

Grey Scottish Fold cat wearing a hat with bunny ears
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“That's one possibility,” says Alexandra Horowitz, Ph.D., a senior research fellow and adjunct associate professor at Barnard College and author of Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know. “We are a society that asks dogs to stay frozen while we balance a dog treat on their nose. It pays off for them because we eventually give them the treat, the attention, the love. Dogs certainly have learned to endure small discomforts for our pleasure.”

Rather than be happy about having an alter ego—say, a hot dog—pets might instead be thinking their human handlers are scolding them, Horowitz says. That's because domesticated dogs have wolf-like ancestors. Their cousins, wolves (Canis lupus), are prone to covering a subservient wolf’s body with their own as a form of reprimand. In covering a dog’s body with a costume, a dog might have a genetic disposition to feel like they’re being corrected. That’s why some might simply freeze in place or otherwise act sullen.

“If they duck to get away, keep their tail low or ears back, or generally keep their body tight and low, that's submissive, appeasement behavior,” Horowitz says.

French bulldog dressed up as a pirate
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Even if you feel like you’re not causing your dog emotional damage, costumes should still be evaluated for possible physical dangers. No puppy duds should obscure their eyes or face or fit too snugly around their chest. (It can restrict breathing.) They should be visible in low-light conditions, either for trick-or-treating or in case they dash out of the house. Some vets have reported having to surgically remove small accessories or objects that were dislodged from costumes and swallowed, so it’s good to make sure nothing on the outfit is removable.

If your dog exhibits signs of duress—pawing, itching, cowering, pinned ears, tucked tail—then you should reconsider their participation in the festivities. If you want to test their temperament before buying a costume, try putting them in a T-shirt. If they look unhappy, spare them the additional stress of dressing them up like a taco.

As for cats? “I would not do this,” Horowitz says. “Cats don't suffer our ridiculousness.”

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Why Do Fruitcakes Last So Long?

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iStock

Fruitcake is a shelf-stable food unlike any other. One Ohio family has kept the same fruitcake uneaten (except for periodic taste tests) since it was baked in 1878. In Antarctica, a century-old fruitcake discovered in artifacts left by explorer Robert Falcon Scott’s 1910 expedition remains “almost edible,” according to the researchers who found it. So what is it that makes fruitcake so freakishly hardy?

It comes down to the ingredients. Fruitcake is notoriously dense. Unlike almost any other cake, it’s packed chock-full of already-preserved foods, like dried and candied nuts and fruit. All those dry ingredients don’t give microorganisms enough moisture to reproduce, as Ben Chapman, a food safety specialist at North Carolina State University, explained in 2014. That keeps bacteria from developing on the cake.

Oh, and the booze helps. A good fruitcake involves plenty of alcohol to help it stay shelf-stable for years on end. Immediately after a fruitcake cools, most bakers will wrap it in a cheesecloth soaked in liquor and store it in an airtight container. This keeps mold and yeast from developing on the surface. It also keeps the cake deliciously moist.

In fact, fruitcakes aren’t just capable of surviving unspoiled for months on end; some people contend they’re better that way. Fruitcake fans swear by the aging process, letting their cakes sit for months or even years at a stretch. Like what happens to a wine with age, this allows the tannins in the fruit to mellow, according to the Wisconsin bakery Swiss Colony, which has been selling fruitcakes since the 1960s. As it ages, it becomes even more flavorful, bringing out complex notes that a young fruitcake (or wine) lacks.

If you want your fruitcake to age gracefully, you’ll have to give it a little more hooch every once in a while. If you’re keeping it on the counter in advance of a holiday feast a few weeks away, the King Arthur Flour Company recommends unwrapping it and brushing it with whatever alcohol you’ve chosen (brandy and rum are popular choices) every few days. This is called “feeding” the cake, and should happen every week or so.

The aging process is built into our traditions around fruitcakes. In Great Britain, one wedding tradition calls for the bride and groom to save the top tier of a three-tier fruitcake to eat until the christening of the couple’s first child—presumably at least a year later, if not more.

Though true fruitcake aficionados argue over exactly how long you should be marinating your fruitcake in the fridge, The Spruce says that “it's generally recommended that soaked fruitcake should be consumed within two years.” Which isn't to say that the cake couldn’t last longer, as our century-old Antarctic fruitcake proves. Honestly, it would probably taste OK if you let it sit in brandy for a few days.

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What’s the Difference Between Crocheting and Knitting?

djedzura/iStock via Getty Images
djedzura/iStock via Getty Images

With blustery days officially upon us, the most pressing question about your sweaters, scarves, hats, and mittens is probably: “Are these keeping me warm?” If you’re a DIY enthusiast, or just a detail-oriented person in general, your next question might be: “Were these knitted or crocheted?”

Knitting and crocheting are both calming crafts that involve yarn, produce cozy garments and other items, and can even boost your mental well-being. Having said that, they do have a few specific differences.

To knit, you need needles. The size, material, and number of those needles depends on the project; though most traditional garments are made using two needles, it’s also possible to knit with just one needle, or as many as five. But regardless of the other variables, one or both ends of your knitting needles will always be pointed.

While crocheting calls for a similar long, thin tool that varies in size and material, it has a hooked end—and you only ever need one. According to The Spruce Crafts, even if you hear people refer to the tool as a crochet needle, they’re really talking about a crochet hook.

crotchet hook and garment
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Part of the reason you only use one hook brings us to the next difference between crocheting and knitting: When crocheting, there’s only one “active loop” on your hook at any given time, whereas knitting entails lining up loops down the length of your needles and passing them between needles. The blog Darn Good Yarn explains that since each loop is attached to a long row of stitches, accidentally “dropping” one off the end of your needle might unravel the entire row.

Of course, you have a better chance of avoiding that type of manual error if you’re using a knitting machine or loom, which both exist. Crocheting, on the other hand, has to be done by hand. Since machines can create garments with extremely small stitches, some knit clothes can be much more lightweight or close-fitting than anything you’d be able to crochet—and knitted clothes can also be mass-produced.

When it comes to what the items actually look like, crochet stitches characteristically look more like knots, while knit stitches seem flatter and less bulky. However, materials and techniques have come a long way over the years, and now there’s more crossover between what you’re able to knit and crochet. According to The Spruce Crafts, socks and T-shirts—traditionally both garments that would be knitted—can now technically be crocheted.

knitting needles and garment
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And, believe it or not, knitting and crocheting can even be used to depict complicated mathematical concepts: see what a crocheted hyperbolic plane, Lorenz manifold, and more look like here.

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