Step Right Up and make your way to The Greatest Pug Show on Earth, the 16th annual Great PUGkinFest. The festivities will be held at Woodland District Park at River Place on Saturday, October 27, from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
You might be wondering, “What exactly is a PUGkin and why would I want to attend?”
The answer is simple – it is the ULTIMATE in Pug costume contests AND even better, 100% of the proceeds benefit Pug Rescue of Austin. Contestants unleash their creativity (but not their pugs unless in a leash-free designated area) and go what some might consider crazy with costume ideas. Considering that the theme this year is “The Greatest Pug Show on Earth”, the possibilities are endless. You’ll have to see it to believe it!
The Austin Pug Club graciously presents this annual Fall/Halloween festival to benefit Pug Rescue of Austin. This popular event wouldn’t be possible without the tireless efforts of a number of volunteers, including those that comprise the PUGkin Planning Committee. One member, Janet Barrington, has been involved with PUGkin in some capacity consistently for fourteen years and is well known for her remarkable ability to seemingly do it all. Her sewing, crafting, and baking skills make her a triple threat, a true ringmaster of all things PUG.
Janet first learned of the Austin Pug Club when a coworker gave her a charcoal drawing of a pug created by a club member as a Baby Pug Shower gift to celebrate the arrival of Kiwi, the second pug that Janet and her husband Shawn welcomed into their home. After attending a few meetups she was hooked. Participation in club events introduced her to the pug rescue, then known as DFW Pug Rescue – Austin.
Janet’s involvement with PUGkinFest began in October 2004 when she attended and competed in the second event held at Auditorium Shores, the original venue. That year, she and Shawn, created the costume “CleoPugtra” for Kiwi, who was nine months old at the time. For this elaborate costume, the couple portrayed her servants and carried her on a litter that they crafted.
“Turned out we were blessed enough to be her loving servants for the next 13 years,” Janet adds.
Since her first PUGkin competition, Janet has gained notoriety among local pug enthusiasts for her award winning costume creations featuring their beloved pug, Kiwi. She admittedly loves puns – good or bad, so she and her team members, husband Shawn and sister Nancy, have created costumes inspired by historical figures and events such as Cleopatra (Cleopugtra) and Hippie and the Magic Bus. Famous performers have also influenced her designs which include Peggy (Puggy) Fleming, Liberace (Pugarachi), Harry Houdini (Pugdini), Marilyn Monroe (Pugroe), and Christina Aguilera (Puguilera) of The Voice complete with a judge’s chair that turned just like those on the reality talent show.
Some costumes, such as “Itsy, Bitsy, Teenie, Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Pugkini” were inspired by pop culture and others by television shows and characters, namely I Dream of Jeannie, Marvin the Martian, I Love Lucy, The Flintstones, and Wheel of Fortune which featured Kiwi’s portrayal of the iconic letter-turner, Vanna White.\
When asked to name her favorite costume to date Janet explains,
“Each costume is very special because we spend so much time coming up with the idea, planning it, and then all the work of pulling it off. But, there is an extra special place in my heart for the I Love Lucy and Marvin the Martian costumes. We had thought about I Love Lucy (Kiwi and Janet famously recreated the hilarious classic scene featuring Lucy and Ethel working at a chocolate factory) for a number of years, but I didn’t want to do it until we could do it right with the working conveyor belt… Shawn figured it out. You cannot imagine the sheer joy that we had when it actually worked. Marvin the Martian was just plain hilarious. Kiwi looked so darn cute in that costume. It was ridiculous really.”
Last year, following the loss of their beloved Kiwi, Janet and her team premiered her newest pug family member, Maizy, in a costume, she called “Maizy’s Pupcakes”. She recalls,
“She was too young and new to the game to trust her to stay on a float… But, dare I say, Kiwi was a fairly prominent fixture at PUGkinFest for 13 years. (She) just understood from a very early age that all I wanted her to do was sit there and look cute. She brought her A game every year. She was a real pro!
Last year the committee honored Kiwi’s life at PUGkinFest. It was very touching.”
Janet admits that she thinks of costume ideas year round, and her work on one usually begins in May. The costume competition, however, is a small part of the work she does as a PUGkinFest participant and volunteer. She began helping with the planning and event day volunteering in 2005. Her role started out as small and has increased throughout the years.
Above: Janet at a PUGkin 2018 planning meeting.
The first meeting of each season is held in July to consider the theme. Once that is determined, ideas start flowing, and they don’t stop. Janet collaborates with artist Anne Austin, who volunteers her time and work to design the event image. Janet uses this image to begin designing event materials such as flyers, lanyards, winner certificates, sponsor sheets, and vendor passports. All printed materials are the result of Janet’s efforts. Additionally, she coordinates the raffle.
“I pick up things throughout the year that I think would make fun themes for baskets. I have a collection of fabrics for bandanas and blankets that rivals the stock at Jo-Ann’s! When all of the bins (17 of them) come in from the garage, it’s like an obstacle course to get through my foyer and living room. Shawn is very patient with the overwhelming clutter which remains for about three months.”
Her sister, Nancy, (who doesn’t have a dog but has been proclaimed as The Best Dog Aunt in the World!) works tirelessly alongside her, designing the baskets to be raffled. Together they make the bandanas, dog beds, and fleece blankets all of which are test-driven and approved by her pug.
As if that weren’t enough, Janet works with Hanna Cofer of PRA to coordinate donated items used for the online auction that is held in the days leading up to PUGkinFest. She collects items for and assembles the welcome packets that attendees receive upon registration. Up until this year she has baked the dog biscuits included in the packets, but this year a vendor is taking over that task. Don’t be quick to call her a slacker, however, because she has now taken on the responsibility of media promotions, which involves contacting 17 online sites in order to have them place the event on their calendars. This is crucial for creating community awareness of the event and to encourage attendance.
When asked about her motivation to continue her volunteer work each year, Janet states,
“What brings me back is my 17 bins of raffle basket goodies that I MUST distribute! I have more new dog toys than PetSmart. It’s a sickness, really. I see a toy that I think would be appropriate for a theme, and I buy it, all year round. Seriously, my motivation is supporting Pug Rescue, of course! I love that The Austin Pug Club is able to hold a fun event and make a lot of money that we can then donate to PRA. I love that it’s an event that doesn’t put too much of a strain on the already overwhelmed, hard working PRA volunteer base. I love the members of the Planning Committee. The other four core members – Rita Hagan, Angie Stahl, Coti Heusmann, and Molly Rose Davidson are a joy to work with. We have identified our individual strengths over the years, and we know that together, we can accomplish a hell of a lot.”
P.T. Barnum surely had Janet in mind when he said,
“Whatever you do, do it with all of your might. Work at it, if necessary, early and late, in season and out of season, not leaving a stone unturned, and never deferring for a single hour that which can be done just as well now.“
It is obvious to all that know and love Janet, that she enjoys the costume competition. She, Kiwi, and now young Maizy, have competed in other costume competitions, but she considers Austin Pug Club and PUGkin her home.
Each year she looks forward to seeing what her fellow competitors have created. She adds,
“Pugs in costumes just make me smile.”
Above: a winner at 2017’s PUGkin Fest
Of equal importance to Janet is her work on the PUGkin Committee.
“The Committee works hard, but we really do have fun. And then, attending the event and seeing the audience and contestants enjoying themselves really makes the hard work worth it.”
“The noblest art is that of making others happy.” – P.T. Barnum
Janet and her husband Shawn welcomed ten-week-old Sadie into their lives 28 years ago and they haven’t been without a pug in their household for more than a few months since. They have made their home with three “wonderful little joyful pugs” – Sadie, Kiwi, and now Maizy.