How to Throw a Gotcha Party for Your Dog

Celebrate the day you adopted your fur kid with the perfect puppy party.

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Heather Robinson puts a lot of planning into the party she has for her basset hound, Darlene, every year. She makes goodie bags full of grain-free treats for dogs and cupcakes for their humans, picks out a party dress for Darlene, and sends out invitations specifying no cats allowed. Last year, around 20 dogs showed up for the bash at a dog park near Heather’s home in Knoxville, Tenn.

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Labrador retriever dog with a birthday cake and a party hat

Photo by: © iStockphoto/Ljupco

© iStockphoto/Ljupco

But this isn’t a birthday party. Heather doesn’t know the date Darlene was born, or exactly how old she is, because she got the hound from a rescue after she was found abandoned on the side of the highway. Heather does know the date Darlene became her fur baby: Sept. 15, 2012. So that’s the day she celebrates each year. “It’s the anniversary of when her new life started,” Heather says. That adoption anniversary is called a gotcha day, and throwing a party to celebrate it has become a thing.

Last year, around 1.7 million people threw parties for their pets, says the American Pet Products Association (APPA). Millennials, who comprise the largest percentage of pet owners in the U.S., are the ones most likely to host a dog party, says the APPA. Since 46 percent of us adopted our dogs from rescues, humane societies and animal shelters, a lot of the people throwing parties for their pups don’t know their birthdays. Hence, the popularity of gotcha parties.

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West highland white terrier with birthday party hat .

Photo by: © iStockphoto/arosoft

© iStockphoto/arosoft

“I’ve been throwing them for my dogs for years,” says Kathy Kontrim of Memphis, Tenn. She does the whole shebang, with a custom dog cake from a bakery, party favors and hats, special plates and napkins and dog-themed decorations. One of the highlights of the event each May is when she brings out the cake, the guests sing “Happy Gotcha Day,” and her basset hound, Herbie, howls along with the song. “He knows the cake, the party, everything, is for him,” she says.

This year, Kathy is asking guests to bring donations for the rescue where she got Herbie and his siblings, Barney and Webster, instead of gifts. “This is a great way to give back to the group that saved their lives,” Kathy says. Humans have been donating their birthdays to causes for a few years, and now the trend is going to the dogs, with owners donating their pup’s big day to animal-related charities. Party hosts are donating their gotcha days to animal shelters, rescues, free spay and neuter clinics, health foundations that focus on veterinary research for dogs, and organizations that give grants to pet owners who can’t afford vet bills.

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poodle dog having a party with serpentine streamers, for birthday or new years eve and blowing a whistle horn wearing a hat

Photo by: © iStockphoto/damedeeso

© iStockphoto/damedeeso

And yes, the humans who throw parties for their dogs know some of you are laughing at them. They don’t care. “The people who think [dog parties are] for losers were probably sitting at home scrolling their Facebook feed out of boredom while we spent the day in a beautiful park, basking in the sun and surrounded by a dozen basset hounds wagging and running wild.” Heather says. “Darlene has made my life so much more enjoyable because she has this amazing happy spirit, even through difficult times. She brings joy to me every day.”

Thinking about throwing a gotcha party for your rescued pup? Here are some ideas:

Agility Party

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A golden retriever jump barrier

Photo by: © iStockphoto/PhotoTalk

© iStockphoto/PhotoTalk

Many dog training businesses offer indoor and outdoor agility courses that can be rented for parties. Your dog and her guests can jump hurdles, run on the teeter totter and get their ya-yas out. They’ll work up an appetite for their dog birthday cake for sure.

Dog Park Party

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Portrait of "Rosie," a Jack Russell-Dachshund mix with a pink bow tie lying on the grass next to a football. By using this photo, you are supporting the Amanda Foundation, a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to helping homeless animals find permanent loving homes.

Photo by: © iStockphoto/amandafoundation.org

© iStockphoto/amandafoundation.org

Pack up the pupcakes and party favors, and invite your pooch’s friends to the dog park so your pups can romp off-leash. It’s a good idea to go during off hours, like a weekday, so there won’t be a crowd. Check with your parks and recreation department to see if you can rent a portion of the dog park for a private party. If you’re a dog park regular, your pooch has met a lot of friends there. You might opt to just show up with party goodies and have an impromptu bash, open to any and all dogs.

Pup Pool Party

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Brown dog in a pool

Photo by: © iStockphotoaleksandrovaphoto

© iStockphotoaleksandrovaphoto

If your fur baby’s gotcha day is in the summer, put out some plastic baby pools in your yard so your party guests can go for a dip. Put out tiki torches, serve tropical drinks to the humans, and serve dog beer to the four-legged guests. Yes, there’s such a thing as dog beer, a non-alcoholic beverage made with malt barley and meat. Chill it, and pour it into bowls.

Pick A Theme

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Sat dachshund at Carnival party - head up.

Photo by: © iStockphoto/lucato

© iStockphoto/lucato

You can have so much fun with this. Take a cue from your dog’s name. Did you name him for Lyle Lovett? Have a country music-themed party. Get a cake shaped like a guitar and a cowboy hat for you dog to wear, and play honky tonk classics. Or have a luau, because, dogs in leis. Is your dog’s gotcha day in February? Do a Mardi Gras party. Purple, gold and green all around, with a doggie king cake.

Don’t Forget Pup Party Essentials

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844175138

Cute dog with party hat and birthday cake

Photo by: © iStockphoto/RuthBlack

© iStockphoto/RuthBlack

For an epic gotcha party, you'll need a theme, a dog cake, party favors, food for the humans, plenty of cold water for the pups, cold beverages for the humans and poop bags. You must bring poop bags.

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