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.

Gotcha Day Must-Have Items

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It’s a Bowl! It’s A Cake! No, It’s a Bowl Cake

And the cake is filled with gourmet biscuits, so every bit of this yummy dessert is edible. The cake’s packed with nutritious ingredients like carrots, broccoli, rosemary, and the meat of your choice: beef, pork, chicken or lamb. The frosting is made of potatoes or sweet potatoes and colored with mashed fruit. Serves six to eight little dogs, or two to four big ones. BUY IT: Barking Good, $91.50

Put On The Puppy Party Clothes

Dress your sweetie for his big day in a gotcha day shirt customized with his name. It’s available in 14 colors and sizes ranging from XS to 6XL. This also makes a great gift if you’ve been invited to a gotcha party. The shirt’s made of stretchy cotton, and you can put any message you want on it. BUY IT: Whiskers World, $16.95 to $18.95

Tie One On

If your pup’s not into wearing clothes, but you still want him looking festive for his big day, dress him in this custom bandana. It’s available in eight colors and a range of sizes that will fit any dog from teacup poodle to Great Dane. It’s also a great gotcha party gift. BUY IT: Jannie Mae Creations, $22.99 to $28.99

Bake a Cake

For a more affordable alternative to custom doggy cakes from a bakery, make your own with Pooch Cake mix for dogs. Pick from peanut butter, banana and pumpkin spice. There’s even a packet of frosting mix included. BUY IT: Chewy.com, $5.99

Pick a Pack of Party Favors

Give your pup’s pals some goodies to take home from the bash. Fill these handmade paper boxes with treats to hand out to guests. They’ll keep the tails wagging long after the pawty's over. BUY IT: The Rescue Mama, $13.99 for six

Put Your Pup on a People Cookie

You need to feed the humans at the party, too, so serve them a batch of Kritter Portrait Kookies with your dog’s face on them. Send a photo, and the bakers will paint your fur kid on each one. Talk about personalized pup party food. You can choose from vanilla sugar cookies, chocolate sugar cookies, gingerbread or gluten-free sugar cookies. BUY IT: Odd One Out Kookie, $100 for a batch of 24

Royal for a Day

Make your fur kid king or queen of the party with a glittery gotcha day crown. It’s custom made to fit your dog with an elastic strap to hold it on her head long enough for you to get a photo. Because a dog in a crown = Too cute! BUY IT: Perfect Dog Bows, $12.99 to $14.99

Gotcha Day Greetings

Take the guest of honor a handmade gotcha day card. It’s made of recycled paper, and the inside is blank so you can write a personal message to the dog of the day. No worries, his human can read it to him. BUY IT: Wiggle Pug, $4.31

A Slice of Toy Cake

Every dog at the party can take the cake with the Major Rager Party Cake. There are seven slices of squeaky toy fun, so each guest can take one home. Plus, it comes packaged in cake box — totally adorable. BUY IT: BarkShop, $36

A Sign Your Fur Kid Is Family

Commemorate the day your fur kid joined your family with a custom sign showing their name and gotcha day. Each sign is custom made, with room for up to five dogs, so it’s a fab gotcha gift for a serial dog rescuer. BUY IT: Moose Oliver Designs, $60

Put a Party Hat on Your Pup

It’s his big day, so don’t settle for a paper hat. Go with this handmade, crocheted one that’s soft on his head and absolutely adorbs. It’s made with vegan, cruelty-free yarn which will not impress your dog, a carnivore who never met a strip of bacon he wouldn’t eat, but it's something you can feel good about. BUY IT: Hello Stubby Lou, $17.95

Make It a Banner Day

Decorate for your hound’s gotcha day gala with this handmade banner. Each pennant has handcut letters and shapes adhered to kraft paper and strung on jute twine. You can customize it however you like. Use it for a photo backdrop so your fur kid can pose for photos with her pals. BUY IT: Pointing Dog Paper, $11.50

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