PORTLAND – Coming up with creative costumes each year for her 18 cats can be a bit challenging for Hilda Taylor.

So sometimes, Taylor has to look for ideas and costumes in places she’d rather not talk about.

Like when she’s describing the blue wizard costume she whipped up one year for Bingo, one of her kitties.

“They are basically pajamas for a D-O-G,” said Taylor, who runs a business in Portland called Urban Catsitters. When asked why she launched into a spelling lesson, she said, “Because Bingo is sitting right here.”

Apparently, what he doesn’t know won’t hurt him, as Bingo looked proud and even a little smug posing in his wizard outfit.

Another of Taylor’s cats, Rubin, also seems to enjoy posing in his Halloween garb.

She’s got a photo of him with a tiny farmer’s hat balanced precariously on his head. She didn’t even need to fasten it.

“He didn’t move. He loves to be photographed, and he doesn’t seem to mind dressing up if he knows there’s a great picture involved,” said Taylor.

Every year, it seems more and more people are expanding the boundaries of Halloween by dressing up their cats and dogs along with themselves and their children. Or sometimes, instead of themselves and their children.

And more and more pet stores and animal organizations are holding Halloween pet costume contests, so proud owners can show off their creativity and their kitties or canines.

To find the reason for all this excitement about animals dressed up for Halloween, all you have to do is look at a picture of Bingo. Or Rubin.

Or any other costumed critter.

“It’s never not funny,” said Kathy Palmer, owner of the Fetch pet supply store on Commercial Street in Portland. “Halloween is for families and for kids, but for a few minutes, when they’re dressed up, the animals get all the attention.”

Palmer and other animal lovers say it’s important to be sure not to put anything on your animal that restricts movement or breathing, or otherwise causes discomfort.

By following those guidelines, you’ll find that pets will put up with a lot in terms of dressing up for the amusement of their owners.

“My dogs are therapy dogs (at Maine Medical Center in Portland), so they’re dressed up a lot anyway,” said Lori Sirois of Portland about her two pugs, Sissy and Puggy. “I think they see me coming and just say, ‘OK, let’s get this over with.’ “

Sirois has won a few costume contests with her dogs over the years, and she says it helps to be handy with a needle and thread. She often gets her inspiration from children’s costumes, then adapts those ideas to her pugs.

One year, for instance, she dressed up Sissy and Puggy as Raggedy Ann and Andy, with red yarn for hair and matching outfits. This year, she made lion costumes for them — who says pugs aren’t fearsome?

And she’s already got an idea for next year. You know those Anne Geddes photos of babies in pea pods or flowerpots? Sirois has some pug-sized flowerpots for Sissy and Puggy to sit in, and she’ll create flowery costumes with fabric petals fastened to the dogs.

“I’m going to call them pug-tunias,” she said.

If you can’t think of a costume or aren’t handy with a thread and needle, you can go to the store or online and choose from hundreds, if not thousands, of costumes.

One year, Taylor dressed one of her cats — a white one named Cleveland — in a dog costume she purchased. It was supposed to be a knight, but Taylor thought the shiny purple outfit made Cleveland look more like Prince, the singer.

Taylor laments that pet store costume contests aren’t always fair for kitties. It’s because usually there are a lot more dogs, and dogs are more likely to sit still and be judged. But this year, there are some online Halloween pet photo contests — at Fetch and at the national chain Petco — where you can snap a picture and send it in.

Karen Gallagher, an interior designer from North Yarmouth, snapped her two long-haired Chihuahuas, Judy and Fawn, in part to help bring a little bit of home to her two children in college. “They get a real kick out of it,” said Gallagher.

Gallagher bought this year’s costumes — a bumblebee and a spider — online and ordered extra small because her dogs are so tiny. Still, she had to alter them to make them fit.

Gallagher said her dogs will probably wear the costumes a lot this Halloween season. They seem to enjoy them.

“It’s sort of hilarious, because they wear them all the time,” said Gallagher, owner of Karen Gallagher Interiors. “The hats don’t last long, but I think the costumes are warm and cozy for them.”

Not to mention that seeing pets dressed up makes people feel warm and cozy.

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at: [email protected]