There was a pimp in a purple velvet coat and a ballerina in a tutu. There was "Superdog" and "Hotdog" and a sheltie with a star-studded magician's cape.

And then there was Curly, sporting a strap-on mohawk, strand after golden strand of plastic beads and an oversized medallion that blared "Winner."

"It's partly his personality and partly his size. He's big and sweet and goofy, and it just seemed right," Amy Coggin, a criminal defense investigator, said of her decked-out 7-year-old, shelter-rescued black Labrador retriever.

"You might just characterize it as 'bling bling,' " said Coggin, promising that Curly was enjoying his foray as Mr. T yesterday during Halloween festivities at the Mount Vernon Government Center in the Alexandria section of Fairfax County. "He thinks he's really stylish when he gets dressed up."

From golden retrievers in California dressed as cowboys to today's costumed canine trick-or-treaters in Northern Virginia, proud owners -- whether kidless, creative or simply entertainment-starved -- can't seem to resist dolling up their beloved dogs.

There is often cover, a cause to hide behind, such as a needy shelter or, in the case of the Fairfax event, a fundraiser to build a leash-free dog park near the home of the first U.S. president.

But, come on. A split-personality Chihuahua named Angel with wings, halo, devil's cape and horns?

"It's just a bunch of average people who are insanely nuts about their dogs," said Jim Davis, a piano tuner and the co-conspirator behind Mr. T's ensemble.

There remains, of course, the matter of communication. Dogs react differently to goofy get-ups. The dozens of owners who took part in yesterday's Mount Vernon Area Dog Opportunity Group event, which included costume competitions and a police K-9 unit demonstration, had to sign a waiver.

"Knowing that participation in this 'Howl'-aween Event is a potentially hazardous activity, my dog and I enter and participate in this Event certifying that we are medically able and properly trained," read the pumpkin-orange entry form.

The caution proved unnecessary, although several dogs, including a 51/2-month-old yellow Lab, attempted to make their objections clear.

"At first, she tried to bite the wings," said Vicki Gotcher, who plays clarinet with "The President's Own" United States Marine Band when she's not dressing up her dog Nilla in a leotard-like bumble bee outfit. "She did really good with the antennas. You'd think that would bother her more because it was flopping in her eyes."

It was Nilla's third Halloween gathering this year, with one more scheduled for today. "I'm getting the most out of that costume," Gotcher said.

Mimi Pollow's Lhasa apso Merryweather declined to attend.

"I know if I get bit that they don't want to wear a costume," Pollow said. Merryweather was going to be a princess but stayed home after chomping Pollow's hand. Her other Lhasa, Navarre, came as a Jimmy Buffett-esque beach bum, complete with Hawaiian shirt and tiny beer holsters.

"She's very high strung," Pollow said. "He'll do anything."

Competition was fierce as contestants went nose to nose for prizes, including vizsla Jack, left, and English bulldog Sampson. Bubbles, a Shih Tzu owned by Jim Crouch, was a good witch flying on a skateboard at the "Howl"-aween party at Mount Vernon Government Center.Owners applaud at the announcement of one of the decisions by the judges, members of Fairfax County's fire and rescue squad from Station 9.