A disguised dog is seen during the "Blocao" dog carnival parade in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, Feb. 12, 2012. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Most pre-Carnival street parties in Brazil are all about samba, but the moves on display at Sunday's Blocao parade were focused more on wagging and strategic sniffing than on fancy footwork.
Hundreds of decked-out dogs — and a few brave cats — got in on the Carnival fun at Rio de Janeiro's annual pet-friendly parade: Labradors in pink tutus or engineers' overalls cavorted with Maltese terriers with fairy wings, and poodles in superheros' capes sniffed sausage dogs dressed up as Salome, with sequin-covered harem pants.
Carnival is perhaps the defining moment in Brazilian life, and the annual Blocao — a play on the word for street party, "bloco," and dog, or "cao" — allows four-legged family members a chance to take part in the fun.
"The animal excitement is taking over Copacabana," said Blocao organizer Marco Antonio Toto as the parade's sound truck, topped by an enormous inflatable terrier, crawled its way down the seaside Atlantica Avenue. "The neighborhood of Copacabana has currently the most dog owners per square meter. It deserves this prestigious party. Our animals deserve this celebration."
Talent agent Ariane Raballo made the trip from Rio's sister city of Niteroi to parade with her two mini Yorkies dressed as Carmen Miranda, complete with cornucopias of tiny tropical fruits on their heads.
"We come every year," said Raballo, as Maia and Lady Kate strained at the leash to sniff the four-legged passers-by and posed coquettishly as parade-goers of the two-legged variety snapped photos with their iPhones. "They love it."
Spirits were high, and there was remarkably few fights: Gigantic Rhodesian ridgebacks romped with teacup poodles, and lumbering labs palled around with cocker spaniels. Leashes required constant detangling as new friends taking in each others' scent tied themselves in knots.
Even Kiko, a 3-year-old dachshund dressed as a hot-dog, was enjoying himself.
"Normally, he's not a very social dog, with humans or other dogs," said his owner, Denis Naiff, a psychology professor whose wife and daughter were sporting matching hamburger hats. "But he's really having fun. Must be the Carnival spirit."
The heat looked to have some of the dogs down, and some owners poured water into their pets' mouths to cool them down.
Eduardo Jonathan, a 31-year-old makeup artist dressed as Batman, said he was suffering under his rubber costume, though Batman Jr. his 5-year-old Yorkie, looked to be taking the heat in stride. The dog hammed it up for the TV cameras as Jonathan and a friend disguised as the Joker sweated off their facepaint.
Two men dressed as giant ticks looked even hotter. Their many-legged costumes were made out of synthetic fur, and both had removed their masks so as to avoid suffocation as they passed out fliers for an anti-parasite spray.
"I think the fact that the Blocao exists and that so many people are here with their pets shows that the attitudes toward animals are changing here," said Elisabeth Monetiro, a public servant attending with her two of her three rescue dogs. Three-year-old mutts Princesa and Juliette were dressed up as she-devils, complete with glowing red horn headbands.
"Finally, society is starting to understand that even if you don't like animals, you have to respect them," said Monteiro, who volunteers with an animal rights group.
London-based ceramist Mario d'Oliveira was using the occasion to make a different kind of point.
Holding an "invisible dog" on the end of a stiff wire leash, d'Oliveira approached passing children, who either laughed or nearly cried at his antics.
"You can tell a lot about people by how they react," he said. "An invisible dog is also quite a conversation piece, so you when you walk him, you end up making lots of new friends."