As a crusading newspaper columnist, I am occasionally required to leave the safety of my house and speak directly with members of the general public.
On most of these journalistic adventures, however, I am not expected to take my dogs along for the ride.
But that changed last week when the nice folks at PetSmart invited me to bring my hounds -- a miniature dachshund named Zoe and a Maltese-bichon frise mix I've dubbed Mr. X -- to their Regent Avenue West store to try on the latest in Halloween costumes for pets.
If you have never attempted to stuff nervous dogs into snug costumes and then persuade them to remain motionless long enough for a professional photographer to take their pictures, you have never experienced the full joy of pet ownership.
On the ride to the store, with my daughter Kayleigh riding shotgun, the dogs whimpered like wounded woodland creatures, because they were convinced we were heading to the veterinarian's office for vaccinations, or the dog groomer for hardcore haircuts.
Their moods improved somewhat at the pet store, because the staff were generous when it came to handing out doggie treats.
Jason Paterson, manager of PetSmart's big-box outlet -- two more stores are planned to open in 2014 -- says more and more pet owners are buying into the Halloween costume trend.
"People go crazy; they go gaga over this," Paterson explains as we root through racks of brightly coloured outfits for dogs. "I would say the number of people coming in and buying seasonal apparel for their pets has tripled (in recent years).
"It's a hot trend. As we get closer to Halloween, that customer traffic gets even more steady."
These days, he says, passionate owners view their animals as furry family members, not just pets. That means pets play a bigger role in their family's seasonal celebrations.
"It doesn't matter what kind of pet you have, they're becoming more and more involved in the events their owners are involved in," Paterson says. "So when parents take their kids out trick-or-treating, they're taking the dogs out, too."
Even small animals are getting into the act. This year, for the first time, PetSmart stocked tiny costumes -- a duck, a pumpkin face and a devil -- for rabbits and guinea pigs. Lizards might get their chance next year.
"They were the first to go," Paterson says, laughing. "We're sold out of our small-animal costumes. It was the first year, an experiment, and it was very well received. It's giving pet parents what they want, what they're asking for."
Paterson's store offers more than 30 different Halloween ensembles for dogs, whereas cat costumes are limited to amusing headgear like a witch's hat, a cowboy hat, or a devil hat with horns.
"People tend to take their dogs out for a walk on Halloween as opposed to their cats, so you see more full-body costumes for dogs," he points out.
There's no single favourite costume for well-dressed mutts this Halloween, but lines from Disney and Martha Stewart are flying off the shelves. The prices range from about $10 to around $30.
This year's offerings include Winnie-the-Pooh, Mickey Mouse, dinosaurs, assorted monsters, frogs, a paramedic-firefighter, a police officer, a doctor or nurse, a French maid, a skeleton, a pirate and Woody from Toy Story, as well as harnesses festooned with angel wings or spider legs.
Shortly after arriving at the store, Zoe the wiener dog was puttering around dressed like a canine Snow White. Chirped my daughter Kayleigh: "It's so cute! (To Zoe) Look how pretty you are! Do you feel pretty?"
In contrast, Mr. X (a.k.a. "Bogey") did a good impression of the star of Jaws with a menacing shark fin strapped to his furry white body. "He looks pretty tough," my daughter said. "I like that on him. It's funny. (To Mr. X) Are you a ferocious beast?"
Aided by a remarkably patient Paterson, Zoe was also transformed into Mickey Mouse, a red polka-dot dinosaur with blue metallic scales -- "I like it; she looks ridiculous," my daughter squealed -- a pink, horned monster and a witch with a pointed hat and stringy black hair.
Mr. X was, in turn, a bug-eyed black cat -- "It's his true nature," Kayleigh remarked -- a yellow cyclops monster and a hound with a plush "Acme rocket" spewing flames strapped to his back.
I wouldn't say the dogs enjoyed getting dressed up, but they didn't hate it either, and, according to my daughter, they looked "super cute." It's a lot like taking your kids to have their photos taken with Santa Claus.
If you're in the market for canine costumes this Halloween, PetSmart welcomes your best friend to visit and try some on for size. "When you're trying to figure out what size costume your pet needs or what looks good, it makes sense to have them come in and try some on," Paterson advises. "It saves having to bring five costumes home and then bring four back. Our staff will help you try them on."
As for cynics who find the dress-up trend just a bit odd, Paterson says, "For people who think it's crazy, they should just think about what those pets mean to their families and ask themselves what lengths they'd go to to make someone happy, and it might make a bit more sense."
For the record, on the ride home, the only sound from the back seat was my pets' gently snoring. Because a few hours of trick-or-treating can leave anyone dog tired.