'Bark Mitzvahs' are the latest way some Jewish-American pet owners are choosing to celebrate their dog 'coming of age'.
It's a very special day for Nicky. The Pomerian pooch is two years old - or roughly 13 years old in dog years - and he is celebrating his "Bark Mitzvah". Decked out in sacred garments, the pup enters doggie adulthood through a performed blessing as millions of human male teenagers of the Jewish faith do across the globe when they come of age.
It's one of the latest crazes in dog-lover circles and part of a booming multi-million dollar industry. Lee Day, a specialised pet entertainer and Bark Mitzvah performer says there's nothing wrong in having a bit of fun. "I perform Bark Mitzvahs because it's a blessing for the animals. I really believe the animals have a right to have a party and a religion. People have it. It's a blessing for the animal and it gives them attention and that to me is very, very important."
Christine Ciaramello runs a 'Barkery' (sic) for from her house in a New York suburb. She says she got the idea from watching the dog-party industry boom when she was a grooming assistant. Her company now offers a special catering package for Bark Mitzvahs. "A normal party package would be the single dog party package. It starts at 95 (US dollars). It includes a 6 by 3 (inch) cake, the balloons, cookies, a bandana and the hat and a toy," she says.
The cakes are not Kosher but are hugely popular according to Ciaramello. She says the key to her success is having her own dogs approve each new recipe. The Bar Mitzvah is an ancient Jewish religious ceremony. It marks the coming of age of Jewish boys and recognises them as adults, responsible for their moral and religious duties.
So with all the wacky fun and games associated with a Bark Mitzvah, many believe that a line is being crossed. Rabbi Daniel Satlow says he thinks coming of age ceremonies for pets are inappropriate. "When I first heard about it, I have to admit I was taken aback. It was a little silly, I thought at first. But then as I thought about it more, there's kind of an insulting element to it. This is a sacred ritual - a tradition that goes back centuries. This is something that young Jewish adults prepare for for years. It's really a part of a sacred tradition. To imagine a dog could do anything like this is degrading," he says.
But the rabbi also says there may be one positive side to the latest craze for Bark Mitzvahs: "What's interesting about it all also is that it's another sign of how Judaism has become very mainstream in America. Everybody knows about a Bar Mitzvah. It's not some secret ritual for a cloistered few. This is a part of the American language, so I'm not surprised that the pale imitation of it has spread."
Rabbi Satlow's congregant, Sara Nuland, says Bar Mitzvah's are not all about the party and a dog could never understand the meaning of the ceremony: "I think it's kind of ridiculous. I mean, it's a life cycle event essentially so what stage of life is the dog in?" Nicky's owner, Dave Nufrio says they chose to host the party to celebrate their beloved pet's life. He says that after six years in the Nufrio home, Nick is one of the family.
"He (Nicky) really anticipated and knew this was going to happen. He rides with me in the car, we go out, we shop - we were getting everything together. I couldn't believe even today, that he actually could almost sense it or feel it. We did have a dress rehearsal to make sure that his tux (tuxedo) fit, but I really think he knew today that this was it. It's been a lot of fun. He's going to be pretty tired tomorrow," he says.
Whether or not Bark Mitzvahs are barking mad, Nicky seems to enjoy being centre of attention on his special day.
Footage from the celebration you can see HERE!