Before big games in Ravens Country, we see the most enthusiastic fans changing into purple clothes, flying the team colors on their cars, layering on beads and painting their faces. They order colored cupcakes, decorate their homes and shake pompoms at pep rallies.
But lately, the truly passionate are taking it all a step more purple.
Toby the Shih Tzu's sporting a purple mohawk. Cockapoo Junie's prancing about with ears the shade of a ripe plum. And little Sparkles? Sparkles has a purple tail, purple ears, feet to match and what looks like Ray Lewis' number tattooed on her furry behind.
"You're ready for the game? You are? Go Ravens! That's what you say," coos Barb Costello as she fetches her freshly-dyed Maltipoo puppy from the salon and attempts to narrate Sparkle's feelings about changing from an ordinary white dog to a full-blown Ravens mascot.
"I'm a huge Ravens fan and Sparkles is just like her mommy — she loves bling and she loves attention," she says.
Area groomers recently started offering dye jobs for pets, places like Hair off the Dog in Canton and Pawsitively Purrfect in Edgewood. But it's a salon in Ellicott City called the Silver Hydrant that appears to be the unofficial headquarters for those interested in Ravens-themed pet coloring.
The shop, right off Frederick Road in Ellicott City, is festooned with purple and black streamers. Gold stars dangle from the ceiling. A Ravens banner hangs near the door and another along the back wall features photographs of the staff's purple customers. There's Daisy and Champ, Ginger, Sushi, Bentley, Max, Marley, Lilly, Bebe and Natalie Bo — all pups whose owners have had them dip-dyed in the name of the home team.
Before a recent Ravens game, the salon filled with four-legged clients ready for their Miss Clairol moment. When the shop opened that Thursday, stylist Sarah Brostrom's appointment book was back-to-back dye jobs.
Barb Costello of Ellicott City was there, with heavy purple eye shadow and a sweater to match, handing over her Sparkles. Toby and a terrier named Cocoa were on deck, anticipating spiked, purple mohawks. Columbia's Genie Wessel wanted the color on her five-year-old Cockapoo freshened up — she'd had the pup's ears dyed at the start of the pre-season and they had begun to fade.
For Wessel, coloring has become yet another way to show off her beloved dog, who already wears a yellow slicker in the rain, a bikini and a visor on beach trips and regularly entertains an audience on the family's Facebook account.
"We had her at Bethany and she just stopped and had everyone look at her ears," Wessel said. "She's a showboat."
Of course when seeking attention with a colored pet, it's not all going to be positive. When teen pop star Selena Gomez painted a horse pink for a music video earlier this year, she was blasted by both celebrity animal lovers and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Gomez' explanation that the coloring was nontoxic did little to calm anyone down.
Costello, too, has endured her share of scowls and head-shaking. And a man at the beach recently objected outright to Wessel.
"He said, 'Is that really necessary?'" she told folks at the salon. "I said, "Well, she's a Ravens fan."
Costello added: "They should be able to root for their team, too."
The Silver Hydrant has seen more and more customers asking for colored pets. They'll do bright green for St. Patrick's Day. Orange and black for Orioles games. The Fourth of July and Halloween are huge.
But purple ones as an homage to the Ravens have become increasingly popular. Brostrom estimates about half her clients have started doing it. It's to the point she's considering buying purple dye in bulk.
"It's word of mouth," she says. "As soon as someone sees it, they ask where they got it done. A lot of people say, 'Oh my God, I need that in my life.'"
Dye jobs start at about $12 for a Mohawk. The cost works its way up with the size of the dog and the scale of the project. For Junie's ears and tail, Brostrom planned to charge $20. Though some customers opt for colored gel that will rinse off after a bath, others choose dye that lasts up to six weeks.
The salon uses dye made for animals. It's nontoxic and safe even if a dog should give it a taste — which they've been known to do. Sparkles gave one of her new purple "boots" a lick while Brostrom worked on her in the bathtub, rinse water running like grape juice down the drain.
Brostrom has been experimenting to achieve the perfect Ravens shade of violet. She'll custom mix the colors. She'll try various brands. But because it's a work in progress, dogs have a way of walking out of the salon with surprise shades. Some get a deep, electric purple. Others a more pastel lavender. The color and texture of a dog's coat affects the result, too. The same shade that appeared lavender on Sparkles looked plum on Junie.
Brostrom half-jokingly calls one of her own dogs, a white Cockapoo named Bean, her product tester. She's had hearts spray-painted onto her tummy, one red eyelash and one blue for Independence Day, and stars affixed to her butt. Currently the understanding pup is sporting the message "No. 1 Ravens fan" on her side and purple eyelashes and sparkly ears.
The stylist and Tonya Pomeroy, the Hydrant's owner, are about the biggest Baltimore football fans you'll find.
They joke, or perhaps they aren't really joking, that they'd refuse to dye a dog Redskins colors or, God forbid, do a job for the pet of a Pittsburgh fan.
"If you would like yellow or black, that's fine. But I will not do a Roethlisberger stencil or a "Go Steelers," Brostrom says, shaking her head. "They know if they are here they're not getting anything else but purple."
While the women shave and snip, they speculate on the dogs various Ravens players might have — and the chances one of them might walk into the salon to have their pup made purple.
Joe Flacco, they see with a "normal," "playful" dog like a Labrador or a Golden Retriever. Ray Lewis would "totally" have a Pit bull. They're pretty sure Ed Reed's got a Poodle because "he's a showy guy and he'd want a showy dog."
"I couldn't see Terrell Suggs walking around with a Maltese with purple bows and purple in her hair," Brostrom says. "But you never know."