It has finally happened.
I haven’t yet physically encountered a dog I don’t love, except perhaps for Dennis of Ottawa, a standard white poodle who savaged my hand once upon a time — and even then, I confess, I looked for him with some longing the last time I was exiled to that city and walked by his house.
I try the patience of my friends very much in this regard (and in others, but that’s for another day). They can be in mid-confessional, telling the most wrenching of stories, and with a “Hold that thought” gesture, I will still bolt across any given street to greet a comely mutt.
But I have at least now heard of, if not actually met, my Waterloo — dogs I’m not interested in knowing.
In last weekend’s New York Times Sunday Styles section, there was a story headlined, “On Leash or Off, We Run in Packs.” It was one of perhaps two stories in the entire monster paper that called to me. Little did I know it was one of those guaranteed to make me realize that I have become too old for the world, not to mention for the Times.
The story was not about dogs.
It was about “puppy play enthusiasts,” a subculture of the bondage, dominance, sadism and masochism (BDSM) community.
Many adherents, the story said, are young gay men.
They adopt pet names (one, a psychology prof at the University of California at Santa Cruz, is “Pup Turbo” and identifies as a beagle, whereas I think he ought to identify as a patient).
Some wear puppy masks, chains and leashes (and jockstraps, to judge by one of the accompanying photographs) while out and about on group walks in San Francisco parks.
At least one fellow (and the story identified most of the men quoted by their real and pup names) for a time asked his friends and colleagues at work to refer to him by “pup,” instead of a pronoun. And at least one couple got married in their dog collars, you know, to demonstrate their commitment to each other — as the writer put it, a symbol “more visible than a ring, and more specific” — and still wear them.
(Pups are apparently different from “furries,” who dress up in animal suits. And they are both different from “bunnies,” which the author didn’t explain and which I have neither heart nor stomach to Google.)
There is no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation, as Justin Trudeau’s father once famously said. I agreed with him then and I agree now. And there’s no more room for me or anyone else there, either. What consenting adults do behind closed doors is their business, period.
But my hunch is that those who identify as “emotional support” pups, or prefer to communicate in barks and whimpers instead of words or who insist on being identified by their pup names, aren’t just being “playful” or any of the other benign descriptors used in the story. I think they’re probably suffering some sort of mental illness, or upset. And the fact that a beagle-identifying psychology prof thinks all this is merely “instinctual” just confirms many of my apprehensions about college professors.
That The New York Times considers presenting all this in such a look-nothing-weird-here manner, in with the fluffy fashion pieces and ads for clothes and life styles no one should aspire to afford, merely reminds me, again, that it may finally be time to cancel my subscription.
Not to mention, of course, and the Times is as keenly alert to this phenomenon as any news organization on the continent, there’s the matter of cultural appropriation.
This isn’t about improperly borrowing a cultural practice, for Pete’s sake. This is about stealing a species. As the Times itself might put it, in other circumstances, what about the dog “community”? How about consulting with the mutt world first, before you put the stamp of approval on human dog-collar wearing, nuzzling and whimpering instead of speaking and roaming city parks in mask-wearing packs?
I used to own a great black Lab cross, one Blux, who came to me as an unneutered adult. He’d been rescued from the country, and had the bullet wounds to prove it. I never had the heart to have him neutered, and kept him always on a leash.
Blux used to come into my-then office with me every day, where he would rest at my feet and busy himself with polishing to a pleasing sheen his intact gear. He was a dog. He got away with it. It was weirdly endearing behaviour, but that was because it was dog behaviour.
The pup play enthusiasts should fill their boots, but they and the Times should shut the bedroom door.