Dogs and Gay Men: A Match Made in Heaven
June is LGBT Pride Month, and it's a fine time to celebrate differences. So are gay dog lovers somehow different from straight ones? To find out, I went to the source: Andrew DePrisco, author of Woof! A Gay Man's Guide to Dogs (Bow Tie Press).
"Dogs welcome any chance to be outdoors with a group of half-dressed homosexuals, whether it's for a gay pride parade, a Lady Gaga concert, or a Log Cabin convention in the Ozarks," says the charming author, who counts Joan Rivers and Carson Kressley among his book's many fans.
As it turns out, there are a few key factors making dogs grateful for Gay Pride Month, DePrisco explains. "Here are three reasons a dog prefers to be 'owned' by [gay people] instead of hets: 1) The gay 'family' dog usually doesn't have to play second oboe to two-legged children. 2) Dogs are, by nature, greedy. They don't like to share their meals, their toys, or their owners (men). Gay men are essentially just as greedy, though we will share our toys with men if they buy us a meal first. 3) Dogs love to be the spoiled 'kids' of a gay couple -- two incomes and all the baubles and nylon bones that money can buy."
DePrisco has escorted Azuki, his lovely Shiba Inu, to the New Jersey Pride event in Asbury Park. "Azuki is more friendly than most Shibas, though she mainly ignores other dogs," he says. "And, yes, there are dozens of other dogs there, most on rainbow and lavender leashes, though Azuki prefers leather to dyed polyester."
What's the, ahem, biggest difference between gay dog lovers and straight ones? "Regardless of sexual orientation, any sensible, responsible person can make a great dog owner," DePrisco is quick to point out. "There are wonderful gay and straight dog owners out there, and there are horrible gay and straight dog owners out there, too. When a sensible, responsible gay man -- if such a creature exists -- commits to a dog, the dog becomes his family, his kid, and a truly important part of his world. The dog is not a rite of passage to a future wife, two kids, and a second home in New England."
When breeders, rescuers, or shelter-dog adoption counselors see a potential dog owner/adopter who is gay, they tend to jump for joy, figuring that dog will enjoy a great, pampered life. Is there truth in this stereotype? "Truth exists in all stereotypes, even the positive ones like this one," DePrisco says. "Yes, gay men tend to spoil their dogs, treating them like true family and giving them high priority. For lots of gay men, dogs exist as substitutes for lovers, children, close family, and maybe even good friends. Unlike most of our lovers, dogs truly enjoy being used and don't panic when they decide that you're devoting too much time to them. Dogs believe in commitment and are defined by their loyalty. Secretly, most gay men want to be like dogs, even when they're standing."
Acceptance, tolerance, unconditional love ... these are things dogs give everybody, but gay people haven't always been the beneficiaries of such gifts from their fellow humans. Are gays especially appreciative of that canine love -- more, perhaps, than someone who's never experienced intolerance or prejudice? "Gay men have a lot to learn from dog love," DePrisco says. "Dogs are not judgmental -- they will sleep with you any night you come home, even if they smell a raunchy Poodle on your breath. Dogs accept you for who you are. They don't care whether you sleep with men, women, or stray cats. In fact, they'd prefer you share your bone with everyone as long as they're not left out in the cold."
But seriously, he adds, "Many gay men feel a disconnect with their own families. Dogs live to connect, and the unconditional love a dog offers when he raises a paw or rubs his nose in his new owner's crotch may be the first true moment of 'family' a gay man experiences. A dog can really make a person feel like he's come home, especially if he's bearing a bag of groceries or a smelly pepperoni pizza."
Sadly, certain dogs also experience prejudice. Might gay people be more likely to overlook "what everybody else thinks" by boldly selecting a maligned breed as a canine companion? "Who's more keenly aware of stupidity in this world than gay people? Banning specific breeds of dog is both shortsighted and pointless," DePrisco says.
If dogs let some gay people experience family at its nonjudgmental best for the first time, do dogs living with gay folks feel the difference, not being objectified as "pets"? "Not hardly," DePrisco replies. "Dogs love to be used, as companions, playmates, bedmates, pets, and accessories! As long as they are loved and properly cared for, they will bloom into wonderful, happy dogs. Unlike gay men, dogs are fairly indiscriminate about the details of their lifestyle. They'd just as happily dwell in a $90 million penthouse on the Upper East Side as they would in a double-wide in Dollywood."
One of the wonderful takeaways of Woof! is the idea that commitment doesn't have to hurt -- anybody. Is a gay man quicker to give his whole heart to a dog? "I don't see gayness having much to do with how open you are to giving of your heart or yourself," the author says. "I know plenty of gay men who wouldn't expend the energy to water a Christmas cactus, no less care for a needy, four-legged animal. But I think it's fair to say that most gay dog owners are equally, if not more, as devoted to their canine companions as our straight counterparts.
"Gay men -- some gay men -- are unafraid of exaggeration, moved by strong emotion and passion, and tend to go a wee bit over the top. For us gay men who truly live for our dogs, we give our whole hearts to everything we love, and our dogs are on the top of the list, right above our partners, parents, and personal trainers."
Illustrations from Woof! by Jason O'Malley