Of Pups And Politics
Do you use your dogs as political PUPets? How can our dogs be part of the resistance?
I've been seeing adorable pictures all over the Internet—at the women's march(es) and at other demonstrations of dogs accompanying their families to protests, often with very witty signs attached to them. For many of us our pets are our children, so it's no wonder that as lesbians and queer folks we want to have them help us out during this unprecedented scary political moment. Conversations on social media got me thinking—how can our pets be part of fighting against extremism that is specifically targeting our families, friends and neighbors?
I've had several readers bring up dogs at protests and what the etiquette is. While I love the cute dog pictures I do worry about the dogs themselves. If part of your personal strategy of resistance involves being in the streets my advice is to think twice about bringing your dog to keep the focus on their comfort and safety not just adorable Instagram photos. It's the same advice that I give about bringing dogs to Pride, or Dyke March. Some dogs are very comfortable in large crowds and around loud noises, and in the right situations those are dogs who might be good candidates to join you in the streets. But for many dogs protests are confusing, stressful, and possibly even dangerous places to be. If there is any doubt in your mind about how your dog will handle that kind of chaotic environment leave your pup at home. If your dog is comfortable in loud crowds and you decide to bring them, be sure to stay vigilant about their comfort and be prepared to leave early to make sure they stay comfortable. Weather conditions should factor into your decision, as well looking at how volatile a protest is likely to be.
If you’re protesting without your pets (which I think is almost always best, though I do love a cute picture of a dog with a good intersectional queer/feminist protest sign) make sure that all of your pets are factored into all of your safety planning, especially if you are participating in any kind of un-permitted protest/march. Most often the various "know your rights" training and info-graphics flying around the internet don't include considerations about pets. Our pets rely on us for all of their basic needs so I think should be thought of in similar ways as one might if creating a safety plan around care of small children before heading out to protest. Never go to the streets without a safety plan and without having someone on standby ready to jump in and provide the necessary care for your pets in case it takes you longer than expected to get home to them. A few things to consider: What would happen if you got arrested? Does someone know your pets are home alone? Does that person have a key to your house? Do they know how to care for your pets? Do you have pets that need medication at specific times?
There are definitely ways that our pups can help us speak out against oppression and fascism other than taking to the streets. While writing this column I saw a Facebook ad for this adorable dog shirt from the ACLU. I'm pretty sure my little Chihuahua mix NEEDS this shirt and I plan to order it for him to rock while out and about in the world and to start conversations in dog centered spaces that we frequent—like the park, the vet, training class, the pet store etc.
The world is pretty scary right now and it's easy to feel compelled to stay inside my queer progressive bubble—but that isn't how we enact change. I grew up competing in dog sports, but when I came out in high school and became homeless my adult friends in the dog show world turned their backs on me because of my "sins." Over the last 15 years I have watched the world grow and change. I've met and built community with other queer and progressive dog people. There may or may not be a lesbian led secret online community of progressive dog sport people designed in part to help people living in red states to build progressive animal- centered community, and to help give them the support to speak out whenever and however they can. I can't even put into words how giddy the existence of that community makes me. I want to believe that animal people who spend all their free time and money on animal related hobbies: rescue, or dog shows etc. could be persuaded to care just a little bit more about human animals, if not because it's the right thing to do, then perhaps because those people adopt the dogs and cats they work so hard to rescue, and if those families are threatened by the government then likely the stability of the home for those animals will also be threatened. I know this might be a little bit of a stretch, but I think it's important we each do what we can to try to talk about these issues with people out in the world—and for me, if I'm not around queer people, I'm probably around dog people.
For as long as I've been around dog communities there has been an unwritten rule that dogs and politics don't mix. It’s been comforting to see since the election that starting to shift. People are afraid but they are also speaking out on behalf of themselves, their families,and others in their community who are being directly targeted. There are plenty of small ways to start conversations. Ellen just released a new pet product line with PetsMart.
At the end of the day, I'm not the kind of dyke who can blend in, I'm out pretty much everywhere I go regardless of if my dogs are wearing rainbow bandannas. That said, I have no qualms with "using" my dogs to advance my politics—putting political bandannas and shirts on them etc. because while dogs can't vote, and don't understand the nuances of our government there is no doubt in my mind that they love their queer family, and if they could vote dogs would be heeling along on the right side of history.
About the author:
Sassafras Lowrey is the 2013 winner of the Lambda Literary Emerging Writer Award. Hir books— “Kicked Out,” “Lost Boi,” “Roving Pack” and “Leather Ever After”—have been honored by organizations ranging from the National Leather Association to the American Library Association. Sassafras also writes regularly for canine press, is a certified trick dog instructor, and assists with dog agility classes. Sassafras lives and writes in Brooklyn with hir partner, two dogs of dramatically different sizes, two bossy cats, and a semi-feral kitten. Ze is always on the lookout for adventures with her canine pack. www.SassafrasLowrey.com