I'm On PUPternity Leave!
Welcoming a new puppy to our queer family!
Big changes have been afoot in my little queer house. Last month my partner and I welcomed a new baby into our family—a baby bear cub, also known as a Newfoundland puppy! I’m writing this column while on Pupternity leave. We named our new puppy Sirius and at the time of writing she just turned 13 weeks! Even with two older dogs, and three cats, adding a puppy into the mix is a big adjustment! Thankfully all her new siblings are as smitten with Sirius as my partner and I are.
I write queer books, but because that doesn’t pay the bills, I also have what I call a muggle job with an LGBTQ nonprofit. Over a decade ago I realized I wasn’t cut out for the straight world, and made the decision that working in the community was my professional calling. This was true for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the ways in which queer culture has from my vantage point always been significantly more accepting and understanding of the way that I (and lots of other LGBTQ folks) build family. This includes the ways in which my “pets” really are my children. Having my family be seen/understood/respected is extremely important to me.
We have been planning to add this big pup (she will be over 100 pounds when full grown) to our family for some time but all the planning in the world doesn’t fully prepare you for how adorable that puppy will be, how messy they are, and how little you will be sleeping! Thanks to my muggle job’s queer understanding of the ways in which family is contracted I’ve been lucky enough to be able to take time off of work to support Sirius adjusting to her new family. Luckily my partner works from home, but on days when ze has had to travel for work I’ve been able to take the time I need to be with the fuzzy kids.
The Scottish brewery BrewDog says they are the first company in the United States to offer what they are calling “Pawternity” leave of one week paid leave for any employee who adds a new dog to their home. It’s an awesome trend that has caught a bit of traction in the United Kingdom- I would love to see it be more prevalent here in the states! While my muggle job doesn’t go that far (the time off I’m calling pupternity time was actually came from my accrued vacation hours) it was understood and respected that this is time I was taking to support the new member of my family.
I’m so appreciative of the queer aesthetic/ethic/understanding of how as LGBTQ people we build family, and that we each define family in individualized ways encompassing people who to the outside (straight) world might considered strangers, but to us are close, intimate relatives. Marriage equality was/is important (especially in our new political landscape), but it isn’t the entirety of what family means for many of us across the LGBTQ community, and I hope that in the years to come we will continue to broaden that conversation and fight for legal protections that encompass the broader understanding of family. A study conducted by Milo’s Kitchen brand of dog treats found: “81 percent of Americans consider their dogs to be equal members of the family, while 77 percent own up to talking about their pups as if they are a human family member. Dogs have become such an important part of the family that a majority (54 percent) of Americans consider themselves to be “pet parents” instead of “pet owners.” More than half said this shift happened the moment their pooch joined the family.” Clearly this isn’t specifically an LGBTQ issue, and there is no way to know how many of those surveyed might have identified as LGBTQ, but when you overlay a gay understanding of chosen family, the reality of rejection and disconnection from our families of origin, and the subsequent importance of building our own kinship networks, I think it’s fair to make the assumption that those LGBTQ people who bring animals into our homes might even be more likely to consider those pets our children, or as significantly important members of our family.
I made pretty good use of the pupternity days: I wrote, filled my phone (and social media) with adorable pictures, brought Sirius to her first vet appointment, worked on potty training, and crate training, took Sirius to puppy school, and was able to spend quality time with our older dogs and cats to make sure they feel cherished during this time of family transition. I feel really blessed to live in a (queer) bubble where everyone around us from our friends coming to meet the baby and bringing baby warming gifts, to our jobs recognize that we really did just have a baby- sleepless nights of crate training and all!
About the author:
Sassafras Lowrey is the 2013 winner of the Lambda Literary Emerging Writer Award. Hir books—“Lost Boi,” “Roving Pack” “Kicked Out” “Leather Ever After” and “A Little Queermas Carol”—have been honored by organizations ranging from the National Leather Association to the American Library Association. Ze is a Certified Trick Dog Trainer, and assists with dog agility classes. Sassafras lives with hir partner, a senior chihuahua mix, a rescued shepherd mix, and a Newfoundland puppy along with two bossy cats and a semi-feral kitten. Learn more at www.SassafrasLowrey.com.