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Gay Men and their Pets: Creating the Perfect Family

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Many people these days refer to their pets not as possessions, but as friends or family members. Pets happily take their place alongside their human companions, providing comfort, support and love in abundance. Dogs, in particular, are always ready to go for a walk, play in the park, or just accompany their owners for a marathon couch-potato-television-watching session.

Maybe that's why so many gay men have found joy in bringing dogs into their inner circles. Dogs possess the ability to love without judgment and without regard to sexual orientation. The devotion of a dog is unconditional. Sadly, that's not always what gay men experience when they go through the rocky process of ‘coming out' to their families and friends.

Charles Busch, an acclaimed Broadway playwright, (http://www.charlesbusch.com/Biography.htm) credits his white German Shepherd, Wolfie, for enabling him to survive a difficult childhood "As a child, I felt alone, and different. Wolfie was my friend. He was the one who was with me the most, and all that other stuff didn't matter to him. He just loved me. He was there for me for whatever I needed."

Forty years later, Busch's memories of his stalwart childhood companion still bring tears to his eyes.

Surrogate children

Maybe because it's hard for gay men to create a family that includes children, they often form extremely strong bonds with their pets. Gay couples are notoriously devoted to spoiling their pets with love and attention. Single gay men with dogs live the lives of single parents, balancing work, social life, and dog care. Many gay men seem to have a gift for the special details of dog parenting.

Randy Allgaier of San Francisco found fulfillment through his career as a political activist for various gay causes. But when his HIV progressed to AIDs, it was his Beagle, Darwin, who stayed by his side, seeing him through terrible bouts of illness. "He has this look in his eyes," Randy said. "It's like he says, ‘I'm here with you.'"

After providing company all day for Randy, Darwin would head out with his partner, Lee Hawn, when he got home from work, for a stress-relieving walk. "Darwin took care of both of us," Randy said

Since they are always younger than their owners, dogs are like an eternal fountain of youth. They charm us with their puppyish enthusiasm, and then gracefully accept the infirmities of their older years. Some men tolerate wild excesses of their dogs' craziness and bad behavior. Maybe it reminds them of their own.

The animal-gay bond

Dr. Lynette Hart of the University of California/Davis School of Veterinary Medicine (http://www.epi.ucdavis.edu/F-hartl.htm) has extensively studied the human-animal bond. She refers to pets as "social lubricants." She added a dose of scientific reality to the idea that there is something magical about living with a pet. "Canine to human interactions are not phenomenally better than human to human interactions," she said. "But humans are complicated. They don't always make time for their partner. Pets do."

Cats are Dr. Hart's pet of choice. She is a consultant for the San Francisco organization Pets Are Wonderful Support, which provides assistance to men with AIDS who need help feeding, walking and caring for their pets when they are disabled with illness.

"It used to be that a person had to give up their dog when they were sick," said John Lipp, president of PAWS. "We're saying that's the wrong thing to do. A sick person needs their pet with them in order to get better."

Unconditional love

In his book "Paws and Reflect: A Special Bond Between Man and Dog," (http://animal.discovery.com/fansites/backyard/about/about.html) David Mizejewski, the host of Animal Planet's "Backyard Habitat," recounts how his dogs helped him endure the pain of breaking up after his first long-term relationship. "That's one of the amazing things about dogs," Mizejewski said. "They are there for you. They pick up on your emotions. There is this total unconditional love."

That unconditional love is particularly welcome to gay men. Dogs accept the idiosyncrasies of their human companions without argument or complaint. Many have a unique ability to attune to their human's mood. They are ready to share in happiness or comfort when their human is in pain. 

In the connection with their pets, gay men learn certain behaviors essential to a relationship: the ability to give and receive love, the capacity to tend to the needs of another, and openness to the presence of another being.

In return, their pets love them unreservedly. They don't talk back, they don't fight, and they don't criticize. They bring good company that is always silent. Gay men have discovered that the special magic of pets is the wholehearted way they enrich our lives. They offer the acceptance that gay men don't always find in the human world.




Credit: Reviewed by John A. Bukowski, DVM, MPH, PhD and Susan E. Aiello, DVM, ELS
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