3 min

Can queer dogs be friends?

There are some divisions canines can't overcome

Credit: Xtra files

I’ve unwittingly stepped in dog shit more than a few times. Until canines practise stoop and scoop, people who run with the dogs are clearly to blame for the fly-piles.

But there are thousands of dogs in this city, so it stands to reason that every dog person cannot be responsible for the unattended piles or we would be knee deep in it.

I didn’t make this not-so-fine distinction until I adopted dogs of my own. I was admittedly without compassion for all of the folks who doggedly search the park at night with a flashlight, for the golden nugget.

Before I adopted Quin and Sadie I somewhat naïvely assumed that there was a bond between dog people – like the camaraderie between motorcycle riders, the joy of perennial dividing shared by gardeners or even the silent nods between queer folk (which I’ve yet to experience because, in all of my femme glory, I am not seen as queer by queers unless I’m in a queer space).

Cat people, like felines, are mysterious to me. Dog people are not. We structure our lives around our dog companions – we’re outside every morning and every evening, running, walking, pitching ball or standing idle with a butt between our lips and coffee in hand. Given this shared daily routine, my assumption that there be a bond between dog people is understandable.

My parents espoused a parallel logic when they sent me off to Catholic high school. Unlike public school students who (mother’s voice) ran amok doing whatever you damn well pleased, we Catholic schoolgirls were separated from the big bad boys, and we all looked the same: white shirt, kilt, socks or tights and black shoes. My parents took comfort in the uniform. They didn’t want me to be disadvantaged because of my lack of trendy, expensive clothes. Theoretically, this made sense but it didn’t work that way. The girls who came from money walked it and talked it.

In the world of dogs and dog people, there is a social structure that works just like the class system in high school, and everywhere else for that matter. I didn’t expect this precisely because we all pick-up shit, and we all walk our dogs. But there are some other things at play.

I have never been fond of, or particularly comfortable in big groups of people, but I was totally willing to do the whole dog park square dance.

First, I noticed that dog people know the names of the dogs, but not necessarily each other’s names. I had no idea I was messing with dog park equilibrium when I introduced myself. People responded awkwardly; you’d think I’d interrupted the most personal and private of moments. But I was just saying hello.

Then came the issue of pedigree.

I adopted Sadie and Quin both from the Humane Society at separate times. I could guess about what their breed mixture is, but it doesn’t really matter to me. I’ve noticed that other folks with dogs of unknown breed ask about Quin and Sadie’s breeds – but the question is just a matter of friendly conversation that invariably leads to talk about which dollar stores have the best dog toys. The people who don’t ever broach this subject are the ones with pedigree – both personal and public. I’m talking about the standard poodle, boxer and ridgeback folks. They tend to stand together in a fairly tight circle in the corner of the park, and they are mostly homeowners. Mere coincidence? I don’t think so.

I recently returned to Toronto after spending eight incredible days in Nova Scotia. Quin swam circles while Sadie tried to run, not swim, through the waves. On the bus ride home, Quin puked, and then again as we stepped onto pavement. By the evening, Sadie and Quin were both very, very sick. For three days following our excursion, I carried a lot more bags than usual. Emergency stops were many.

During one of these stops, Quin had a particularly nasty movement. I cleaned up as best I could, but there was still evidence. So, I reached into a nearby garden bed for some soil to spread onto the pavement. This was an act of altruism.

A lisped voice boomed, “What are you doing to my garden?”

These chastising words were the first my gay homeowner neighbour had ever uttered to me.

In a moment of frustration I replied, “I’m destroying your garden. Next time, I’ll leave the smear for you to step in.”

As we walked past him, he turned his back to us. More than his tone or his words, the sight of his back infuriated me. I schemed countless ways to piss him off. In the end, I let it go, taking comfort in an old truism: What goes around comes around. Besides, it is all about the love, and I have another great day ahead of me with Quin and Sadie.

* Brazen Femme: Queering Femininity, an anthology Camilleri co-edited with Chloë Brushwood-Rose, has just been published by Arsenal Pulp Press.