Ok that probably doesn’t mean much to most of my blog followers – also I haven’t actually been talking about dog stuff here on the blog so it also probably comes a bit out of nowhere for most of y’all. Needless to say, I’m thinking about starting to do more dog focused blogging –possibly on a new site in order to keep that somewhat separate – especially because I imagine (and completely understand that) many of my readers of my books and leather followers are less interested in my dog focused posts.
Dogs have always played a really important role in my life. Growing up as a small child they were the only things that mattered to me –t he most intimate and important relationships in my life. As a teenager, before I came out, before I was homeless, before I was a queer activist I was a “dog kid.” I loved dog sports- connecting and having my brain working together with my dogs. My story in Kicked Out is all about loosing my dogs when I became homeless, and remains one of the most difficult things I’ve ever written. My oldest dog Snickers and I were elite level dog agility competitors and I had an eye on qualifying for the USDAA nationals the next year. In an instant it was gone.
In a year later I tried to get back into dog sports, when Mercury was just a tiny puppy. It was too hard, and someone I was involved with at the time convinced me that working with dogs was actually bad for my anxiety, my social skills, for me in general. In reality? This person never had my best interest at heart. In a fit of pain and longing in one of the 14 apartments/houses/basements/shacks I would live in over the next two years I threw out every trophy, ribbon except one, the very first little read second place strip ribbon we ever won.
Almost a year and a half ago Kestryl and I went grocery shopping and came home with Charlotte- a high needs rescue. Charlotte had a hard start to life she was found at seven months old with a litter of puppies living on the street of a town in the South. She and the pups were taken to high-kill shelter and thankfully pulled from the gas chamber by a rescue and transported north to NYC.
It sounds really woo woo, but I truly believe that we were brought together by Snickers, the dog who kept me going through my teen years. The day we brought Charlotte home I received a letter in the mail from my Grandmother who I’ve maintained a mostly estranged but superficial relationship with all these years. When I became homeless she had taken Snickers, Flash my younger dog had stayed with my dog trainer who’d I had been living with after things with my mother became too violent (my trainer of course being who kicked me out of her home for being queer). The letter was to tell me that Snickers who by this point was very old, mostly deaf and without many teeth had peacefully died. I was sitting on the couch crying as I read the letter with Mercury in my lap and Charlotte at my feet. As I looked into her eyes and I saw Snickers looking back at me. I believe that Snickers brought Charlotte to our family, that he knew I needed her as much as she needed us.
Charlotte has taught me so many things as I’ve watched her blossom from a scared dog who seemingly had never seen a toy before coming to our home, to a loyal fun and playful pup we lovingly call our wild thing. She’s a special needs dog and much of my work with her in the last year and a half since she came home has been around her dog/dog reactivity. Living in NYC working with that has been a number one priority. She still struggles with dog/dog activation on the sidewalks of our Brooklyn neighborhood, but we’ve been able to even start doing work with her during the prospect park off leash hours where under very controlled circumstances (she’s on leash) she’s able to meet and interact with dogs (other than Mercury who she’s brilliant with). Sidewalks are still touch and go, but even there we’ve seen dramatic improvement in the last year.
Since getting Charlotte one of my main focuses has been on building her confidence, and using her brain. She’s taken to clicker training brilliantly, and a month or so ago an old dog buddy of mine helped me to do some preliminary starts on K9 Nosework with her. What we’ve also been spending a lot of time doing which I haven’t been super public about is trick work. She’s amassed a pretty impressive vocabulary of tricks- spinning (left/right), shake, wave, roll over, bow, targeting to hand, jumping over my legs etc. etc. etc. Mostly we’ve been doing trick work for fun, but I’ve also had a little plan- I was working towards a trick dog title with her.
Even as dogs haven’t been the focal point of my writing or teaching work, they have in their own sneaky way remained a focal point in my life. During my punk years no one saw me in public without Mercury. I’ve written for canine press, and of course I have multiple highly visible dog tattoos- a memorial for the dogs lost, a portrait of both Mercury and Charlotte, as well as a large calf piece of a dog agility course map. In the past few years I’ve done a lot of work to dismantle my own trauma responses to the dog world, and thanks to the queer presence of amazing folks like Holly Hughes and other dog buddies of mine that there could be a place for me in that world, again, Charlotte earning this title is the first step of this and I’m ready to come out and say that I’m training again.
It feels so appropriate and fitting that Charlotte is the first dog that I’ve earned a title with since Snickers. I believe that part of why he
brought her into my life was in order to realign me with working with dogs, my oldest passion. Next training steps for Charlotte – other than continued work on her dog/dog reactivity is to work towards her Intermediate Trick Dog Title, at which point, I’ll also be working on something of my own – becoming a Certified Trick Dog Instructor. Then I plan to begin offering some fun, bond with your dog trick dog classes here in the NYC area! I’m so excited about the future of helping people to be more bonded, and to have better relationships with their dogs. It’s one of the things I’d felt called to do from a very early age- but then was snatched away from me. To be able to in someway revisit that dream as I move out of my Saturn Return feels like one more pieces of my life and work falling into place.
I’d been really nervous about telling friends about my intentions to return to dog training, fearing they would think it silly which clearly was my own insecurities talking. I have received nothing but excited support from everyone I’ve shared my plans with – dog people as well as other friends. It’s part of why I feel ready to share it with all of my blog readers. Last week my horoscope said: “”The Star-Spangled Banner” is America’s national anthem. It features the lyrics of a patriotic poem written by Francis Scott Key. But the melody itself is entirely lifted from a bawdy old song that celebrates Bacchus, the ancient god of wine and ecstatic dancing. I love it when things are repurposed as dramatically as that. Do you? The coming weeks will be prime time to repurpose stuff with creative abandoned. Make the past useful for the future, Taurus. Turn good old ideas into fantastic new ones. Don’t just recycle; transform” How fitting as I move towards bringing my work with dogs intentionally back into focus in my life.
Watching Charlotte blossom here in her forever home, to discover the joys of toys and carpet, to learn to trust, and to begin to work through all of the emotional and behavioral scars of an early life on the street has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever witnessed, and the work with a dog I’m most proud of. She’s taught me so much, and brought me back to one of my deepest passions. I know we’re not done growing and learning together. Most of all though today I’m just so proud of my girl- Charlotte NTD