Sofonda, LeVoir and Joker enjoy an August afternoon in Yorkville.
All photos by Adam Coish
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Best in show
There is no seedy gay underbelly in the world of dog shows. But there sure are a lot of gays
Gay men tend to be attracted to any sort of industry, vocation or hobby that is creative; the dog-show world is nothing different,” says Lawrence LeVoir. “Especially that guy with the little tiny shih tzu or the tiny Pekinese mincing around the ring.”
LeVoir grew up in Minnesota with a mother who was crazy for show poodles. After they got one of their own, named Joker, his mother learned to groom and show it herself. Eventually, she opened her own accredited dog-grooming school. “I grew up doing it,” LeVoir says. “I just picked it up.”
A little less than a year ago, LeVoir started a dog spa of his own (before that he worked in the human spa world, in California), and business is booming. His own dog, a huge sculpted standard poodle, also named Joker, turns heads whenever they hit the streets. In March of this year, they entered their first competition, the Purina National. Joker won and was photographed with a rather smitten Rick Mercer. “Joker is part of the family, but he’s also the canvas that I show my work on,” LeVoir says.
The flamboyant trimming show poodles are subjected to has an interesting history. Originally bred for hunting, standard poodles’ light coats and webbed feet made them great swimmers, perfectly suited to retrieving game from the water. Hunters would trim their body fur to streamline their swimming, shave fur from their faces to make it easier for them to catch animals, tie back the fur on their heads so they could see better, and shave their legs so they could swim faster. A bit of fur was left on the body for warmth, puffy “bracelets” protected the leg joints, and two poofs of fur on the booty kept the dogs’ kidneys warm.
Over the years that trimming has become increasingly stylized and decorative, leaving the dogs more fashionable than functional. Throw in their intelligence and very good natures, and you’ve got one very gay pooch. When LeVoir was a boy, his mother was part of a poodle club that met at his house, and all the men who came to the meetings were gay. “Very gay,” he adds. “Many had partners and good lives, nice houses, and instead of having kids they had their dogs. They were people my mom trusted with me as a kid, and they would take me to dog shows. This was one of their hobbies. They weren’t the type of gay people who were party animals. I would think, ‘One day, I’ll be married like that and have a nice house and have dogs.’”
LeVoir is now married, and though he’s left the party world behind, Joker still likes to celebrate. Some might recall his Pride debut this summer, onstage with Sofonda Cox at Prism’s Hotel event. Even with Sofonda coordinated in a huge, puffy white wig, Joker easily stole the show.
“I didn’t want to be onstage,” LeVoir says. “I’ve done that already. I used to be a go-go boy many years ago. I wanted [Sofonda] to take Joker onstage, but she didn’t know what to do. So we just let Joker off his leash. He knew instinctively what to do and where to go.” Joker basked in the spotlight; he didn’t need handling at all.
LeVoir might avoid the stage, but he does handle Joker in shows, rather than hiring someone else. “In the States we do it pretty much ourselves. Here [in Canada] you are not considered to win if you show your own dog.” He says there are many gay dog handlers (and perhaps even more gay dog breeders), but he insists there is no underground society. No private meetings. No secret code. No special handshake. “It’s like we’re all hairdressers,” he says. “Just some of us do dogs.”
— Rolyn Chambers does his own handling, thank you very much.
Click here to enjoy a slideshow of Sofonda and a poodle having fun in Yorkville!