It’s like any dog park in the city — the beasts run about, playing and sniffing at each other, while their patient masters make small talk amongst themselves — except that this dog park is on the second floor of the Black Eagle and these puppies are grown men in jockstraps, down on all fours.
On the second Thursday of each month, Church St’s leather bar becomes home to the Black Eagle Kennel Klub
, hosted by “Argo,” the rottweiler alter ego of Mr Leatherman Toronto 2003, Paul Ciantar.
“We usually get between 10 and 20 pups,” he says, “plus handlers and a shitload of people who just cram around and watch . . . You’ve got guys who strip down to their jockstraps and wrestle around and sniff and lick each other’s butts.”
To the uninitiated, it’s hard to tell if that sounds sexy or silly, but Ciantar says it can be all that and more. “One of the great things about puppy play and why it’s so popular,” he says, “is that there are no set rules.” In this barking chaos, some get belly rubs, some get bit.
One thing Xtra
columnist Jeremy Feist makes clear is that “no one is sexualizing the animals themselves. We don’t secretly want to fuck dogs.” A canine alter ego, he says, “encompasses aspects of the animal that you find appealing.”
Ciantar’s Argo, for instance, was born when he was asked to be a puppy for a demonstration at a 2008 Northbound Leather event. He loved it. “It was me without any human social restraints,” Ciantar says. “A dog can walk right up to you and sniff your balls. It was a great outlet for me because I’m always so controlled and analytical.”
While puppy play seems to have burst into the kink mainstream in 2008 (notably at the first Woof Camp at International Mr Leather in Chicago), its exact origins are cloudy. Andrea Zanin, journalist and Sex Geek blogger, jokes that it was no doubt “some dudes in the States somewhere having a good time and it caught on.” She’s planning a pansexual event during her Unholy Harvest weekend for leatherdykes and trans folk Oct 5 to 9. Puppy play, she says, is “joy and romping . . . and our culture of knowledge about dogs make it an easy fetish to access.”
“I saw it as a foray into the leather community,” agrees the pup4play.com
blogger who calls himself Hawk. “I was drawn to the whole dom/sub dog-collar aesthetic years ago, but the leather scene seemed too regimented, and I'm not into pain.” Hawk says his version of pup play is less about sex than spirituality. “You do feel silly at first,” he admits, “but the first time I experienced a pup head space, it was a meditative experience. I’m exploring animal nature and bringing that joy into the rest of my life. It’s very freeing, like a second coming-out.”
“If you strip away all the bondage elements,” Feist agrees, “there are a lot of themes in pup play that are universal. There are matters of trust, interpersonal communication, shedding the ego and allowing the id to breathe for a while.”
“Puppy play has become very mainstream in the kink community, and we do get a lot of new people,” says Northbound Leather’s Ryan Lemesurier, who sells collars and chains, mitts and knee pads, and, of course, the striking pointed-ear dog masks that come in black leather, for about $155, or in unfinished cowhide with the hair still on it, for about $295. “We have one with reddish hair that we call Clifford,” he laughs. “On average, we sell about six to eight puppy hoods a month.”
“I like the ritual of my handler putting the mask and mitts on me,” Hawk says. “I get a hit from being a ‘good dog.’” At one pup night, he says, “I was in my gear, sitting at my handler's feet, and when some people came over to talk, he didn't introduce me. I was thrilled.”
“I would fucking hate having someone taking care of me 24/7,” Feist says, “but I do sexualize being someone’s pet, being under someone’s control and being taken care of with affection.” At a pup night in January, Ciantar enthuses, “I pinned him down and started sniffing and humping him there on the bar!” Since then, Feist says, “I’ll be curled up naked on his bed with a dog collar on.”
“It’s nice!” Ciantar laughs, “but it’s not
a dom/sub relationship. When we’re out of the puppy outfits, it’s very equal.”
“I know people who’ll spend a whole Sunday as a dog,” Feist says, and for him, the appeal is as deep as it is obvious. “Humans are kind of shitty to each other, but a dog will always love you, no matter what.” — Scott Dagostino
The next Pup Night happens Tues, Sept 11 at 9pm.