It's Real

It’s a little bit interesting how when telling people that my dog is my partner, I often find that the main hurdle to overcome, if any, is really driving home how serious I am about that. I don’t think it’s an issue that’s unique to zoos, to be fair, I think people are often just as dismissive of platonic love towards animals too: people default to assuming animals will be lesser until proven otherwise. This is even something that you can see in gay or bi relationships, where (usually younger) LGBT pairings are dismissed as “just a phase” before you settle down “for real.”

But when I talk about my partner, he is not “just the next best thing to a human relationship” that I’m using as a stand-in until I find human-on-human love. He is not “just a sex toy” who I happen to have to take outside to poop. And he is most certainly not “just a dog.” He IS a dog, but mark the difference in tone between these two statements: “He’s just a dog.” vs “He’s a DOG! :D”

To me, certainly to him as well, the relationship is 100% as valid as any other romance could be. And so I just want to say it here: Yes, when I talk about me and the dog in my life being partners, It’s Real.

-Yes, he really is my partner.

I don’t always call him the same thing: Sometimes “partner” feels right, other times “boyfriend” or “husband.” Usually what I’ll call him to his face is “bud,” because he is an absolute bro. He loves to be active and go out on walks and chest up on the local cats, but he also loves to hang out and nap on the couch while I play video games. We snuggle, we kiss, we sniff each other’s butts; everything we do, we do together. The word “intimacy” could not be more appropriate, not just as a euphemism for sex, but in the sense of there not being a single thing between ourselves that is hidden or reserved. Our lives are intertwined.

I’ve been in romantic relationships with humans before, and I’ve been in romantic relationships with dogs. I can tell you one thing for sure, how much devotion and life commitment I can feel towards someone is not limited by whether they have two legs or four, and in my own experiences thus far, the love towards the four leggers has really soared far and away beyond all others.

-Yes, I do mean that this is a sexual relationship too, not just platonic.

He and I have been together for some years now and so yes, I know what he likes, and he knows that I know what he likes. He’s not in the mood every day, but when he is, he will playfully stand at a distance and wag, not respond to any of the usual “are you hungry? want some water?” questions. But he will smugly lead me into the bedroom, and oh so subtly communicate his interests from there by bending me over at the leg.

And, assuming that there is not polite company within earshot, I’m more than happy to help a brother out. For one thing, dog anatomy is beautiful and mmmmm let’s use the word “compelling,” and it’s seldom lost on me how lucky I am to get to interact with it up close. And, more importantly, I’m happy that it makes him so happy to relieve his urges. It’s like giving him a big scratch on the back as he digs his shoulder-blades approvingly back into my scratching hands, or giving him a belly rub that makes him kick his leg. It’s giving pleasure to a stud who deserves it. It’s not just that I want to get off, or I want him to get off. I want to be able to satisfy him in a way that you feel when you’re in a relationship with someone. I want him to be happy, and part of that can sometimes be sexually happy. But by no means is sex all there is to it, and by no means does our connection the end once we’re both sated and return to the living room so he can get some water and I can get back to whatever I’m doing.

-Yes, I have mourned.

It’s baffling to me–in fact, it’s more than that, it’s actually deeply insulting–how dismissive some people are of the loss of a dog or a cat, because “You can just go to the animal shelter and replace him. You can’t replace humans like that! It’s just a dog, get over it.”

Not. How. It. Works.

Can I go down to the shelter and get A dog? Sure, and I bet the shelter would love for me to do so, and I bet me and that dog could go on to live a happy shared life together. I can go to the shelter and ask them, “Do you have a dog who is contagiously happy at getting to play fetch?; And who is completely friendly with other dogs?; And whose favorite route around the neighborhood is to do a lap around the park and back, but also likes to go to the end of this dead-end nature trail and back along the way?; I like going to that spot with him. And one who knows, when we share a knowing glance, that I’ve hidden a couple of treats around the room, and he will sniff out the usual places and find one or two there, but also sniff around and find some in a places that haven’t been used before?; And who is impossible to keep secrets from, like whether we’re about to go walk, because he can spell all of his favorite words and will pick up on them no matter how boringly you say them to another human?; And who really likes to kiss and snuggle?; And who will pin down my hand and plant his chin on it when we’re on the couch together, though he won’t do that with anyone else, and will grab my hand tighter if I’m about to get up to guilt me into staying?; And really, this is a big one, one who remembers all of the camping trips and all of the car rides, all of the walks and all of the hours falling asleep together with our heads nearby the open window, hearing and smelling the summer rain?”

I doubt that if the shelter said “yes” to that they would be telling me the truth.

So yes, I have mourned the loss of a dog before, and yes, I did “Get a new one,” and me and the new one have come to live a happy shared life, but no, I have never gotten that old dog back, never gotten those old routines and little and big joys back, and I never will. Someday, unless I die first, I will also lose a second lifetime of new routines and little and big joys. But tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all, as they say.

if you’re not someone who’s deeply in love with your animal that’s okay, so long as everyone’s having a good time I’m not here to judge. But it’s so incredibly frustrating when people view my relationship with my partner as less valid than a relationship with another human. I want everything with him that anyone has ever wanted in a relationship. He is my everything. He’s my world. He’s the person I want to wake up to in the morning, and fall asleep with at night. And even then, I hope he visits me in my dreams too. And I know I’m not alone in this. So many other zoos out there have romantic relationships full of love and devotion. Our relationships are just like any other relationships. Our relationships are real.

Article written by Alissa Dogchurch (April 2023)

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