Gay Men’s Best Friends

‘Paws and Reflect’ focuses on the nurturing relationship gay men have with their dogs.

By: Susan Van Dongen
   Journalist, television producer and dog show judge and breeder Sharon Sakson has mo mentarily forgotten all the professional hats she wears and has slipped into another persona — the mommy of a 4-month-old puppy at large.
   It seems Eden, her little Brussels Griffon, followed a delivery man out of the house and down the street and was sitting in the middle of Titus Mill Road in Pennington when a neighbor came to the rescue. Apparently many breeds of dogs don’t scamper away from cars the way cats do, especially when they’re so young.
   "Very few breeds take notice of cars and run away, and they end up getting hit," Ms. Sakson says. "It hasn’t happened to me in a long time, but it did happen with one of my Whippets. Thankfully, my neighbor picked Eden up out of the road. I said, ‘You just averted my potential heart attack.’"
   Whether it’s a run-in with the road, an illness or being threatened by a big, mean stray, animal lovers want to protect their babies and probably feel just as much distress as parents of human children.
   "The truth is, our dogs are our children," Ms. Sakson writes in the new book she co-edited with Neil Plakcy, Paws and Reflect: Exploring the Bond Between Gay Men and Their Dogs (Alyson Books, $24.95). "We don’t have to straighten their teeth or send them to college, but we love them, feed them, groom them, sometimes even dress them up, just like we’d do with little boys and girls. Most dog owners, straight or gay, would probably feel the same way."
   A lifelong dog lover who has participated in shows and exhibitions since her youth, Ms. Sakson and mystery writer Mr. Plakcy were kicking around subjects for a book project when the concept of gay men and their dogs materialized.
   "It’s an unlikely idea for me to come up with since I’m not gay," she says. "But Neil and I have been friends a long time — we both went to (high school together) and have been reading and critiquing each others’ work for 20 years.
   "I’ve always been around a lot of gay men in the dog show world," Ms. Sakson continues. "Because it’s a very accepting community, it’s an area like the theater that tends to attract a lot of gay men. I said, ‘I’m a dog expert and you’re a gay writer,’ so we thought of it at the same time."
   The result is Paws and Reflect, a collection of more than two dozen essays and interviews that takes a look at the powerful bond between gay men and their dogs. Interviewees include Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Edward Albee, film director Jonathan Caouette, Animal Planet’s Backyard Habitat host David Mizejewski, playwright Charles Busch (The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife), and authors Jay Quinn and Alistair McCartney.
   Ms. Sakson will be at the Princeton University Store Dec. 12 to read from and sign the book.
   Book signings, receptions and events have been taking place throughout the fall, from the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City to southern Florida — Mr. Plakcy’s home — to southern and central California.
   Ms. Sakson and her co-editor recently received a certificate of recognition from Mark Leno, an Assemblyman in the 13th district of California, thanking them for the help Paws and Reflect has given to his constituents.
   Bay Area contributors Randy Allgaier, Hal Campbell and Donald Hardy recently held a book signing and reception at Under One Roof in San Francisco — an agency whose sole purpose is to generate funds for agencies that provide HIV/AIDS education and support services.
   "I wanted to write a book because I love dogs and because I saw so many gay men in the dog life, but the book has taken on a life of its own and reached out to so many different people," Ms. Sakson says.
   The text of Paws and Reflect runs the gamut from experiments in contemporary literature ("On the Impossibility of Existing Without Dogs"), to the heartbreaking story "Travis," to the more lighthearted "The Dog Who Outed Me."
   "The funnier ones are my favorites," Ms. Sakson says.
   She particularly likes "My Ph.D in Dachshunds," in which late author Stephen Kwielchek uses a clever but primitive approach to housebreaking his canine Cal.
   "If you own a Dachshund, you can really understand this story," she says. "Dachshunds have their own opinions about everything."
   Ms. Sakson says the stories and interviews in Paws and Reflect will resonate in some way with all dog lovers, no matter their gender preference.
   "There’s more in the book that shows gay men are like everyone else," she says. "All of us love our dogs, we’re friends with our dogs and we take them everywhere — that’s a common trait. But one thing I heard the gay men say again and again in the interviews and stories was, ‘We don’t have kids, so our dogs are like our kids.’ This was the one thing we discovered — that they had these great nurturing abilities that could be focused on their dogs."
   "Even though advances in society and social norms have made it more common for gay men to have human children, for many gay men, dogs play an even more important role in our lives," she and Mr. Plakcy write. "They love us unconditionally; they comfort us when we are in pain; and because it’s most likely that we will outlive them, they teach us to cope with loss."
Paws and Reflect: Exploring the Bond Between Gay Men and Their Dogs co-editor
Sharon Sakson will sign and read from her book at the Princeton University Store,
36 University Place, Princeton, Dec. 12, 7 p.m. For information, call (609) 921-8500.
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