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Dogs: Gay Companions or Child-Substitutes?

by Vince Pellegrino
Tuesday May 31, 2011

In my lifetime, I have frequently heard the saying: "Straight people have babies. Gays have puppies." In personal reflection of my relationship with my beloved pet Winston, I have to admit some truth to that.

Winston and I have had been together almost 12 years, ever since I received him from my ex-boyfriend, who was a breeder of Bouvier des Flandres puppies. The breed isn't well known, but I can describe them as big teddy bears that were used by Belgians to pull wagons of milk or guard sheep in the fields. Unfortunately for the breed, World War I almost wiped them out in war-torn Belgium for carrying messages. Their eventual saviors were the members of the Bouvier Society in 1923, whose valiant and courageous efforts saved the breed from extinction.

Winston is the fifth dog I have owned, and I must admit that he has been my favorite. From the time he was a puppy so small I could wash him in the bathroom sink to the giant he is today, I can't imagine a better pet. He has been there for me in good times and in bad almost as a husband would be; not to mention he makes for a terrific pillow when he sleeps on the floor.

Unfortunately, the lifespan for dogs is nowhere close to that of humans, only 10 to 12 years. So my time with my baby is slowly coming to an end. Having celebrated his 12th birthday just last week, I am struggling to keep him on his feet during our daily walks both in New York City and in Connecticut. Bare floors have become his nemesis and he is afraid to walk on them; even now, he falls on the streets of New York, to the upset of many kind passers-by.

Having tried doggie socks with grips, doggie boots, supplements and all sorts of medications, I am getting close to calling it quits with my efforts to keep him going. It breaks my heart to even imagine my life without my baby boy. Memories of the movie "Marley and Me" come quickly to mind, with the difference that compared to Luke Wilson's composure, I will be a blubbering mess.

For the majority of gay men like myself who do not have children (and even those who do), I know they love and care deeply for their companion animals. For many, it can even be said that these animals become our surrogate children, since many of us will never have our own children to raise.

In a web article by Sharon Sackson called "Gay Men and Their Pets: Creating the Perfect Family," the author quotes famous gay playwright Charles Busch who credits his pet German Shepherd for helping him survive a very difficult childhood; "As a child, I felt alone and different, and Wolfie was my friend. He just loved me. He was there for me for whatever I needed."

The fact that we may never have our own children is not one easy for many of us to accept. So those beloved pets end up filling that loving place in our hearts that is meant to love and care for something that depends on us for security and happiness. Not to mention the joy and love that animal gives to us unconditionally because unadulterated love and admiration of its master is simply a part of its very nature.

As my own dog comes to an end of his special life with someone who has loved and cared for him over the years, I know he will forgive me when I give my permission to put an end to his life with the help of the doctor who has treated him all these years. I will hold him in my arms, tell him what a "good boy" he has been, and thank him for being my special friend and the love of my life.

Now as I write this article, there are tears in my eyes but with those tears comes the knowledge that I have done everything I possibly could for my baby boy and not feel guilty for ending his life when the time comes. In these last days of my baby boy's life, I will say goodbye to another dear friend in my life, as I did for many of my human friends whose lives have ended.

With all those loved ones in mind, and the eventual end of my baby's life, I know that memories of all those I loved and lost will never end. With regard to Winston, I am filled with gratitude for having his love and comfort all these years. Eventually, I will bring another puppy dog into my life to love and care for and I know that he will bring my smile back on my face since that will be part of his nature as well.

But for now, in the last hours of Memorial Day, I thank my baby boy for all his love and devotion and with every Memorial Day to come, I will think of him with loving memories of a life well lived.

Dr. Vince Pellegrino has PhDs in educational theater and drama therapy from New York University and is a board-certified psychotherapist in New York City and Connecticut. He teaches communications at Hofstra University. He is currently working on a book, "Gay Communication Game," about "Gayspeak"; an interactive TV program featuring real-time therapy sessions is in development. Go to www.drvince.tv for more information.

Dr. Vince Pellegrino has PhDs in educational theater and drama therapy from New York University and is a board-certified psychotherapist in New York City and Connecticut. He teaches communications at Hofstra University. He is currently working on a book, "Gay Communication Game," about "Gayspeak"; an interactive TV program featuring real-time therapy sessions in development. Go to Dr. Vince TV for more information.


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