In January, I held a class on Social Anxiety, Anxiety Attacks, and Panic attacks to a group of puppies here in Chicago, Illinois. In the group was Dick, a puppy known as Pup Angel. He watched the class intently. This was not the normal class that puppies normally attend. This was a way to start a conversation in our community regarding issues that hit close to home for many of us.

I started the class with an introduction to the presenters which included myself, another pup/bootblack and a Therapist who has a background and knowledge of the community. We spent time discussing what Anxiety was and discussed the differences between an anxiety attack and a panic attack. Then we changed up the routine of the typical class and went right into open discussion.

We told our stories of our anxiety and panic attacks and then opened the floor for discussion. We asked the group what anxiety was to them. How they prepared to go out for an evening What happened when they went to their first event in the community? What would you do if you saw someone having a panic attack? What do you need during a panic attack?

This started our conversation, the entire group participated. It was pretty interesting to hear all these similarities. This also showed the many differences as well. Dick participated and watched and listened during the discussion. After seeing things firsthand on how needed anxiety management resources are, he decided to formalize a means of empowering people to recognize that they, themselves, can be a resource. He started putting together an outline of how he felt that this would work.

This is The SafePup Certification, found at safepupcert.com. Dick agreed to discuss it with me and start sharing it with the community.

Dick / Puparazzi Photography

So tell me why you started the SafePup Certification?

I see a lot of people who truly love the community and want to help it, but have no idea how they can contribute. Community organizing can be intimidating – particularly for those with anxiety issues – so people tend to tell themselves that they aren’t skilled or experienced enough to do anything meaningful. I figured if there was a way to show people that there are things literally anyone can do that can have a HUGE impact on their community, anyone wanting to help could recognize they have the means to do so.

Do you have anxiety?

Definitely. I’ve been doing events like IML for over a decade and I STILL find myself needing to retreat to my room for a huge chunk of the weekend. I also rarely go to social events alone, even if I’m guaranteed to know people there.

Think back to the first time you went to a bar night for a leather or pup event, what did you do to prepare yourself?

Honestly? Nothing. I was lucky enough to know I was kinky before I could go to bars or adult venues, so my usual anxiety was actually drowned out by excitement. Once things normalized and anxiety came back, my biggest go-to was making sure I had someone specific to go with whenever I went out. Without a tether, no amount of preparation will matter because I’ll just end up ghosting the second I feel anxious.

So, explain the SafePup Certification, why a certification instead of just a class?

It’s really just meant to do three things: show that simple conversations grant access to community, address the difficulties of approaching new people, and isolate trainable skills that can lessen these difficulties. I felt very strongly that this merited certification because, unlike education, it actually involves the creation and acceptance of expectations or obligations.

What type of person or pup should look at SafePup?

There’s a pretty surefire litmus test for that: if someone who rubs you the wrong way came to you honestly needing to talk, would you? If the answer is yes, odds are you could be a SafePup. Being a SafePup is less about being skilled and more about recognizing opportunities where you can make a difference for people. Someone who’s too nervous to approach strangers but recognizes this need will still make a better SafePup than someone who can’t put aside their personal feelings to help someone who needs an ear or a shoulder.

This started out as the TheraPup Certification, why the name change?

A few mental health professionals who offered input on the project were concerned about what the name implied. They saw risk in having a name associated with “Therapy,” which might cause participants to feel empowered to address issues they aren’t trained to. Eventually, as the idea got fleshed out more, “SafePup” actually just started to feel more appropriate given there was a definite shift from comforting people to fostering community.

Tell me about the website:

One of the most important aspects of the program is its emphasis on ongoing development. Nobody is perfect – and neither is their memory – so it was clear that having a way to gather resources for SafePups (or aspiring SafePups) was paramount. There are a few “pie in the sky” end goals like online self-assessments that would link to specific resources, or the potential for internal member listings as a sort of loose support network. At face value though, I really just think a website allows interested parties to dig in in a way that social media doesn’t.

What are the next steps?

Once the skills workshop portion is completed, the goal is to pilot the program in Chicago to work out some of the kinks (pun intended). Once we’ve made some adjustments, we hope to work with nearby metros that have expressed interest in the program. Basically, Chicago will help us fine-tune the content itself while the nearby roll-outs will help find ways to make the content more suitable for distribution. Eventually we’d like it to be something where any community can find qualified individuals to use the existing framework, most likely with guidelines on what credentials are ideal or even necessary for offering the program autonomously.

Can you give me a brief background about yourself?

Pup Angel

Like I said earlier, I learned I was kinky very early on: it’s always been a part of me, so I’ve never known anything else and never had to suppress myself. I feel very privileged that this has always let me feel comfortable with kink, and one of my primary motivations has always been to help other people feel just as comfortable. Almost my entire adult life has been in Chicago, so I’ve also always had amazing access to communities centered around various subgroups of kink. One thing I’ve noticed across them – whether it’s leather, rubber, pup, furries, ABDL, etc – is that it’s common for people to have trouble finding a place for themselves. After all, you have these big, intimidating communities that all offer things people want to seek out and emulate, and sometimes it’s just too daunting or people don’t feel like they’re good enough to call themselves a part of something. Hell, I’ve been doing this over a decade and I still feel pompous and overstated drawing that line. I suppose it’s not a unique problem to kink, but kink really is the most encompassing part of my life and I want to do everything in my power to make it as easy as possible for people to feel comfortable on their journey.

There’s more to come with SafePup Certification, and I can’t wait to see how it unfolds into the community