The Channel 4 documentary – dubbed its most barking one yet – explored the weird world of ‘human pups’, grown men who enjoy dressing up as dogs .
But the subjects of Secret Life of the Human Pups insist it is not sexual and their yearning to wear rubber outfits and masks is a lifestyle choice.
Oxford graduate Kye, 28, said: “Puppy play is definitely not about sex, it is a form of escapism.”
However viewers were less than sure the show wasn’t a massive wind-up.
“Human Pups has to be a wind up? Surely?!” tweeted one viewer with many others asking the same question.
Another added: “I know this country is f***ed up but #humanpups is surely a wind-up?”
Lucy Lovell met more of the human pubs in the basement of a bar in Manchester for the Manchester Evening New s.
Surrounded by around 10 grown men in full-face dog masks and rubber body suits on the floor, she was eager to learn more about the subculture that’s captured the nation’s attentions.
“Lean in,” says the photographer. We lean in around the human puppy lying on his back, wearing a shimmering leather body, waiting to be petted. This is not my usual Wednesday night.
I’m meeting the Puppy Play group – a collective of more than 50 men and women from across Greater Manchester – and some further afield – who meet to socialise, play and generally just act like puppies.
The popularity of these groups have rocketed recently, and these pups are on a mission to dispel some myths around puppy play – the topic of a recent show on Channel 4.
“People think it’s just all about sex, but it’s really not,” says one pup (as they like to be referred to), who did not want to be identified, with a full black face mask.
“Of course there is an element of that, as with any fetish, but it’s about the socialising as well.”
As well as their regular nights meeting up to ‘play’ – the pups will fetch balls, get walks from their handlers and play-fight – pups meet up to socialise. It’s a real community.
It’s also not strictly a pastime for gay men, as people often assume.
“There’s gay men, straight men, gay women, straight women who’ll come to the sessions.” Explains the pup. “It’s all ages too, anyone from 18 up.”
So why do they do it? As well as the social side, the overarching reason is escapism.
According to one member, it offers an unparalleled escape from the every day stresses of modern life and a means to behave in a way that, to them, feels natural.
“It’s a chance to go back to animal nature,” he explains.
“The only time I’m not a pup is during work.” Says another member who didn’t want to be named. “My partner comes home from work and he’s like, ‘hey pup’ – and I’m like ‘woof!’”.
The main drawback? The cost. One of those hoods will set you back a few hundred quid at least.
“My hood cost me £400,” says one pup, who’s black hood boasts inch long metal spikes for whiskers. “It’s a lot to spend, but it’s like an extension of me.”
The group has a big job on their paws – breaking down preconceptions is going to be hard won. But with the reception so far, the group are hoping that it’ll become more widely accepted, and allowed to grow.
“Oh and one last thing,” a pup tells me before I leave. “If you’re in a group of pups again, just howl, and see what happens.”
Judging by the group’s laugh, and the studs on that mask, I might not be trying that anytime soon…