Lacking in Leadership ResponseAugust 2, 2017
A common refrain we’ve become accustomed hearing in the puppy play community, specifically the US scene, follows an almost formulaic approach: “Things were better when…”, “Puppies need to be more serious”, “All these puppies don’t know what they’re doing”, “No one takes protocol seriously anymore.” It took me 15 seconds to type those out, that’s how often I’ve heard or read such remarks. There is no denying a gulf exists between the greater worlds traditional of leather and puppy. Even when puppy was smaller as a community there was still a lack of understanding between the two communities. Puppies aren’t all boys/girls or slaves, or bottoms for that matter. The rapid growth over the past few years has only exacerbated that gap. One example being free-range puppies are wearing collars and hoods, symbols traditionally associated with being taken in the leather world. These have lead to a misunderstanding between our communities.
Yes, we’ve all heard the complaints about puppies at major events, especially focusing around consent, an infamous example being Puppygate. However, what’s ignored is that events like CLAW, IML, and MAL have their own issues surrounding consent, but that’s for another article. When those fateful Puppygate biting incidents happened in 2014 we heard the excuse “I’m just a puppy I don’t know better,” or some other ridiculous farce along those lines, and we as a community came together under the leadership of a few experienced members and drafted a set of guidelines specifically addressing the issues from that event. Consent issues still exist in the communities regardless of role identification. It is not simply a problem of the younger generations or puppies.
We as a community came together to organize and police our own because we had to. We formed our own groups and elected/nominated our own leaders outside of the traditional leather world because we had to. Many of us came into the scene while puppy was relatively unknown. Yes, we had the book “WOOF”, but that was the only book available unlike the number of books written on leather lifestyle, Sir/boy relationships, and BDSM in general. We had a few blogs, New England Pups and AzureChaos come to mind, but it was limited. Recon didn’t have a “pups and handlers” section, but we had PupZone. Hell, even Facebook had small pupulation. We joke about all the pups from a certain time knew or knew of each other but it’s not much of an exaggeration. The community was small enough where pups from around the US, and the world, connected and shared our stories because that’s what we had to do to learn. Tools like Puppy 101 and pupplay.info didn’t exist yet. We had to share our own stories and experiences. Many of us came from the leather or rubber scene and found puppy through those, not the other way around. In our rapid growth we have come together to learn from each other where traditional mentors were unable to be found, we had to jump in with all four paws because that’s what was needed.
This is as much a personal story as it is a community one. I started puppy in 2012. Not long in the worlds of leather and rubber, but not new in the world of puppy either. I had a mentor in Florida from the UK rubber scene, Joe, who taught me the basics of puppy. When I moved back to Ohio I wanted to meet more pups but there were none in the immediate area. PupZone connected me with my first beta, Hercules. Through him I was introduced to the St Louis scene at Midwest Leather and Puppy. I got to see a puppy 101 class for the first time. I got to meet Gadget, a founder of SEA-PAH. I got to experience what the community had to offer. I was able to take all this back with me to Cincinnati and start Ruff Pups. I was able to take my basic knowledge cobbled together from online sources, discussions with other pups whom had been in the scene for a few years, and the one book our community had and use that to help teach others about puppy. Were there growing pains? Of course. This was a new world for me and a growing community in that world.. I distinctly remember being bapped on the nose none to gently by a good friend when as a puppy I got too out of control with my play and bit him. He corrected me and I learned from that experience.
Education, like leadership and mentorship, comes in many forms. Sometimes it’s negative experiences, like mentioned above, or being involved in an abusive relationship, as many of us (including myself) have been. Often, though, education takes the standard form of the classes and workshops at events we’ve all come to know so well. Events like CLAW, IPAH, Kink-U, MIR, and many other regional and local events offer a variety of classes, usually including at least one class on puppy play. We have classes at events ranging from discussion panels, relationship dynamics, PAH group Q&As, 101s, and classes on training. When someone says there’s a lack of education I want to know where they’re looking. It’s true, not all pups have these resources but so many of us are connected via social media it’s ridiculous to think that if they wanted to learn they wouldn’t be able to find someone to help them. It only takes one message to make that contact and to open doors. And honestly personal experience is the best teacher, whether it’s your own experiences or the stories of another.
Are there enough mentors in the pup community? I don’t know. It depends on how you define mentor or those kinds of relationships. I certainly think we have some fantastic role models out there. Pups Tripp, Figaro, Gadget, Brue, Snuggles, and Brix are some of mine as are handlers like Michael Daniels, Daddy Don of Denver, and Justin StClair. These are pups and Handlers whom I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and talking to over the years. We’ve never had any kind of formal relationship but that’s not really what’s needed. We’ve built our own relationships based off wanting to share our experiences. In turn I’ve shared my experiences with newer pups. This is the circle of guidance the pup community has created because we had limited resources. This isn’t a criticism on perceived traditions within the kink community, it’s acknowledging the reality of when a number of us started puppy there were very few in the traditional leather world we could learn from. We formed our packs with our own hierarchies and taught ourselves. There weren’t, and in my opinion still aren’t, enough Handlers to go around. In many cases Alphas have come to occupy a dual role of both puppy and Handler, but that’s a different article. To that end, being an Alpha isn’t about throwing around one’s weight, attitude, or aggressive behavior. It’s about mentoring, guiding, teaching. You’ll notice these are similar qualities one looks for in a Dominant of any kind whether they are a Sir, Madam, Daddy, Master, Mistress.
Community isn’t just going out the bars anymore either, and that kind of nostalgia is going to hold us back. As I mentioned I met my first beta on PupZone, a puppy social media website from a bygone era. I met my current beta, Raidho, on facebook and we’ve been together for over four years now. Much like our community that relationship started with social media because of distance and has evolved with it. We’ve gone through growing pains of our own, in some ways mirroring the greater community as we tried to figure out what our relationship meant, but that’s for another article. I’ve met a number of other close friends on Scruff and Recon, many of whom I now call brothers. Social media is as much a part of our community as our local leather bar is. It’s how we get word out about events; how we connect with puppies across the country and the globe. And yes, it’s how we share our stories and how we reach out to others when they need our help. Does this mean stay at home or behind your screens and don’t go out? Hell no! Go out. Meet people you probably wouldn’t meet online just by bumping into them. Watch the pups of your local PAH or at an event mosh and interact with them. There’s a lot more to puppy to experience than just looking cute in a hood.
Whomever thinks leadership is lacking really hasn’t looked around or simple refuses to see what’s there. Puppies and Handlers have stepped up when called upon by the community to answer for our missteps. Puppies and Handlers have stepped up to form our own groups to help our cities and regions grow. In the five years I’ve actively been involved in the community we’ve gone from a handful of puppy clubs to more than I can count on both paws. If that doesn’t take leadership to sustain and grow these clubs then I have no idea what does. We teach our own classes and hold our own workshops. We have assumed leadership roles on the boards of major events and elected community positions outside our PAHs. We have built a strong a vibrant community under the BDSM umbrella. Are there still growing pains? Yes. Are there areas in the community we can improve upon? You bet! We are far from perfect, but that doesn’t mean anything is “lacked”.