Featured photo: Jinx is a pup who identifies as a cisgender woman of color and finds community through pup pound events (photo by Luis H. Garay)
Editor’s note: TCB has opted to use scene names for this piece to protect the privacy of those interviewed.
Under blue and white rotating strobe lights, bar patrons in dog-shaped masks, brightly colored orange full-body suits, and mesh tops with jeans sway their bodies to a remix of Whitney Houston’s classic “I Wanna Dance with Somebody.”
The numerous people dance in Greensboro’s Twist Lounge for a monthly event known as Fetish Friday, a safe space for those in the fetish community to gather and socialize. Among the patrons include a group of people donning dog-shaped masks. They’re known as “pups” and makeup a subset of the fetish community. Organizer Chance Thee Pup is the founder of Pup Pound Events and came up with the idea for a local group after speaking with Brenda the Drag Queen. Over drinks, Chance told Brenda about a pup event he was going to in Charlotte and how he wished he didn’t have to travel that far to enjoy the event. Brenda suggested Chance start pup events in Greensboro.
“I was like, how do I even do that?,” Chance recalls. “Brenda made a phone call and then said you’ll be having a Fetish Friday next week at Twist.” Another local fetish group called the Talon Clan Primal Pack was set to host a bar night there. The bar manager at Twist at the time suggested to the group to have Fetish Friday on the same night and open it to all in the fetish community. That was in April 2022.
Now, Pup Pound Events alongside Talon Clan Primal Pack hosts the monthly celebrations. Triad Health Project attends each event to provide STI and HIV testing as well as sexual health resources. The events have brought a vibrant local community together, Chance says.
“I knew there were a few people from the Triad going to Charlotte, we’re all friends and we know each other,” Chance says.
As a subgroup of fetish culture, pup communities are connected to the history of the leather and BDSM communities. Those actively participating in pup culture engage in play where participants recreate canine behavior in consensual adult role-playing scenarios or relationships that can be sexual or platonic or both. In a more sexual scenario, the pup will have a dominant partner who is often referred to as the handler who is responsible for the well-being of the pup and the activities the pup partakes in. In a non-sexual scenario, pups engage in play with chew toys, running around or wrestling on mats.
A major misconception is that the pup community is strictly sexual.
“Most people think it is all solely about sex,” Chance explains. “It’s more about the group and the people you feel a bond with. People create packs which are basically family-like situations.” Chance’s first encounter with the pup community was at Charlotte Pride in 2019. He saw a pup for the first time and was intrigued by the mask the pup was wearing.
“I asked where they got it,” he recalls. “I asked some questions and they were willing to give me answers.” A few months later, Chance received his first pup hood as a birthday gift from his husband.
Pup hoods are typically made with neoprene and spandex material. They can vary in color and some have distinct features such as a protruding muzzle, defined eyebrows, and perked up ears. Some hoods can be accessorized with piercings, specific coloring and even synthetic hair. Typically they cover the majority of the face, with only the eyes made visible. The hood is one part of the outfit a pup may have in their wardrobe, which is often referred to as “gear.” Additional items such as tails, paws (leather mittens) and a collar can also be included.
Describing how it felt the first time he wore his hood, Chance says he felt like a superhero with a cape.
“I got to feel free and let loose,” Chance recalls with a huge smile. “I can be socially shy sometimes, so the hood gave me the courage to be free and have a persona like say a drag queen.”
That sense of confidence can be life changing for those who find community in pup spaces.
“The community…is an additional outlet for me to be free to express myself among other like-minded individuals,” says Razz, a Greensboro pup. “I just moved back recently to Greensboro and being here really feels like home for me”.
Miloh, a pup who was born and raised in Greensboro, agreed.
“I hope that I speak for all of us in saying that it’s been a great opportunity to live the kind of lifestyle that all of this entails,” he says.
As a white gay man, Chance acknowledges that the group is not where they would like to be when it comes to diversity. Inclusion is important so people from all identities can find community at Pup Pound Events, he says.
Jinx, a pup who identifies as a cisgender woman of color, shared her experience.
“There are not many cis females as pups,” she says. “There are more now but not that many. I’ve been welcomed with open arms and I’m very grateful for that.”
Similar to Chance, Jinx used to travel to find pup communities, going to cities like New York and Atlanta. With Pup Pounds Events she realized there were many pups in her hometown. “Everytime [Pup Pound] has events I get so excited because it’s like, oh my god there are so many pups!”
In the last few years, digital spaces have become vital arenas for the pup community to connect. Apps like Telegram and online forums like Reddit help pups find connection and learn about events especially during the pandemic.
Now, as more events happen in-person, Chance continues his dreams of helping others find community.
“I wouldn’t mind being able to help other areas in North Carolina have pup events,” Chance says. “Pups really do drive just to be around each other and feel that sense of community safety.”
For more information, visit Pup Pounds Events on Facebook or Instagram.
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