“I became an activist for gay animals the day my dog committed suicide,” says Suzanne Tuff, Executive Director for Pride Tails, a non-profit that records the oral histories of homosexual animals. “We’re all expected to run with the pack; to stand alone and let our colors show only taunts danger. If only Spike had learned to play fetch like the other dogs …
“The trouble had begun earlier that year when our neighbor, Mrs. Armstrong, paid Mama a visit.
“The trouble had begun earlier that year when our neighbor, Mrs. Armstrong, paid Mama a vista. She casually mentioned over coffee that Spike seemed rather light in the paws, so to speak, and, unlike her Great Dane, Duke, who was infamous biting bicyclists, digging up flower beds, and generously defecating in the neighbors’ yards.”
Tuff said that her tan pug never barked at cars, chased cats, or dug holes in the lawn. “Spike preferred to lounge among the summer dandelions, rolling around on his back and exposing his soft belly to the world. With his tiny, compressed snout, Spike wheezed with every breath; the sibilance gave the impression that he barked with a lisp. In addition to being a friend to cats everywhere, Spike allowed my little sister and me to dress him in doll clothes and a long, blond wig. He sat patiently in a tiny chair–tongue hanging out and panting beneath the gold fringe–while Elizabeth and I poured imaginary tea into plastic cups.
“It seemed harmless at the time …”
At her mother’s urging, Tuff’s father enrolled her dog in obedience school to toughen him up and teach him discipline. “Spike pranced from his fellow student’s hindquarters to another, sniffing butts with a dreamy expression on his face. His affable personality and expressive curly tail only endeared him to the instructor. On his final report card, she simply wrote–Adorable!”
When Tuff’s parents couldn’t change her dog’s behavior, they attempted to change his presentation with a studded collar. “Frankly, it only made him look gayer. He used to admire himself in Mama’s full-length mirror. She eventually threw the collar away when a confirmed bachelor who lived two blocks over from us, told her that Spike looked like a member of an all-canine version of the Village People.
However, it was a church scandal that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. “Mama was a sure bet to be elected President of the First Baptist Church Women’s Bible Brigade for traveling around to all of Dairy Queens in area to convert Pakistanis to Christ. Then Mrs. Armstrong swung the vote after she tearfully confessed that she went out to water her petunias and saw Spike trying to take Duke from behind. The other members were so sympathetic that they didn’t pause to think about the fact that it wasn’t physically possible unless Spike had a step ladder.”
Tuff’s mother tried to rise above it, but a confrontation in the frozen foods section of the Piggly Wiggly made her take action. “As my mother reached into the freezer for a box of fish sticks, a lady wheeled her cart by and whispered, ‘Your Sodomite mutt is going to burn in Hell.”
Tuff’s parents argued over what to do. “Mama told Daddy that Spike’s homosexuality was an infection that might spread to the rest of the family. ‘Today the girls may play with Barbies, but tomorrow they may sport mullets and fall under the influence of ladies’ professional golf!’ She gave Daddy a brochure for Rex Gay, an ex gay ministry for dogs.”
Rex Gay, which is now under investigation by the Society for Prevention-Cruelty (SPCA), uses a stresses its use of hormone and praise therapy, but it’s their use of electroshock therapy that has been criticized and implicated in the deaths of a pair of standard poodles, a Border Collie, and a Chihuahua.
“As the orderlies were hooking Spike up to the electrodes, he bit them and managed to get away. He raced out the door as another couple came in with their St. Bernard. As he raced across the parking lot to the busy intersection, I called out to him. He stopped and turned to me with those sad eyes that seem to say, ‘Give me dandelions or give me death.’” Tuff pauses and wipes the tears from her eyes. “And then he leapt into the street and became a hood ornament for a minivan.”
Tuff no longer has any contact from her family. She went off to Sarah Lawrence College and dropped out to begin recording the oral histories of gay pets that she met. When asked about the value of these stories, since they are actually not in any language understood by humans, Tuff said. “It’s not important that an animal’s story be understood, only that its bark or meow is heard.”