So you might be asking yourself about the title of this blog. I would. What's the connection you may ask?
Here's the deal:
Well, I am a black woman. Black queer poet to be precise and I have loved animals since I met my best friend’s cat at around 5yrs old. I am the child of Jamaican immigrants and grew up in a staid mostly white suburb of Toronto. Growing up in an environment where those around me all had a mom, dad, at least 2 kids and a cat or dog I felt like an eyesore with my single dad, only child, petless status. I started asking for a pet around kindergarten and even now, some 25 years later I am still trying to convince my father to get a dog in his retirement.
My mother, father and family on his side all were born and raised in Jamaica in various shades of rural countryside. My family, then and now, does not believe in pets.
"Animals IN the house? Oh no no no, not while I'm alive"...is what I hear.
"But Dad didn't you say you had all sorts of pets when you were a kid?"
"Yes, we had dogs, cats, goats, chickens, you name it."
"So what? You think any of those things came through the door? Uh uh. They didn't even have names, just Dog, Cat." (This turned out to be not entirely true as I learned that the dogs had in fact been named)
Once members of my family began immigrating to Canada, their desires for a "better life" for themselves and their children began in earnest. Pets were a distraction from success. The adults had to work on their careers, houses, gardens etc and the children were expected to work hard so that we would get good grades and go to university and become, well, successful; particularly in a practical profession, i.e. not a writer/artist.
Essentially, an animal in the house was something white people with leisure did. Not us.
So throughout my childhood every request for a cat (my animal of choice at the time) was met with a firm negative. In the end I left home having owned and loved 2 goldfish, Amanda, and Henry.
When I was about 19 I got a cat, Pika. She had been a gift to my retired and home alone aunt out of the kindness of her daughter's heart. But those back home opinions hadn't changed. So one evening I get a phone call:
"Hey, want to hear something?"
Pika and I have been together ever since and are a dynamic duo. I love her immensely and my life became fuller when I was finally able to, on my own, love a little furry beast. Over the years I came to welcome another cat, Sydney into my family and my life filled up all over again.
Early in the days of working at my bookstore job I got to meet my coworker's dog George. George is the first dog who became a regular part of my life. She "worked" at the store often and I soon became to house-sit for my coworker.; first for her 5 (now 4) cats, which was amazing because they each have such outrageous personalities Soon George got left in my care as well and I fell in love! I began to imagine myself with a dog companion and have never recovered.
I have never been wealthy and one of my biggest apprehensions about getting a dog was the financial aspect of pet ownership. But as I get older I am more confident in my ability to be responsible and do what I have to do to make sure my beasts have happy and comfortable lives.
Back to the title…
I have known many dogs in my life, all of them have been owned by white friends. Which is fine in and of itself obviously but it got me to thinking. Where was the POC (person of colour) representation in the pet world?! I had this strange feeling of self-consciousness about being the only one I would know with a dog. Why you may ask? All I can say is that the rhetoric that pets are wasteful and for white people was cycling around my head. I felt like I would be judged by other Black people for buying into a white lifestyle. I have a white partner and already get a fair amount of random and unwelcome attention and commentary about that. I never would have thought that having a (visible) pet would be linked to class and race but here we are. Having a dog often comes with a certain social class. Having a dog immediately makes me more visible, and in particular, noticed. Dogs invite attention and conversation. And with that comes the risk for offence, the worry of properly representing myself. There are so many stereotypes, assumptions and judgments that come with being a Black woman.
So the title came from my desire to proclaim my blackness to myself and any readers and to acknowledge that, even if I am the only Black woman I see with a big old mutt beside her that is just fine. And if I can invite some conversation and input on the topic, even better!