Pup Ace was wearing a black puppy hood that had a muzzle and fluffy ears. He also a red dog collar around his neck with his name inscribed on the tag. On black floor mats amongst a crowd of gawkers, handlers, and other pups, Ace was tying himself up with red rope to the music of Puscifer’s The Undertaker ( Renholder Mix ). It was auto-bondage, basically, as he bound his wrists and ankles. He was finally able to hogtie himself all on his own and it made me feel like anything was possible. The audience cheered, while some pups howled: it was like what you might hear being at the pound.
Last month Toronto hosted P.A.C.K. (Pan American Canine Konvention), a fetish pup weekend held at various locations across the city. This performance in particular was a part its Best in Show competition, which saw eight hopefuls this year. The contest is not only open to gay pups, but to lesbian, bisexual, trans, or nonbinary pup, as well as straight pups too who are into the fetish (so long as they purchased weekend event package). Their website claims that they’re looking for the most “adorable, talented, or fun puppy,” which I found a bit vague. So what actually makes a show winning pup?
Paul Argo was part of the development of Toronto’s puppy scene over nine years ago by helping to start a pup night at the The Black Eagle, where the Best in Show now takes places. As the scene grew years later, he created The Black Eagle Kennel Club and today there are 400 members.
In 2016, he thought that it’d be great for the community to have a weekend dedicated to the pup and handler scene and P.A.C.K. weekend was born.
“The Best in Show thing was just for entertainment sake. That’s all it was,” he told me, stressing that they’re not aiming to find a community representative or title holder through the competition. The winner won’t be taking home a polished pewter gallery bowl or a sterling silver trophy like at the Westminster Best in Show.
“The only rule is whatever you do has to be legal,” he said.
Each contestant has five minutes to do whatever they like so long as they don’t break the law. They’re scored by the judges for their uniqueness or talent as well as how fun they are to watch, earning a maximum of 20 points. The judges can give an additional five bonus points to one of the contestants who they think is just extraordinary. The rest of the points are collected from the audience who have ballots worth one point each, to give away to their favourite act.
Argo stresses that the Best in Show is not about who acts most like a puppy. He compares it to a talent show one might see at a campground.
“Going by last year, I would say what makes Best in Show is, you know, somebody who goes up with confidence and throws down something that people haven’t seen or people weren’t expecting,” said Pup Baren, who has been in the pup and handler scene for almost two years. I take his insight to heart since last year he placed second in the competition by doing a cover of The Dresden Dolls Coin-Operated Boy.
Baren describes himself as a “big and friendly” pup, and is outfitted in a blue and black pup leather hood with his long beard hanging out the bottom. He’s wearing an orange and blue wrestling singlet, and has some tattoos; a perfect specimen for his breed.
“It’s a bit talent and it’s a bit entertainment, so you have to be talented and entertaining at the same time,” said Pup Ace, the auto-bondage pup with the muzzle.
Ace explains that he’s the alpha puppy of his pack, which he’d started with his handler. “Pups kept finding us,” he says, “and if we felt an interest in them as well, we would tell them, ‘We like you, we’d be interested in hanging out with you more,’ and then we would just form bonds from there.”
According to Ace, the pups in a pack aren’t necessarily there for the sex; it can be social or be there for support. He claims that most pups, however, do want to be in a pack.
Pup Thumper, who’s been in the scene for about three years, has his own puppy but isn’t part of a pack himself and identifies as a stray. He doesn’t have a handler although he’d like to have one some day. He’s just waiting for the right person to come along—just like any relationship, really. He points out that a handler isn’t necessary in order to be a puppy, just like a Dom isn’t required to be a sub. Apparently, not all pups want a handler either, and according to Argo the same goes for packs: some packs are made up of a family of pups with no handler at all.
Some things that makes a show winning pup in Thumper’s mind include how fun, relatable and charismatic they are, and how genuine they are about themselves. That evening, he went with a foot worship demo for the competition since he’s a foot worshipper. He used an assistant’s foot as he talked the through the process: “If you like smells, the first thing you want to do is pull off that shoe,” he said at one point during the show, “and just stick your face in and smell that stink.”
The other acts included a belly dancing pup, a wrestling pup, and a pup doing a strip tease-cum-sex simulation. The prize went to Pup Bello, who did a contemporary dance routine to Take Me to Church by Hozier in a PUMP! jockstrap. It wasn’t adorable or fun per se, but was surprisingly emotive given the environment, and a little bit reminiscent of Sergei Polunin’s video. I was impressed.
I found some of the acts impressive, if not entertaining, although some were a touch questionable. Bello’s routine was the last thing one might expect to see at a competition like this: jumping and dancing across floor mats in the dark leather bar. He was a pure show pup with a raw talent and he turned out to be exactly what the judges (and the audience) were looking for in the 2018 Best in Show.
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