Inside a Fetish Kennel in Upstate New York
A pup invited me to his sprawling "kennel" near the coast of Lake Ontario to photograph him wearing his functional fetish gear and get a rare look inside his pup haven.
All photos by the author and Thomas McCarty
When I met Pup Scrubs at the Cleveland Leather Annual Weekend (CLAW), he was non-verbal, only speaking in barks, and he sported full football pads as well as a custom-made sports jersey that read "Raptor Pups" on the front and "Pup Scrubs" on the back. At the convention, the pup carried a dog bed stuffed with plush toys, and I saw him curled up for a dognap during one of the lectures at the event. Days later, on the eve of the convention's closing, Pup Scrubs hopped on to the couch I was seated in before proceeding to nuzzle my lap. We cuddle in silence for a half hour before he popped his head up and asked me about my column, Pupdates.
After a lengthy conversation about the extremes he went through researching and purchasing his gear and the time he went to Alaska to live out a cold weather gear fetish, I knew Scrubs was a truly a good boy and wanted to get to acquainted with him outside of the convention setting.
After talking online at length, Pup Scrubs invited me to upstate New York for a visit at his one-of-a-kind kennel. Most pups in the community only know Scrubs as a non-verbal puppy who's always masked, so it was a rare privilege to be invited up to his home and learn about his lifestyle. We stayed the weekend in the sprawling, cobalt blue estate, tucked into the countryside along the coast of Lake Ontario. The secluded lake and forest allow the pup to don his functional fetish gear in the environments where he enjoys the equipment best.
In other words, it's a dream playpen for a pup to live in year round. After Pup Scrubs picked me up at the Greyhound bus, we spent the weekend learning about the functions and applications of different pieces of fetish gear, as well as ways to ride out the inevitable collapse of industrial civilization, a hot-button issue for Scrubs. As we ran on all fours through the forest and doggy paddled in the lake, I got an up-close look at the home life of a pup who was truly dedicated to the lifestyle. Below is an edited transcript of our conversations, as well as photos from my visit to Pup Scrubs' pup haven.
VICE: Who's a good boy! Tell me about your pup name and how you decided on it?
Pup Scrubs: My pup name is Pup Scrubs, and I didn't decide it. No self-respecting pup gives themselves a name—a handler or an alpha has to give you a name.
How did your handler decide on your name?
Because scrubs are my favorite thing to wear, and it's probably the gear I wear most often. I'm wearing them now, of course!
You have a lot of different kinds of gear looks as a pup. Can you remember the pup gear you were first infatuated by?
The first gear I was infatuated by, and always will be infatuated by, was football gear. A complete set of football gear was the first [fetish gear] I ever bought with my first credit card when I was 18. When I'd see football on TV, or see football players in the locker room at school, I just knew I always liked big, padded football gear. I always will enjoy football gear, but it's not very practical to wear around the house on a daily basis. Scrubs are practical.
How do you see the different looks playing into Pup Scrubs as a fleshed-out character?
I would say that they're all expressions of the same character. They're just different flavors and that's often how I'll refer to them—football Pup Scrubs, camo Pup Scrubs, or even proximity Pup Scrubs, which is firefighting proximity gear, like what firefighters would use during a high-intensity fire. There are many different flavors, and they're all variations on the theme that is Pup Scrubs. They're all different ways of highlighting certain aspects of my personality.
What do you do when you're not a pup?
I work. It's not really fun to talk about. Unless I'm on a video conference call, I have my collar on at all times. I always keep a little bit of pup with me. And when I write to my employees, we use puppy terms, bonuses are called Scooby Snacks, we do wags, we don't hold people's hands, we hold their paws. In very small, modest ways, I try to bring my pup-ness into my work.
What brought you into the pup lifestyle?
I was looking through the catalog of [kink store] Mr. S to get some [fetish] hoods. While browsing, I saw a puppy hood available to buy. I remember distinctly thinking, That must be the stupidest thing I've ever seen! Who would ever want to wear a hood like that and make themselves look like a puppy? This was before I met a pup. I always liked dogs. I always liked the simplicity of interacting with them, but it wasn't until I actually put a pup hood on and got into puppy head-space for the first time that something clicked. I realized it was just who I was. In 2004, I met my first handler, the one who gave me my pup name, and that really helped awaken my inner pup.
One of the outfits we photographed you in was this big red-down coat that you acquired as part of a cold-weather pup outfit. Can you tell me about your cold-weather gear fetish and how that plays out during the actual winter?
It's the ultimate kind of [pup] gear. It's big, fluffy, and extremely comfortable. Cold weather can be a magical time to explore nature and interact with people in really special ways. Once, I went to northern Alaska to commune with the Inupiat Eskimo population and find my inner pup spirit. I got myself kitted up with the finest down gear before going to the northernmost city in the entire US. I timed it to be the coldest time of the year and I spent 34 days in Alaska during their 30 days of darkness. It was a real magical time.
Can you tell me about the float pod you keep at the kennel, as well as your two different sleeping methods?
Recently, I've acquired my aqua crate, which is a float pod [or isolation chamber]. What a life-changing experience floating is! It allows me to enter a state of zen and really bring my inner pup to the surface. I also have an outdoor crate on my patio that's really nice. I can put a big, fluffy sleeping bag in it. The colder it gets, the more comfortable I am out there because I can actually cocoon myself in a big down sleeping bag, and I have a powered respirator that injects air into a gas mask that I wear all night while I'm sleeping.
You've told me that you want to impart lessons of wisdom to younger pups. Do you have a pearl of wisdom that you could give to the pups reading this?
People will want to marginalize your puppy personality. It's easy to be dismissive of it, and to say, "Well, this is just you being silly." But don't be afraid to be yourself. Don't be afraid to change sometimes, even if that means the people you're hanging around with. The pack that you're with can make all the difference.
Right now, I'm happy, but I had to take a few years away from the pup lifestyle because my husband actually really isn't that into puppy play. His disinterest almost beat the pup out of me because he just wasn't willing to engage in it. But then I met the right group of people, and my inner pup just woke right up, stronger than ever. I've been contacted by people who're having a hard time communing with their inner pup, and the most important thing is to believe in yourself and get your pup on. If the people in your life can't accept you for who you are, you need to find different people who will. You can suppress it all you want, but you're still gonna be a pup. It's a beautiful thing, it's one of the best parts of my life, and I wouldn't give it up for anything.
Visit Zak's website for more of his work, and see more photos of his visit to Pup Scrubs' kennel below.