JACK AND JET. Toronto, CA
Identity: Trans man
"I’ve never been as happy as I am now. I changed everything - my home, my country, my body, my gender, my name, my career. I’m 47, I’ve found work I love and a place I can finally call home, but it never should have taken that long or cost so much.
Six years ago - I lost everything. That’s what transphobia does. I’d given up everything to start a new life, in a new country, and it cost me a fortune. The arrival of my beloved facial hair signalled the departure of any remaining security that I had. Like many trans people I moved away from home, but with such a move you lose some of the support networks you had. I was mid transition and had never felt so isolated. The next year was without a doubt the darkest and most difficult period of my life. Fear of homelessness, worthlessness and being a burden were all too present.
I’d never lived without a dog and I was certainly in no position to get one. I didn’t have a regular income, I didn’t even know if I could stay in the country I loved. But I knew I needed her. Little Jet Jackson bounced into my life a few weeks later and changed everything. Because of course she would. I had someone that needed me, I had someone to fight for. I had something that people who are generally doing okay at life have - someone by my side. Not only was she my only family in my new country but she was the catalyst for a new career that I love and a photography project that has changed my life.
My hope for anyone questioning their gender is that any fear, shame or hate that I experienced is gone. It’s a privilege to be trans and I believe our stories and unique perspective can, and will, make sweeping changes to gender inequalities, discrimination and misogyny.
Without the support of my dad and Jet, I simply would not have survived this period of transition. Many trans people don’t have that support. My project work is dedicated to them and to lives lost as a direct result of discrimination and transphobia.
AMIE, DIANA, NASSAU, KYLE AND NACHO. Toronto, CA
Amie Speaks: "Diana had always wanted a dog but her parents were against it. In Sri Lanka, pets live outside. My moderately strict Asian parents would only let me have a cat.
I knew Nassau and I would be soul mates based on her Save Our Scruff adoption profile, which, if you swapped out Nassau for Amie, it would apply, "Nassau is shy, and slow to open up...like any smart girl in the city."
Before Nassau came into my life I was single and dating all over Toronto. A new grad, working a great job and living with lovely roommates. I kept meeting men that were right on paper, but the relationships never lasted. The plan was to adopt Nassau, delete Tinder, and give up on dating, possibly forever. But I decided to go one one last date with a woman. Myself and Diana have been together for 6 years now. We live with Kyle and Nacho the cat too, they are our family here.
There were the obvious immediate impacts of adopting Nassau like healthier sleep and exercise routines and you can't binge drink your problems away when the world's sweetest creature is counting on you. But it wasn't until we became serious about coming out to our respective families where the emotional impact of Nassau really became crucial. Diana is Tamil and I am Chinese and when we started dating in 2015, we were "out" in almost every aspect of life except for our parents. In 2018, we began the parent coming out process - a three-year journey involving intensive therapy, tears, and a lot of time with Nassau.
As two queer women of colour, we experience so much invalidation from society - whether it’s for our gender, sexual orientation, race... or some combination of the three. We work hard to ignore messages from society, but sometimes the messaging comes from our parents too. And that’s tough. Coming from cultural backgrounds that are "Eastern" in philosophy, we both grew up valuing the collective over the individual, and it’s really hard to adapt to the idea that it’s ok to live the life we want. Of course, we have lots of supportive friends and coworkers - but Nassau is the only thing in our life that carries absolutely zero judgement."
STELLA AND JADA. Toronto, CA
Identity: Pansexual Femme
Growing up there had always been a dog by my side. I moved away from home at 18 and not only lost my best friend but also myself. I struggled for years with depression and mania, not being diagnosed with bi-polar until my early 30’s. I felt extremely lonely, and always like the outsider.
I talked at length with my psychiatrist about having a dog in my life again and we both agreed it would have a stabilizing effect on my mood. I applied to so many rescue groups, but because of my living situation I was never accepted. So I found Jada on Kijiji and in my mind I still rescued her. Tiny baby Jada bounced into my life at 7 weeks old. My whole focus shifted, Jada became the most important thing in my world. I enrolled her into training at 10 weeks. Everyday we would walk the 5km to work at the barbershop and the boys would go crazy over her on their breaks.
Baby Jada’s huge now. She’s also a huge factor in me getting clean and sober. She has turned my life around and I will never be able to thank her enough.
Caitlin and Lyra, Melbourne, AUS via Facetime
I went through a really difficult period struggling to come to terms with my sexuality at the same time as going through a difficult breakup. I had, until that point, been a very Type A perfectionist, holding myself to rigid standards with a life checklist that I’d been working towards since I was 13.
I had a total breakdown and blamed the end of my relationship on my sexuality - which did not help the internalised biphobia that I was struggling with. I felt like my sexuality was causing all the issues in my life (it was not) and I was ashamed. I felt like I didn’t know who I was, that I had been living a lie and I didn’t know what the truth looked like. For a time, I became very depressed and, on my worst days, suicidal. I rejected most people in my life, because I felt like I was a burden and did not deserve their time or love.
But then, there was Lyra.
The unique thing about the love of dogs is that you just can’t avoid it. It’s so pure, so non-judgemental. There were many days when the only reason I got out of bed at all was to feed Lyra. She would encourage me to get outside, bossing me for a walk. And then we would crawl back into bed together, and she would give me her tightest little-spoon cuddle. Those are the days I am so grateful for. She needed me and I needed her to need me.
Wendy and Hellers (L to R), Brighton UK
"When shown love, respect and routine/consistency, dogs flourish. They need a sense of belonging, just as we do. When treated as equal, their dedication to loving us is endless. It's difficult to show respect if you have never experienced respect. It's difficult to show love, if you have never been loved. Wendy has taught me to always take time for the human equivalent of rolling around in the grass every day."
"Wendy is mis-gendered all the time when we are out and about. I find that interesting, it obviously doesn't bother her, and people find her adorable regardless of her gender, based on what they feel/meet/see initially. I see her as gender-free. And here lies a strong message."
TOBY AND FLYNT. Toronto, Ca.
"I struck a deal with Flynt, I promised him that I would eat, stay alive and look after him forever. Because of my upbringing it was hard for me to believe that I was even worthy of love, but Flynt was unrelenting in his affection towards me. My gender, something that had always been an issue for so many people in my life, was of no relevance or value to Flynt. It was clear that he needed me, that he loved me and that I was fun. Being needed and being loved brought me out of the darkness that I had been in for so long."
ELI. Toronto, Canada
I identify as a trans-masculine person who is most comfortable in the liminal space between "F" and "M".
From a very young age, I have always felt like I fit best in the "in-between" and wanted to be ME...not necessarily a girl or a boy....just me.
Now that I am a decade into my hormonal transition from an estrogen based person to a testosterone based person, I feel more at ease in my body, and I also cherish and deeply value my past; living as a girl and woman in this society definitely informs and affects the ways in which I now live as a man- a very intentional man
"Since my mother’s death strangely enough-my passive suicidal ideations have mostly disappeared but I’d be a liar if I denied having them on occasion, and especially in recent months when all kinds of stressors have come together in a sort of perfect-stress-storm to strain my systems and resilience to the max. And yet I know I have so much left to see and do, so much more love to give and receive, and such a tenacious spirit....I’m saying this because I acknowledge that life is really hard AND really wondrous, and I believe the more we can fearlessly be honest about our struggles and come together as loving supportive chosen family and community, the more “life preservers” we will ALL have to share.
I can’t own a dog right now because I’m living a life that has weird hours and a low paying job that I believe, is in part, connected to my queer and transness. I wish I could."
NIC AND CHUCK. Toronto, Canada
Non-binary; Kichwa Otavalo
"Chuck was an easy find and an easy adoption (mostly). I found him at a shelter in NSW in Australia where I had been living for some time. He was a goof from the start and the transition to my permanent sidekick was seamless. Getting him back to Canada however was a bit tougher, but I figured it out, there was no other option. Chuck has been the catalyst to my work and life, he’s completely transformed how I live and view the world around me.
It’s funny how we transform ourselves to survive. Chuck, being from Australia grew more fur to survive our winters here, me, I grew more self awareness. I found out where I needed to be in life. Chuck is my constant reminder of the power of resilience and of giving ourselves second or sometimes third or fourth chances."
BUDDY, E-J AND BINKY (l -> r). Brighton, UK.
”I asked about Buddy and they brought him out for me to see. He was so scared he couldn't walk, he just dragged himself along the ground on his belly crying and then rolled up in a ball when I went near him. I didn't know if I'd even be able to get him home and really, it hit me, this was not like getting a dog, even a hurt dog. This was going to be an enormous commitment. But I couldn't leave him. He would have died. I realised that I just had to trust that good would triumph and if I didn't have faith, no-one would. So I took a deep breath and picked him up and took him back to town and went straight with him to my girlfriend and said here's your new little boy. She burst into tears.”
REUBEN AND LUNA. Brighton, UK.
“I do think that a part of me was trying to heal myself by taking care of someone else that was broken and forgotten, our new skinny, sick, terrified Lunie-bear. Going from being so scared to be left alone, not having a name or knowing how to walk on a lead to being her happy, balanced, wonderful self has been nothing short of a joy to behold. Taking a lead in her rehabilitation gave me the purpose and connection that I was craving. I'd say that Luna has been my most significant driver for continuing on even when things feel too much.”
FINCH AND FREYA. Brighton, UK.
"On days that I'm really struggling she can still make me happy or proud or laugh or less alone. And when she's anxious I can reassure her that the world is scary but she can do it because she has before and will again and just saying that out loud sometimes is a good reminder to me. Just seeing her be her awesome dorky self shows me that change is possible. Trauma is part of us and it's ok that sometimes it's too much and you have to shut down and run home and hide but we always get up again."
WILLIAM AND BELLA. Toronto, Canada
"I’ve been sober for 2 years and it’s no coincidence that Bella came into my life shortly before that. Staying sober had been a battle, now I rarely think about drinking. There were addiction issues in her previous family so understandably she’s nervous around drunk people and I promised to never let her down. I call her my sobriety dog. She’s had a massive impact on my anxiety and she’s by my side when I am going through dark moments. She’s very intune with people’s physical and emotional wellbeing and I take less medication as a direct result of having her in my life.
She saved me, I know it’s meant to be the other way round, but without a doubt, she saved me. The 3 best decisions I’ve made in my life are transition, sobriety and Bella."
AVI AND WARREN. Toronto, Canada
“I haven’t had a severe panic attack in over a year since I got Warren. I used to get multiple attacks per day.”
LAURA AND MONKEY. Toronto, Canada
"Monkey was an accidental foster of mine who came to stay for ‘a few days.’ We had no history on Monkey and we didn’t even know if he’d be adoptable but I brought him along to the DYWM shoot as he’d already wiggled his way into my heart.
In the middle of the shoot he got so sick that I had to take him straight to the emergency vet. They said had I waited 20 minutes longer he wouldn’t have made it. He’s not left my side since. I just couldn’t let go of him. Not only has he won over every single person that he’s met he’s also made them feel like they’re the most important person in the world. That’s what he does. And that’s what I decided I would do for him. A few days after reaching that decision, I found out he only had a few months left to live. I changed my travel plans so that I could be with him constantly.
So here I am writing this from Costa Rica with Monkey sprawled out on the cool tiles of Charlie’s Angel Rescue Centre. We are spending his last months meeting as many people in as many places as we can because Monkey has this way of making everyone he meets feel as though they’re the most special person in the world - which they are. My favourite thing to hear from a stranger-friend is “I think Monkey really likes me.” This situation always ends with Monkey winking at me, you know, like dogs do, and then sauntering along to meet the next special person."
QUINN, PAM, MOOSE AND STORM (l->r). Toronto, Canada
“The love of a dog who is terrified of everything is one of the most special and gratifying bonds imaginable. We are constantly helping each other grow and push past our hardships. Both Moose and Storm have also given us the opportunity to be part of an amazing community - Fetch and Releash. Both Quinn and I have struggled so much with finding our ground in the queer community, our experiences with mental health and addictions in a community largely enamoured with partying has being isolating. To be fortunate enough to meet people who support us and our dogs through all hardships has been one our most treasured experiences of rescuing.”
NALA, JOC AND HERSHY (l -> r). Toronto, Canada
"Here’s the real transformation for this year:
Two weeks ago my barber suggested that I be part of the DYWM photo project. I was ready to just laugh her off for even thinking about it, but the opportunity to show off how much I’ve grown to embrace myself and to show off my two wonderful dogs proved to be too much for me to pass up. When it comes to my family I am still firmly hidden in the back of the closet – somewhere behind the flannel and bow ties and every dress I ever hated – at least when it came to my not so easily definable gender.
So here I am with a photoshoot marked on my calendar for two weeks from now and that is my deadline to finally come out properly. To say that I am terrified would be something of an understatement but I want to do this so badly. I want people to know that Hershey and Nala have changed my life and continue to do so on a daily basis.
At some point in their lives, both of my dogs were cast out from their homes for reasons I will never know and that they would never understand. There are hundreds and thousands of animals in shelters that I wish I could rescue but at least I can take solace in the fact that my two wonderful dogs will never have to deal with the “don’t you want me?” question again because we’ve carved out homes for each other.
And hey, if coming out doesn’t go over well at least I know these two goofs will be by my side."