STORIES OF TRANSFORMATION: THE PROJECT
Click on the images to see them larger.
These are really excerpts of much deeper narratives. Please support DYWM
to help elevate these stories with video and to reach further global communities.
If you would like to sit for a photo session and share your story, apply HERE.
These are really excerpts of much deeper narratives. Please support DYWM
to help elevate these stories with video and to reach further global communities.
If you would like to sit for a photo session and share your story, apply HERE.
Sara and Stella Bella Bing Bong, Toronto CAN.
Identity: Lesbian/queer/lezzie/dyke/gay old married lady/Mum
"My wife and I have always had rescues.
Before we adopted Stella, we had Lindy until this past September when she died on her own terms in my arms (an incredible spirit in her own right especially when she visited veterans and people with special needs).
The period prior to adopting Stella I found myself in a bewildering place of endless painful isolating sleepless nights. I had two bike accidents within months of each other in 2014. I sustained concussions in both collisions which hadn't healed properly, in part because I have a genetic disorder called Ehlers Danlos Syndrome.
I'm an artist and have been an animator for Children's Television for over two decades but I have been disabled for seven years now. I have been trapped in near constant migraines day after day. While my family tried to comfort me, the nights of insomnia that go hand in hand with brain injury have been extremely lonely. With brain injury any screen activity can be very painful, so I couldn't go online for comfort, or company. Vision problems and ear ringing ruled out reading and podcasts. Every minute seemed like a torturous hour.
I’d always been involved in dog rescue and specifically with Rat Terrier Rescue Canada. I suggested to my wife that a pup be my gift for her birthday! My therapist said, "This on paper is a very bad idea, Sara. You cannot possibly manage this. However, you are animated for the first time in a year."
At the beginning Stella learned medicine pet skills: pressing herself against whomever needed her the most. Stella began to stay with me during my insomnia before she was a year old. The harder time I am having, the harder she presses against me. On a terrible migraine day, she is inseparable from me.
I've not returned to work yet. I've had some very big challenges, surgeries, and tragedies. I lost my voice as a result of a bad anaesthesiologist, and for over a year Stella just leaned in closer and adapted to raspy whispers while I learned to talk again. When I had to start using forearm crutches outside and a mobility device called an Alinker, I was worried she'd be bothered by them. She wasn't in the least. When I train on my Alinker, she runs by my side and it fills my heart with pure joy. I have become less focused on needing an assistive device and more joyful that we are joyful. She even sits with me stoically whilst I get outside on my Alinker and meditate. Yes the raw isolation of insomnia and neurodiversity remains isolating but this dog lives her life like the very gift it is every single day, and in doing so, reminds me to do the same."
Viv and Linus, Toronto CAN
Identity: Lesbian woman
"I never planned on getting Linus, he just fell into my life suddenly, along with the woman who became my wife. Linus was very depressed, withdrawn and shut down when we got him. Something as natural as eating had become a major challenge for him. He spent most of his days hiding away from people and hiding away from life.
He came into my life around the same time that I came out - I had been very closeted and just like Linus, I had become a shell of the person I am today. It feels like we embarked on a journey together, going through similar stages and facing similar challenges. He’s taught me so much but mostly that first appearances can often be deceiving, and that patience and kindness build trust, and trust is everything.
Linus forced me to not rely on unhealthy coping mechanisms as much, and to look for better options. His presence forces me to manage my anger and stress better and in healthier, more productive ways. It’s like I have a living, external barometer of how unhealthy I’m being and to make his life better, I adjust my own behavior.
It was a whirlwind of a time adjusting to our new life but we got through it together as a family, and now own a queer (and dog) friendly bar in Toronto. I do work that I love for my community. Linus has brought such balance and guidance to my life. There’s far less time for self-indulgence when a dog depends on you for everything.
Linus is still very sensitive to anger and raised voices - but I don’t think that’s a bad thing, I think as a society, we should be sensitive to these things and, in fact, do everything we can to challenge them."
Aurora and Twiney, Toronto CAN. Rescue Fund recipient 2021.
Identity: Trans woman
"I came to Canada in 2018. I had a few relatives here and a small group of friends from when I had studied back in 2016, but that was all. I came here as a refugee having no choice but to leave my own country. There were no role models of trans people where I lived, being trans wasn’t something that happened. There were other words for transgender women but they had very negative connotations. It took me some time to figure out who I was, and the fear of being “different” delayed my process of self-acceptance. It was only when I met some trans women at Friends of Ruby that I saw myself reflected for the first time in my life, and only then I had the courage to be myself.
I started transitioning shortly after that and then bang - covid hit. People who had said they loved me suddenly disappeared. I'm naturally an introvert but this was isolation on a whole new level. Transitioning alone in a new country where english isn't your first language during a pandemic is hard.
My mum still doesn't understand. She says I'm a man and I was born a boy. I say to her that she labelled me a boy and then treated me with an arbitrary set of rules and expectations of what some people think it means to be a boy. I would say to her, and indeed the world that such rigid expectations are harmful to many. We don't need different rules for boys and girls. That's how misogyny and inequality happen surely. This is 2021. Just let children be children and express themselves in a way that feels comfortable to them.
I heard about the Don't You Want Me Rescue Fund through Friends of Ruby and applied straight away. I’d always had a dog by my side in my ‘old’ life. Twiney bounced into my life in April this
year and changed everything. I started going out for walks in nature again; I started being responsible. I had a routine and I was looking after someone else's life. Adopting Twiney and transitioning have been the two best decisions I have ever made. Of course not everything is perfect (not yet anyway). I still need to find work and build a family here for us. For both myself and Twiney, Canada has given us not only our freedom, but undoubtedly our lives."
Nanook and Kulu, Toronto CAN.
Identity: Non-binary Inuk from Inuvik, NWT.
"I prayed to Creator for the last 8 years to find the perfect dog, but it wasn’t until 8 months ago that I finally felt secure enough to look after a dog. I guess Creator knows when the time is right. Shortly after I got Kulu, I had top surgery, and she got spayed - we were both healing together. It was a difficult time and she got really sick. I stayed up with her, and looked after her in a way that it was clear no one ever had - and that was it, we’ve been inseparable since. We both understand trauma and we both thrive when we have security and trust. She was adjusting to city life post-surgery, and I was growing into my new body. We did it together, side by side.
Like many trans people, I struggle with social anxiety - it’s rife in our community. We grew up in bodies that felt wrong, and in Western culture, our gender identities are very misunderstood. I’ve recently come to learn that in my Inuit culture, trans folks were looked up to and were integral parts of our communities before colonization. My mom went to an Indian Residential School and she died due to the lifelong impacts of it. They tried to take our identities, our language and our land away. They tried to take everything. It’s hard to live in a society that is constantly trying to kill me but my history and our sacred identities won’t be erased.
I’ve started a new life. Since I got Kulu I barely drink, I got engaged, my fiancé and I are planning to have a baby and I’m building my future. I’m one of the lucky ones to have survived, and I’m going to continue to thrive and be a leader for future generations. I owe it not just to myself, I’m doing it for my mom and all the other beautiful Indigenous, trans and gender diverse people who deserve good lives."
Amie, Diana, Nassau, Kyle, Nacho (l-r), Toronto CAN.
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."
Nic and Chuck, Toronto CAN.
Identity: 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."
Toby and Flynt, Toronto CAN.
"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."
Wendy and Hellers (l-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."
Quinn, Pam, Moose, Storm (l-r), Toronto CAN
“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 enamored 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.”
Laura and Monkey, Toronto CAN
"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 Don't You Want Me shoot as he’d already wiggled his way into my heart.
In the middle of the session 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 favorite 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."
Joey and Cherry, Toronto CAN.
Identity: Trans, non-binary lesbian
"Cherry came into my life at a really important juncture. I was going through a really difficult time with my mental health when I made the decision to bring her home. I was depressed and overwhelmed with just about everything that was happening around me. I had two dogs that belonged to my partner at the time, but wanted my own dog to consider my partner in dogs sports and life.
I wasn’t able to work or socialize because of the pandemic and like many, felt completely isolated. Some people loved the quiet and solitude that covid shrouded us in but I’m an extravert by nature and draw a lot of my energy from being around people. I ended up breaking up with my partner which left me couch surfing during the pandemic - it’s not a good position to find yourself in at the best of times. Thankfully my family have always been supportive around my changing identities, mental health challenges and everything else, and I knew I could reach out to them or live with them at any moment - lots of people don’t have that.
I’ve struggled with suicidal ideation throughout my life but was finally diagnosed with bipolar this June. I’m medicated and in therapy for the first time ever and despite the turbulence of the first few months of my life with Cherry, I’d say I’m the happiest I’ve been in a long time. Cherry is being trained to be my service dog and is exactly the partner I had been searching for. Being able to take her out and work on our disc and agility training got me through one of the darkest times in my mental health history. Her insatiable joy gets me going on days when nothing else could. I think I’d be just another statistic had it not been for Cherry."
Lucas and Marcy, Toronto CAN.
Identity: Trans Man
"I’m a musician, an artist, a mental health advocate and a dog dad. Marcy falls asleep in my arms when I sing to her. I’ve had great success in my life and toured extensively having been the first out trans man signed to a major record deal. I’ve met wonderful people, have great friends and lived a full life, and for that I feel incredible gratitude but with those highs, there have been devastating, life threatening lows. The life of a musician, as people are becoming increasingly aware, is often not always an easy one.
I started my physical transition 11 years ago. Even 11 years ago, there was not the awareness around trans issues that there is now. Transition is hard. Transition in the public eye is even harder.
The pandemic really brought everything to a head for me. I live by myself with Marcy and have an autoimmune disease so for my physical health I became more isolated than the isolated. Whilst I kept myself and others physically safe from the virus, mentally and emotionally I was becoming dangerously ill and nobody knew - not even me. I believe some of those most impacted by the pandemic are those whose work was taken away from them. I love my work, it’s a fundamental part of who I am, and I lost a part of myself. My drinking, something that I had been using as a coping mechanism, something that had once helped, was now ravaging not only my body but also my mind. Had it not been for Marcy I would not have survived the pandemic. I don’t say that lightly. She was the one thing that has been constant, by my side. Some days I stayed alive and kept going only for her.
Like for many, the pandemic also had its silver linings, and it could have given me one of the greatest gifts that I’ve ever had. I was just recently diagnosed with a mental illness that I’d lived with untreated for years. I have help now and I’ve stopped drinking. I feel like a completely new man. I have a sneaky feeling that this next chapter is going to be the best yet and the only reason I’m even here to tell this story is because of Marcy. Thank you Marcy, you saved me yet again and just wait to see where this new journey takes us both - you’re going to be the proudest dog in the whole world.
However dark it gets, please hold on. Please reach out. You likely have a whole army by your side wanting to cheer you on, and the best may be just around the corner. I love you all, Lucas."
Alex and Rico, Mississauga CAN.
Identity: Bisexual woman
“Before Rico came into my life I didn’t think very highly of myself at all. In fact, some days I really hated myself. I felt like a failure. I felt unaccomplished and worthless. Not only did I feel lost, but I struggled with my identity - I didn’t know anyone who felt the same way as I did and it made me feel like there was something inherently wrong with me.
I met Rico through work. He was the most handsome dog I’d ever seen and we had an immediate connection. His owners told me they were having trouble dealing with some of his intense behavioural issues. I got a call from them months later and they told me they couldn’t handle him anymore and were going to surrender him at the shelter. I hung up, drove to their house and told them I’d look after him. I had no idea how I could afford to look after Rico and it terrified me, but so did the thought of Rico being in the shelter system.
The more I worked with Rico, the more he looked up to me. The more he looked up to me, the more confidence I gained. Within months of having him people started to comment on how well he was doing. I started to believe that I had something to offer. I started to believe that I could help others. I was feeling so good about our progress, I started to look after myself too. I’d found my calling.
Fast forward a couple years and I’ve been able to turn my passion into my work. I now spend the days doing what I love, rather than hiding in my room not being able to face the world. I’d be lying if I said I don’t still have those bad days - I do, but I still get out of bed and face the world on those days because Rico’s right there beside me.
Rico has completely transformed how I spend my days but most importantly he changed how I see myself. He’s allowed me to reconnect with the world and taught me how to reconnect with myself. Thank you, my handsome boy, you gave me my life back. I love you more than you’ll ever know."
Reuben and Luna, Brighton UK.
Identity: Trans man
“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.”
Stella and Jada, Toronto CAN.
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.
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."
Buddy, EJ and Binky (l-r), Brighton UK.
Identity: Trans man
”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.”
Eli, Toronto CAN.
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."
Nala, Joc, Hershey (l-r), Toronto CAN
"Here’s the real transformation for this year:
Two weeks ago my barber suggested that I be part of the Don't You Want Me 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."
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."