STORIES OF TRANSFORMATION: THE PROJECT
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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.
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."
Meghan Alice, Emlyn, Margot and Lion, Winnipeg, Manitoba, CAN
Identity: Meghan - genderfluid person | Alice - cis woman
The kids had reached an age where they were both potty-trained and more independent and Alice and I had settled into a routine as a couple. Both the children now saw Alice as a parent and so I finally adjusted to the joy and extra energy that came from having a partner parenting with me. But I was still really struggling with the emptiness and quiet of the house when the kids went to stay with their Dad. Of course there’s grief with divorce, but there’s also an element of loss as a parent that I don't hear talked about often. Missing time with your kids is hard as is the
environment and lifestyle change every few days. That emptiness coupled with lockdowns and winter was crippling.
We started to think about adopting a rescue knowing that it would likely take some time to find the right dog with the right temperament that would thrive in our family dynamic. It turned out that it didn't take long at all, that we would be bringing home a 12 week old puppy and that he would be just perfect.
I expected a puppy would bring more noise, work and chaos into our lives but was ready to embrace it as an equalizer when the kids were gone. What I hadn’t anticipated was how much love Lion would bring. On the days the kids go away, he lays beside me and I rest my head on him like a pillow and we watch TV. He's so gentle and intuitive. It's been so good for me in levelling out that drastic change every few days. Alice and the kids have also grown their own unique bonds with him - he is incredibly attached to Alice and the kids make him so happy. He's bigger and heavier than them now, but he still curls up to them whenever they're sitting
still long enough.
I have a weak right side and deal with chronic pain from a TIA ten years ago which had really discouraged me from being active. But now I’m looking forward to the weather changing so we can take Lion out on adventures. Lion’s calm demeanour makes it possible for me to be able to walk him without being concerned about him pulling - it feels like he senses my limitations.
Lion’s just as gentle now as he was on the first day we met him. He doesn't seem like a 6 month old puppy or the big dog he is. He's so aware of his body and he’s especially aware of how he moves himself around the kids. Getting attention is done by putting his head between your legs and waiting for pets, rather than jumping up on you. He's found his rhythm with each of us and the kids are completely in love with him. Lion’s been a huge source of comfort for our oldest Emelyn who sometimes will ask to sit with him to help her with her feelings. I can’t imagine him not being a part of our family - he makes our family.
Sylvia and Ziggy, Winnipeg, Manitoba, CAN
Identity: bi/queer cis woman
"Ziggy’s been such an instrumental part of my day-to-day existence and happiness for 5 years now. He came into my life at a time when I was going through some life adjustments. I was starting my masters in social work, I had just moved, and I also felt a sense of uneasiness which I now recognize was rooted in internalized biphobia. The first week of having Ziggy happened to fall on the weekend of Winnipeg Pride. I remember taking him to his first Pride march, and his smile brought so much joy to everyone we met. I knew from that day onwards that his companionship would be a source of connection, joy, and groundedness.
Having Ziggy has helped me consistently care for my physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being. He’s my daily reminder to get outdoors and move my body in ways that feel good. We’ve recently started jogging year round which for anyone who knows Winnipeg is a fairly significant achievement itself. Ziggy’s smile is my constant reminder to connect and engage with other people and nature, and to strive to be as caring and grounded for others, as he is for me. "
Aletia and Niffy, Guernsey Channel Islands
Identity: Bisexual cis woman
"My wife and I are both animal lovers and always had dogs when we were growing up so we were desperate to have a dog to join our family when we moved to Guernsey together in 2019. Unfortunately, the restrictions for pets within the rental market in Guernsey meant that we had to wait until we were homeowners to have a dog live with us. We’ve always believed in adopting so as soon as we were settled into our new home in 2020, we began our search for a rescue.
Niffy took a long time to find amidst pandemic lockdowns and border closures but she was worth every second of the wait. She got delayed and diverted numerous times on her long journey from Cyprus before finally arriving in Guernsey on Valentine’s Day. My Valentine’s Day dog brought with her not only an abundance of love but she’s also been instrumental in improving my life. My wife says Niffy is actually me, only in dog form, and it’s true, she often seems to pick up on, and even mirrors my emotions at times.
I’ve lived with chronic illness for 18 years now and recently got diagnosed with ADHD and finally it feels like everything has started to make sense. I’ve been trying to navigate two very different, often conflicting conditions. Before Niffy came into my life I would have worried about the repercussions of physically exerting myself so I would often compensate by mentally exerting myself as a way to cope, but extremes don’t often work well as a coping mechanism, not for very long anyway.
Niffy and I go to the beach together every day after work, and even on the really bad days when I’m struggling with chronic pain or fatigue, just sitting on the beach and throwing her ball makes everything feel better without causing me more setbacks. Watching her play brings a feeling of peace to my life that I’ve not felt for so long. Our time on the beach allows me to pause, reflect and centre myself. It’s always been a battle putting my self care first - but Niffy changed that. If something has a positive impact on Niffy’s wellbeing then it becomes something that l prioritise, and by doing so, I prioritize myself and in turn have more to give back to the world.
I navigate the world as a cis person who is 'hetero passing' and have, for the most part, avoided many of the issues faced by those in our community who don’t as seamlessly ‘blend in’. I’m a huge advocate of the work of Liberate - the island’s LGBTQ charity. They’ve implemented significant change in the island since we’ve been here and I remain hopeful that the future will be a more accepting and compassionate one."
Chris and Bailey, Hamilton CAN.
Identity: Transmasculine, queer, pansexual, trans, non-binary
"I had a dog previously - another rescue golden named Jamie. She passed away in November 2016 leaving a huge void in my life. A year later, after my breakup, I felt so broken that I questioned how I would go on. The cumulative grief felt unbearable. After months of soul searching I reached the point where I could focus on rebuilding my life and a big factor in that was deciding to look for another rescue dog.
When I went to pick Bailey up her person appeared strangely unemotional. I asked if Bailey had any belongings such as a bed or toys to which the reply was no. I was left with the lingering impression that there was a lot more to Bailey’s early life than I had been told. Helping Bailey adjust into her new life helped me shift into a happier state of mind. We spent a lot of time outdoors, going for long hikes and that’s how she began to start trusting me and feeling like she had a home.
I feel more and more at home in my body since beginning my medical transition in July 2020. It was one of the best decisions I have ever made. For the most part, those closest to me have been wonderfully supportive. I’m sometimes read as a gay man or not ‘manly enough’ and have had ‘faggot’ screamed at me. There’s also been times where I’ve been concerned for my physical safety.
Every time I hear about the many injustices and forms of violence impacting trans folks - many of whom are also dealing with racism, ableism, classism and lack of access to healthcare - I’m sometimes overwhelmed by what a senselessly cruel world we live in, and am flooded with grief and despair. Having Bailey in my life however has helped me feel more emotionally stable and grounded and gives me a sense of hope. We help each other navigate social situations that on our own can be terrifying. I still sometimes fall back on unhealthy coping mechanisms, but her unconditional love remains an anchor and a reassuring presence in my life. Her impact has been positive on every level and she’s always there for me in a way that no human could ever be. She brings happiness to my life every single day."
Cora and Mado, Vancouver, CAN
Identity: Non binary queer lesbian
‘My immigration advisor messed up and I received a letter stating that I had to leave Canada because my application had been denied. After a lot of paperwork, stress and general panic I finally had an email saying that my new visa had been approved. The very same day I got a notification that one of the rescues I had applied for was having an adoption event on the weekend. I took it as a sign and adopted Mado the same day. I was determined to make a life and family for myself here.
I left France 10 years ago now, so maybe a lot has changed, but being non-binary is certainly not something I could have explained to my family. I don’t think I would ever have had the freedom to be myself had I stayed in France. And I guess that’s why some queer people, because of who or how we look, end up in some bad situations - because we had to leave the security of all that was familiar. Yet family, that sense of home, that unspoken feeling of being part of the fabric of society, of being necessary is what life is all about. I think people understand that a bit more having lived through Covid. But that’s why I think queer people sometimes struggle, because we can’t always be with our original family. We can’t always just pop round for gatherings and holidays - not that we were kicked out, or that there was any animosity, just that we could never have flourished where we’re from. Like everyone, I need family, and I’ve started to build it with Mado.
Mado came with a lot of issues. To this day she still refuses to leave the house if I'm not there and she refuses to walk on leash more than a block or two. But she’ll run off leash for hours on the trails or at the beach. During the pandemic I realized that my only joy was to walk Mado. So I started walking other dogs and made the decision to quit a very well paid career and do something that I really made me happy. All of the rescue dogs that I walk are teaching me so much and I want to help them more in return so I’m studying to get a trainer certification to help all the skittish rescues of this world (but also a huge part of me just wanted to take that course so I can finally walk Mado on a leash for more than two blocks!).
Mado has taught me that it’s okay to ask for help, that it’s okay to talk to a therapist and that it’s okay to completely change careers. I wouldn’t be where I am today without Mado.’
Identity: Girl, aged 7, Channel Islands
"I find it baffling when people say that parents of transgender children must have “wanted a child of the opposite sex” and that this desire caused our children to change to please us. It is my hope that by telling our story, people can begin to understand the unlikeliness of such a scenario and that children like my feisty, beautiful, stubborn daughter would never change who they are for anyone.
Our journey began when Jacob was two years old and at preschool. When I arrived to collect him in the afternoons, he would be reluctant to change from his favourite fancy dress outfit, the policewoman’s dress, into his regular clothes. This seemed like the usual toddler stubbornness, and I thought little of it when he and his older brother Sam became obsessed with Frozen, singing, dancing, and twirling happily in matching Elsa dresses. I have many photos and videos as it was wonderful to see them expressing themselves freely without the constraints of gender norms. The Disney phase continued, and we collected more dresses, but as Sam outgrew the phase Jacob became more obsessed. By the time Jacob was four years old he wore nothing but princess dresses at home and begged me to get him a “proper everyday dress” so that he had something to wear out as well as at home. A friend gave me a pink spotty dress her daughter had outgrown, and Jacob wore it every day. He had huge tantrums whenever I washed it and I quickly realised I needed to get a couple of alternative outfits. At this point I still thought nothing of it, my sweet little boy liked to dress up and of course there is nothing wrong with that.
When Jacob started school, he quickly observed the difference in uniform between the boys and the girls. In the first term there was a medieval event and while all the other reception boys wore king or knight costumes Jacob refused to wear the knight costume I had bought and decided to wear his Snow-White dress. Similarly, when he was invited to a friend’s superhero themed birthday party, he wore his Elsa dress because she was his hero. By his second term at school Jacob started referring to himself as Maddie and asked if he could wear dresses to school. We talked about it several times and decided that if he wanted to wear the school uniform dresses, he should be able to wear them. I started to realise that this might be more than simply dressing up and chatted to Jacob regularly about how he was feeling, but he was still quite happy to be a boy in a dress.
Difficulties began when I contacted the class teacher to let them know that Jacob would be wearing school dresses. The teacher was fantastic and saw no reason why he could not, but as the teacher was new to the school, he said they would have to check the school policy with the head teacher, who then contacted me directly. She told me that Jacob would have to be reviewed by CAMHS (Child and Adult Mental Health Services) and that if he came to school in the girl’s uniform it would confuse the other children. I contacted Liberate for advice as I did not agree with the school’s position. Liberate were able to direct me to the local guidance for schools which clearly stated that children should be able to wear whichever uniform they wish. When Jacob returned to school that term, it was in a summer dress.
Things settled down at school but a few months later, when Jacob was five, he became moody and sad. I talked to him one evening when we had some quiet time on our own and he broke down in terrible wracking sobs against my chest. Through his tears he asked me why I hadn’t made him a girl when he was in my tummy. He was angry because he believed it was my fault, we cuddled, and I gently explained that I didn’t get to choose whether my babies were born girls or boys. Jacob accepted that but was still confused so I did some research into books to explain gender identity to
children. I found one that was well worded and age appropriate to read to both of my children together. When we came to the part about boys Sam was pleased and said, “that’s me, I’m a boy!”. Jacob was quiet and sullen. When we got to the section about nonbinary people, they were both interested to hear that people could be both genders or neither. As we read the pages about transgender children Jacob’s face lit up and his eyes were bright. “That’s me mummy, I’m a girl with a boy’s body”. I was surprised at her certainty but from that day on she has never wavered, she happily tells people that she has a “girl brain in a boy’s body”. She laughs now and tells me how silly I was to think she was a boy when she was born, as she was a girl all along!
Jacob decided that she wanted to change her name, Maddie was a name she had used temporarily but it belonged to a girl in her class, she wanted her own name. It was hard for me to let go of a name I had chosen with love, but I realised that my daughter considered the name Jacob too masculine for her, and she needed the change to move forward. She chose Maya and at the end of the Easter holidays she went back to school with her new name and pronouns. I had discussed the changes with the teacher in advance, and everything went more smoothly than I could have expected, most of the children in her class accepted the changes easily.
Some people have said to me that Maya is too young to know who she is and that I may be damaging her psychologically by allowing her to be free in her choices. I do not agree. Should I have refused to let her wear dresses and told her she could not be a princess? Her favourite colour is pink, should I tell her that is a girl colour, and she must pick blue? Clothing and colours do not have genders, I could have dressed her in typical “boy clothes” and she would still be who she is. The difference is that she would not be happy and as a parent I refuse to be the reason for my child’s misery.
I must admit I have moments of anxiety and I worry about the difficulties Maya could face in the future. The media is full of examples of the lack of understanding for transgender children and their parents. I shield my daughter as much as I can from people with negative attitudes, she is lucky to have a big brother who is her fierce protector and will not tolerate other children saying things to dim her brightly shining light. We are also lucky to have a supportive network of family and friends both in person and online through organisations such as Mermaids and more locally Liberate.
Whatever the future holds for Maya, the most important thing is that she always feels loved, accepted, and supported. She has taught me so much about self-acceptance and how much it affects our happiness and wellbeing. I am so proud of my inspiring fierce daughter; I am certain that with her determination and spirit she will achieve great things."
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."
Kyle, Amie, Nassau, Diana (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."
Kemi and Taro, Toronto CAN
Identity: Cis queer woman
"Taro the tripod came into our lives at the perfect time, it was the same time my partner came out to her mum and brother. Taro’s from the middle east, (coincidently the same place as my partner) and was in the shelter system for a long time because no one wanted a ‘damaged’ dog. I’ll be honest - she looked a little scruffy - but all she just needed was a bath, a trim and a bit of love. She’s perfect now, this 3 legged wonder is part of our family, and we couldn’t imagine our lives without her.
Even though none of us are from Canada we have so much gratitude for this country, and in particular, Toronto. It’s somewhere we’ve all been able to thrive and live freely. My partner came to Toronto 7 years ago to study at university and that’s when we first met. We’ve been together ever since and not a day goes by that she doesn’t feel lucky to have had the resources and tools available to be able to leave the middle east - many LGBTQ people can't.
When her mum and brother were visiting last year, Taro became the icebreaker we all needed. It was the first time we were seeing them since she’d told them she was gay. There’s definitely a lot more pressure when family are visiting - things happen less organically when you don’t live in the same place, and it felt like the stakes were high. That’s what happens with homophobia - it creates distance. I’ve had nothing but full support from my own family - sometimes I think that makes it harder for her, but mostly it helps create more of a sense of family and support.
I wanted her family to see that she was happy and I wanted it to go as well as it could for her sake. It did go well, but it’s still a work in progress. Homophobia has had not only a tremendous impact on our lives, but also upon her family - it affects everyone, it’s just so corrosive. And it just feels so unnecessary - all of that pain and for what? We can’t be anything other than who we are. The rest of her family still doesn’t know she’s in love with someone, and that’s a shame they’re missing out on such a huge part of her life - but it could mean her being ex-communicated from the family and that would be devastating for everyone. We’re are all too aware that her situation is so much better than many other LGBTQ people from similar backgrounds. It’s not lost on us that we feel ‘lucky’ yet still have to be careful about our physical safety. Not everyone would say we were lucky.
She still goes ‘home’ to the middle east twice a year because her family are important to her. It takes weeks for her to recover once she returns home. She has to hide who she intrinsically is in order to keep safe and that takes a toll on you. She couldn't be included in the photoshoot as it could have real life and death consequences for her but we’re taking part in this project because visibility matters. Queer people in the middle east simply aren’t visible or represented through any medium because of the horrific consequences and very real threat of physical violence. If you can’t see yourself reflected in society, it’s so much harder to fully be who you are so even though you can’t see her, you can read her truth. "
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."
Gab, Bertie, River, Cat (l-r), Toronto CAN
‘I can still find mornings difficult, but getting outside in nature for a walk, all together, the four of us, it just makes everything better. We wouldn’t have that if we didn’t have Bertie and River.
Some people have regular jobs and children and I guess that gives most people routine, but we don’t want children so the dogs and the business are our family now.
I knew that I was loved growing up, and my family would be devastated if they knew how much damage had been caused, but sometimes that love felt conditional on me complying with ‘femininity’; you know, something that I just couldn’t do - not for long or without unseen consequences anyway. I know families don’t want to be ridiculed and probably in their mind, they were trying to protect me and didn’t want me to stand out or get bullied. But I did stand out. I wish they’d let me be myself, held my hand through the difficult moments and taught me to use my voice so that the bullies would hear my roar.
I’m driven, ambitious and know what I want but it was clear that the careers I went after saw my presentation before they saw what I could actually offer them. I wasn’t going out of my way to disrupt the status quo or the dress code, it's just that their dress codes and notions of femininity were so suffocatingly rigid. It would never have let me give my best, in fact, I’m not convinced it does many women.
I’ve found work that I love and where I can be myself, and there’s no better feeling than working for and being yourself, but I was almost forced to venture out by myself. I had the guts and was in a position in life to take a risk, but what about the other people, who can’t jump ship and who also don’t fit in the gender binary. I’m still healing from trying to be someone I wasn’t, trying to perform a role that I shouldn't have had to. I don’t always get it right and sometimes that’s a human thing, but make no mistake, sometimes it’s a trauma thing.
We both party a lot less now and it’s because of Bertie and River. They give me the confidence to drink less, to be myself and my mental health has come a long way. I’m still trying to let go of how people perceive me - it was a fear I held on to my whole life. But it’s time to let it go now. I know who I am.’
Lacey and Amelie, Halifax, CANIdentity: Queer woman
‘Without a doubt Amelie saved my life.
I’ve struggled with anxiety my whole life and navigating the world in a constant state of stress can, at times, become totally debilitating. Having such crippling anxiety makes me want to withdraw and hide away from life, but the isolation that comes from that is almost worse. Avoidance became just a different form of suffering. So Amelie gets me out, she helps me to do the things I need to do, but far more importantly than that, she helps me do the things that bring me joy. Thank you Amelie, not only did you save my life, you allowed me to start living again.’
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."
Emma and Lola, Halifax, CAN
Identity: Queer woman
"I was extremely anxious as a child, not because of my gender or sexuality, more likely a bit of nature and a lot of nurture. I have adhd and often have tics when under stress so much to the annoyance of my father, I found it very hard to stay still as a child. I remember one incident when he tied me to a chair to try to stop me ‘fidgeting’. It didn’t end well.
It was a difficult childhood, the child protection agency were called, my parents got divorced, and I got sick. I would throw up so often that I kept losing weight. My mum took me to hospital and specialist appointments to try to find out what was wrong with me. It turned out that there was nothing wrong with me, I was simply an anxious child in desperate need of a supportive and understanding environment.
And then came Lola! I tell people I was a teen mum because I adopted her when I was 18. We actually got her as a family pet, but after a month my parents said she was ‘too much work’ and they were going to take her back to the shelter. I knew what this would do to an animal, in much the same way as the lack of stability had done to me, and I promised I would take on the responsibility for Lola completely - physically, financially and emotionally.
Lola needed a lot of training in the early days - she was damaged. It was obvious that she had been beaten. I understood. I was patient and gentle with her and I promised never to let her down. She started to trust me, and we have built everything from that moment onwards. I’ve started to trust myself too. I still take medication and have a therapist, but I no longer feel like I want to die. I used to spend 16 hours a day hiding from life behind my computer, now I spend any spare time I have hiking, running and biking with Lola. Of course, I still have the occasional bad day, but now if I cry Lola will lick my face, or if the anxiety tics start, she reassures me and they stop. She’s not an official service dog, but she’s my service dog and I owe my life to her.
I’ve just moved to Nova Scotia from Montreal and am excited for the future and to be building my own life with Lola. I’m working as an animator and artist and hope one day to open an art therapy clinic for queer youth. I want queer youth to know that life can be better than anything they ever imagined, that someone out there will support them and become their family. I want to be that family."
Editor’s note: Emma now also works part time at Pet Valu having taken part in the Project and seen the Rescued by Love exhibit. Emma also volunteers for the Project. Thank you for being the shining light that you are Emma, the world is lucky to have you.
Megan and Baker, Winnipeg, Manitoba, CAN
Identity: Transgender woman
When I started to question my gender I decided to travel across the country with Baker in a school bus that I’d converted into a motorhome. I spent 6 months in a forest near a little oceanside town reflecting on my life and what it might look like for someone like me. Every 2 weeks I would make the 7 hour round trip to Courtenay BC to attend therapy sessions to help me actualize my identity and to figure out how to come out as trans.
During my therapy sessions, Baker would lay beside me on the floor, occasionally getting up and leaning against my leg or putting her head on my lap. She didn’t know what I was going through but she knew I was going through it. After the sessions we would always stop for a pup cup, a dog friendly cookie and a swim in one of the many beautiful Vancouver Island lakes on the journey home.
When I finally came out, I stopped being a workaholic. I realised that when I had stopped using substances and alcohol to cope with my gender dysphoria I had simply replaced one addiction with another. Welcoming Baker into my life shifted my mindset from one of avoiding issues by constantly working to spending quality time with Baker actually enjoying life. Baker has taught me that life is really a lot simpler than the complexity that we make it, that patience is a virtue and that sometimes we need to smell every single spot on the grass instead of going distances.
I’ve definitely faced challenges as a trans woman, specifically in the field that I love working in - the automotive repair industry. Whilst I had many allies during shop hours, transition delivered a noticeable decline in invites to work social events. The exclusion spoke volumes, and really about them because we still had the same great relationship at work, I was still the same person they had always known and joked about with, but they now felt shame around being seen with me in public.
Thankfully, a huge part of my life has always been skateboarding and now I teach motorcycle repair to 2SLGBTQ and BIPOC communities and both of these communities have actively embraced me. Skateboarding, teaching, my partners and Baker have become the most rewarding and loving parts of my life. All of the fear around transition is gone, my only wish is that I’d known sooner that transitioning would be the best gift I could ever give to myself.
Jase, aged 11, Channel Islands.
“I’m just myself and no one can change that. I’m happy being me. I’m not sure why but sometimes kids like me get bullied. Mum says people bully other people because they are unhappy and don’t have the love and support they need from their parents and friends.
When I grow up, I can imagine myself on the stage - I think I’ll be a musician, or maybe an actor. I can’t wait to have a dog of my own and I love animals, so maybe I’d even have my own TV show about helping animals. Whatever I end up doing, I’d always want to make people and animals happy. I think I’d be good at helping the unhappy people so that they stop bullying people.
I’m the king of trampolining and skateboarding and if there’s anything to climb, you bet I’m gonna climb it. I’m always creating different ways to make money and there’s never enough hours in the day. Mum thinks I’m going to be an entrepreneur. Apparently I have something called adhd but to me it just means that the world is an exciting place full of endless possibilities and adventure. There’s so much to see and explore and I can’t wait to do it all.”
Teo, Taigra, and Timeline, Toronto, CAN
Identity: Trans man
We were both working long hours in Brazil. I was working for myself and had been doing really well, but then the work suddenly dried up. I struggled to find more work and the days gradually started to become meaningless. I felt worthless, like I had let my wife down and that I was a burden. We couldn’t go home or even get help from our families because they didn't approve of our relationship.
It wasn’t that Tai didn’t want a dog, it was more that we weren't in a position to look after a dog. Without my income, it was hard to even look after ourselves. But I knew a dog would help. I knew she would get me back on my feet, and I knew that would mean I could afford to look after her and my wife again. Timeline not only gave me purpose and got me well, she was the bridge to rebuilding the relationship with my mum.
Brazil is where we are from, and I love my country and my people, but I never truly belonged, I could never be myself, not fully. It’s hard putting on an act. Even now when I reach for Tai’s hand, I sometimes get that rush of fear jolting my body, knowing this was something that could have got us attacked or even worse, back home. When Bolsonaro won the Brazil election in 2018 it was our signal to leave.
Toronto and Timeline gave me my life back. There’s not a day that goes by where I don’t feel like the luckiest person alive. I went back to school here to study something that I love. I won prizes for my work. I can wear clothes that feel like me and have a short haircut. It feels like a different person that wanted to end their life because they felt like they had failed. I still remember the words of those close to me when I came out to them. I can’t even repeat them here, but I’m not the one who failed - they are.’
Editor’s note: Between the time of the shoot and the publishing of the narrative, Teo came out as a trans man. I couldn’t be prouder to know Teo and everything he’s achieved. We were all in tears at his initial project interview talking about everything himself and Tai had been through and our collective joy at being able to live freely in Toronto.
Owen and Nevi, Halifax, Nova Scotia, CAN
"I adopted Nevi on a road trip in the USA after meeting him at a rescue that had told me he was older than he was, that he was cat friendly, and crate trained. He turned out to be much younger, not cat safe, and terrified of crates. He also turned out to be very reactive and I felt like I’d made a huge mistake and that I wasn’t going to be able to offer him the home he needed. I seriously considered finding him a new home with no cats with someone with experience helping reactive dogs, but he then became epileptic, and I knew at that point that he would likely struggle to get rehomed and there would be a good chance he would be euthanized. That was the turning point for us and so I doubled down on my commitment to care for him. We started confidence training classes which really helped curb his reactivity. I can’t explain the amount of work, emotion, and money it has taken to get him to the point he’s at now, but I can say it’s been an irreplaceable experience to see him become a much more confident and happier dog who gets to enjoy a full life.
Owning a dog significantly changed me in ways I wasn’t expecting. I thought I was adopting a dog to support my mental health by getting me outside more and into nature. But once I realized that he was not going to be my emotional support animal and that it was actually me that was going to be his emotional support animal, things quickly began to change. He wasn’t ready for going on happy little walks in nature and we had to start from the ground up to make that a safe and enjoyable experience for both of us. I didn’t realize how much patience I would have to develop. Where at times in my life I barely felt capable of taking care of myself, I had to learn to trust myself to care for a creature who depended on me for everything. And in doing that, I learned how to better care for myself too. A lot of the things he needed were things I needed too. Who wouldn’t benefit from taking confidence classes in basic life and social skills? I learned how to set boundaries with others to reduce his exposure to reactive triggers or fear responses. In doing so, I learned how to set boundaries for myself and my own triggers and recognize how important that is as the emotional and sensitive beings we all are.
Being queer is one of the most beautiful things about myself and my life, and I’m grateful every day to be who I am and to belong to the queer community. But have I faced challenges as a result? Most definitely. I struggled through most of my late teens and early-mid 20’s with homelessness, financial insecurity, suicidal ideation, sexual assault, trouble with the law, and generally felt like it was a never-ending battle to be me in this world, all because of my identity not being accepted, embraced, or loved. And that right there is exactly why I committed to giving Nevi what he needed, because I totally understand what it feels like, through no fault of your own, to feel alone, lost, and terrified in this world."
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."
Ariel and Jazzy, Vancouver, CAN
All of our family pets were rescues, but Jazzy was my first rescue. I got her when I was 16 and still in high school. Before I got her, I was a troubled kid that struggled with anxiety, depression and weight problems. I felt like an outsider and I struggled with coming to terms with my sexuality. I couldn’t talk to my mum about any of these things, she berated me for my weight and appearance and she was openly very homophobic. I didn't feel like anyone or anything actually needed me and I didn't feel like life was going to get better, like the famous phrase promises.
I had fallen in love with Jazzy at the local shelter, but found out that she was going to a new home the following day. Around that time I had been studying basic metaphysics and the law of attraction, and so I decided to play with the concept. I was working at my grandmother's store at the weekends, so I began adding to my savings in preparation to adopt Jazzy even though she had already been adopted. I would visualise what it was like to see her in our car, to get a new leash and collar for her, to rename her, and to take her on adventures to the beach. A few weeks later we got a call from the shelter to say that she had been returned so I used every penny that I had saved from working at my grandma's store to finally bring her home. This remains one of the greatest days of my life.
As soon as I got Jazzy, my relationship with the world and with myself began to change. I promised Jazzy that I would dedicate my life to ensuring she had the best life possible, and in order to do that, I knew I had to commit to staying alive. She's been there for me through some horrific events but above all, she's been my most permanent and stable family member. Here we are 14 years later and still going strong.
Jazzy and I had to leave the family home a long time ago, it wasn’t a safe place to be. Years later I finally came out to my mum and I won’t repeat what she said to me here but our relationship has never really improved, even as the years passed. In leaving my family home, I’ve slowly begun to rebuild my life and lift myself out of poverty. Jazzy got me through the worst time of my life and kept me alive and I’m hoping to be able to use my experience to help others by training to be a trauma-informed counsellor.
Jazzy’s helped me see that I have so much love and care to offer the world. She continues to remind me that I don't have to become hardened to the world just because I was mistreated. I try to let go of the past but I still have nightmares because that’s just how insidious trauma is. Jazzy knows when I'm having a nightmare and she either wakes me up or positions herself right next to my head, as if she's saying "it's okay - I'm right here, and I’ll always be here".
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."
Shelley and Sara, Halifax, CAN
Sarah, Shelley and Daisy, Western Shore, Nova Scotia
‘I’ve never not had a dog. I think I understand the way that dogs navigate the world far better than I understand most people. Dogs just love unconditionally - they’re so much better than us.
Daisy was skinny, withdrawn and scared of just about everything when she first arrived at the farm. We don’t know what happened to her, but clearly something did. You don’t end up like that if you feel safe, and of course it’s the same for us too. I think as queer people, we haven’t always felt safe in the past which every so often can creep in to how we react to the present.
Now that Daisy has settled in to her new family the fear seems to have mostly disappeared. She still has her moments, and of course, we would expect that. Healing isn’t linear for any of us. Daisy really is one of a kind - everyone that meets her comments on it. She doesn’t really behave like a dog, but that’s what makes us love her even more and no-one is thrown out here for not fitting the mold, we take everyone just as they are. Both myself and Shelley still have our battles with mental health issues and whilst Daisy is a huge source of support and healing for us we still need other support systems too.
Knowing how much animals can have such a transformative impact on people’s mental health was one of the reasons that we set up the Little Silly Goose Farm as a therapy farm. All of the animals here are rescues. No animal is thrown out for not fitting in or being as it should be - if only we could learn to live that We offer private and group guided tours for people and children who could benefit from spending time with our animals - pot belly pigs, goats, chicken, horses, and of course, Daisy.'