Happy headspace, with or without a handler, is the heart of human pet play

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I have a pet. A Pup. His name is Pup Who, and I adore him.

I’m not talking about a normal pet, like you might have.

Though I also own the kinds of pets YOU might own (cats and dogs), I’m talking here about the pets in my kink and Leather world. I’m talking about human pets.

Like your pets, they are beautiful, loving creatures. They want to play, to be stroked, to cuddle, to be mischievous, to be kept safe. They are loyal and often full of service for you, just like your beloved four-legged Buster.  

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Deek Pheeps is president of the Iowa Pets and Handlers Association (IA-PAH) and also Iowa Pet 2020.

Some human pups wear pup hoods and tails. Some human cats/kittens wear kitten ears and tails. Ponies may wear bridle bits and a saddle.

Pet Play is a playful and meaningful way of life for these pets that is not inherently sexual. Human pets may make animal noises … meows, barks, growls … and enjoy treats, scritches, belly rubs or boops on the snoot. Some play tug of war with a rope, play in a ball pit or you may see a kitty clear something off the table for you in one fell swoop (because let’s be honest … kitties own us, not the other way around).

Why do people become human pets? I asked Deek Pheeps, president of the Iowa Pets and Handlers Association and also Iowa Pet 2020, to tell us more about pets and the “head space” they seek. 

“For a short time, pets get to drop the stresses of their lives and become someone else. We get the opportunity to be a version of ourselves that we always wanted to be,” Deek says. “A human who is normally shy and quiet can be a loud and outgoing pet. Through pet play, we get to experience confidence, play without inhibition, and be ourselves without the judgment of others.

“Pet play opens the door to us and shows us that we can access these parts of ourselves in our everyday lives.” 

Pup Deek is one of the most authentic, lovely people I’ve ever known, and I’m lucky we are “family.” IA-PAH, the organization he leads, is for pets, handlers — and their friends.

“We are a group of animal role players that see all expressions of animal identity as valid and important,” Deek says. “Our goal is to create an inclusive culture where all critters feel they can have a safe space to be themselves regardless of species, gender, sexuality, race, age, body type or disability. Pet play is for everyone, who wishes to participate, and we want to share the joy that pet play has brought to our lives with anyone who is interested.”

Deek says pet play is about “exploring that inner animal inside of  you, whatever it may be.” To see a group of human pets together … bark hello, wave paws, meow in greeting … it is so endearing and beautiful. I love to see them be their authentic selves, and play a part of who they are while feeling safe and loved. 

Pet Play is more than pups. says Deek. It can also include other “amazingly creative critters” — including kittens, ponies, bunnies, rhinos and dragons.

One of my friends is a kitty. “Being a cat in a dog’s world can be tough,” says Felinyx Quinn. “Not seeing many others like me in the community can make me feel out of place. But people like Bettie and Pup Who help remind me that I have a place at the table, and a right to be part of the fun.”

Pup Who is MY pup; we’re in the cover photo. He asked me to collar him In late February 2020. I had never owned a human pet before. I was excited and nervous. But I adored the person and Pup he is: curious, playful, loving and excitable.

We talked a lot and negotiated what we wanted this to look like. Neither of us felt a handler title fit, so I became his Mistress. A week after we spoke of it, we had a collaring ceremony. He was the happiest Pup, and I am so grateful to be a part of his life.

I asked Pup Who,”Why did you choose me?”  

“From the first time we met,” he said, “I saw you as a strong person who will fight to protect members of the leather/kink community from bad people. I instantly felt safe and protected around you.”

Do you know that feeling? Of someone wanting to be a part of your life because they feel safe with you? For me, it is indescribable. To have this pup pick me out of anyone to care for him, to love him, to guide him and protect him…. He has given me such a gift.

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Ms. Bettie Rage provides some chin scratches to Felinyx Quinn, whose human pet headspace is a kitty.

I am someone he can help and make proud by his actions. It makes him feel good.  He also knows I will correct his behavior, and that helps him improve to be the best pup he can be.

As in all of the kink and Leather worlds, Pet Play is often misunderstood. Pets are laughed at, teased, grabbed or pulled. Some people outside of the leather and kink world pull their gear which can include hoods, harnesses and tails.

CONSENT IS KEY. So you must not touch any pet without prior given consent from the pet or the handler (read below). They’re not for your amusement, or to be handled because you think they are “cute.”

When a pet is owned and collared, like my Pup Who, this does not mean they do not have their own autonomy. But they DO likely have a dynamic in place. If you see a leashed pet, the person holding that leash is likely their handler (owner), and you should ask permission of the handler before talking to that pet.

Deek offers more tips, here and in the sidebar at the end of my column. One tip is to be aware of how pet gear — hoods, leashes and other items — deprive the senses: “Hoods muffle exterior sounds and amplify the sound of breathing, while also limiting vision and ability to speak,” Deek explained. “You wouldn’t want to approach a horse from behind for fear of getting kicked; the same rings true for Human pets. It is good practice to approach any pet from the front, and to make sure your presence is known, before engaging.” 

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Ms. Bettie Rage, Deek Pheeps and other Iowa leather titleholders are hosting the upcoming “Think Kink” night presented by Iowa Leather Weekend. The theme is “The Art of Consent: Refresh & Review” and the evening takes place at The Blazing Saddle July 13.

I go into protection mode around any pet when these rules are not followed.

Just last weekend, we had our gear night at The Blazing Saddle.Gear nights are OUR nights to be in OUR gear at OUR bar. We get to be with family and feel safe. Unlike some leather gear nights, ours is open to non-leather queers and straight folks, as well. But it’s OUR space.

Last weekend, a drunk person grabbed a pup’s tail in front of me, I locked onto her wrist, looked her in the eyes and said “Do NOT touch.” She angrily accused me of assaulting her, not realizing she had grabbed a pup without his consent.

Not long after, another woman who had also drank too much was too much “in his space,” standing very close to him while she was drunk and invading his personal space. I reached out, touched his chest, asked if he was ok and then just looked at her. She put her hands up and backed away. That same person later confronted another member of the family..  

Pets are not here for your amusement, to poke fun of, to touch, or to argue with. But we know you have questions. So, if you see a pet ask — the pet, or the handler. Get to know them; they’re lovely. If you follow the rules, I will almost guarantee you will be met with a wag and a happy pet.

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You can also stop by The Blazing Saddle July 31 for Iowa Leather Weekend’s monthly Gear Night, when members of the Leather community, and friends and family, gather at The Blazing Saddle.

But please … keep your hands to yourself. And read the tips below from Deek.

Tips for How to Interact with Human Pets (courtesy of Deek Pheeps, president of IA-PAH)

  • Never pull on a pet’s tail… you don’t know what is on the other end of it. Some tails are made to be insertable, and the last thing anyone wants is a plug ripped out of them.
  • No means No. For all pets. Whatever the reason.
  • Beyond the all-important rules of consent, right or wrong do not exist in pet play. It’s different for everyone — from how we identify, to the relationships that we form, to the types of play we enjoy while in headspace. You can be a cuddly house cat, a rambunctious puppy or a dedicated work horse. However you experience consensual pet play is the right way as long as you’re having fun!
  • You DO NOT need gear to be a pet. It’s a beautiful tool, especially to help get into your “headspace.” But it can be expensive. Personally, I’ve been practicing pet play for eight years, but it was only three years ago that I was able to purchase gear for myself. The fictitious requirement of gear is classist. YOU are the only thing that is required to be a pet.
  • You DO NOT need a handler, dom, alpha, etc to be a pet. By simply identifying as a pet, you are a pet; without the need for external validation. I often see newer pets saying “I wish I had a handler, then I could be a real pet.” Their excitement to jump into the Dom/Sub relationship at the root of the pet/handler relationship can cloud their judgment and get them into messy, sometimes abusive, situations. I’ve seen pets hurt by blindly jumping into these relationships. So take your time.
  • If you ARE seeking a handler, remember the handler’s role is of a caretaker. Coming back to a sense of reality after being in pet play headspace can be very traumatic for some. To help this transition be less traumatic, pets may need lots of affirmation, cuddles and after-care help this transition be less traumatic for the pets. So seek your handler carefully.
  • When seeking a handler, take your time. Find someone you feel comfortable and safe around.
  • Communicate with your handler while in “headspace.” Some pets are rambunctious while others can be quiet. Some want a sexual element to the play, while others do not. Talk about all of these things before diving into headspace
  • And then … Play! The best way to explore whether you have a good connection is to play and spend time with them in and out of headspace. Don’t forget: actively ask for consent throughout play.
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Bettie Rage (her scene name) is a parent, financial professional, and 20-year member of the kink and Leather community. She has helped lead classes and workshops in the Leather Community and has served as Ms. Iowa Leather since October 2019. Her column, “From My Lips to Yours,” appears every other Friday. Watch for the next edition July 23. Send questions for her to write about in this column to [email protected].

(all photos by Coit Photgraphy)
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