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British TV Special Features LGBT Movement of 'Human Pups'

Some men don't just want dogs to be their best friend -- they want to be the dog. Pup play, where grown men dress up as dogs and act that way in public, is both silly and disturbing, and shines a light on some of the confusion and pain inside the gay community.

Britain's Channel 4 aired a documentary, "The Secret Life of Human Pups," on Wednesday night. The Guardian carried out interviews with three of the show's main characters, showing how they got involved in the movement: the struggles they face and the fun they enjoy.

The pup-play movement "grew out of the BDSM community and has exploded in the last 15 years as the internet made it easier to reach out to likeminded people," The Guardian's Nell Frizzell explained. "Human pups tend to be male, gay, have an interest in dressing in leather, wear dog-like hoods, enjoy tactile interactions like stomach rubbing or ear tickling, play with toys, eat out of bowls and are often in a relationship with their human 'handlers.'"

Tom, who goes by "Spot" and works as an engineer in a theater, said pup play gives him license to behave in a way that feels natural, even primal. "You're not worrying about money, or food, or work," he told Frizzell. "It's just the chance to enjoy each other's company on a very simple level."

But Tom's introduction to the world was far from simple. "He knew he liked sleeping in a collar, had a fetish for skin-tight clothing - Lycra, rubber, even off-the-peg cycling shorts - then came a dalmatian zentai suit he found on eBay ... and eventually, a man in a club walked up to him and said: 'Oh right, so you're a pup.'" In order to enjoy this simple company with other pups, he broke up with his former fiancee Rachel and moved into a gay relationship with his handler, Colin.

"It's a sad thing to say, but there's not love from the heart in me for Colin," Tom admitted. "But what I have got is someone who is there for me and I'm happy with that." He needs Colin because "a puppy without a collar is a stray; they don't have anyone to look after them."

David, a writer in academia, said pup play is an escape from the analytical world: "It's pre-rational, pre-conscious. It's an instinctive, emotional space." Nevertheless, he insisted that this is only part of his identity. "I'm also a vegetarian, play the piano; I have a parrot. ... I can go months without going into pup space."

Kaz disagreed, saying that he identifies as a puppy. "Even when I worked in PC World I would sometimes walk up to people and nip at their shirt," he recalled. Frizzell noted that Kaz "will socialize as a pack, enjoy physical closeness with other pups and always eats out of a dog bowl at home."

David said he finds "an immense amount of pleasure from gamboling around in a club playing with squeaky toys because you're making people laugh, you're being a cute puppy." Then, perhaps tellingly, he added, "The gay scene can be very serious, scary and off-putting. But if you're going in with a little puppy hood, ears and a tongue, you look cute. You're allowed to bound around and be enthusiastic, mischievous and friendly."

David said a main attraction to the movement is "trying to grasp the positive elements of the archetype of the dog; the loyal companion." He also emphasized the bond between him and his handler, Sidney: "I've been collared to him for 10 years. If anyone comes near him I growl like a little bull terrier."

While pup play grew out of the gay movement and often involves homosexuality, Kaz emphasized that it isn't always sexual. "I used to get asked awful question like, if I liked having sex with dogs," he recalled. He mentioned being in a "pack" of nine with his partner as the group's handler. "A big part of it is a feeling of family and belonging; we're there to look after each other."

Tom emphasized acceptance. "It feels like you can be gay, straight, bisexual, trans and be accepted," he said. "All I want is for the pup community to be accepted in the same way."

Next Page: The many problems of "accepting" such a "community."