Handler David |||

Often, when we talk about pet play or envision the people that participate in it, we think of the pups, kittens, and other pets that make up a good majority of the community (and rightfully so in certain respects), but it would be a disservice to the community and even those same pets to disregard the people that support and love them and the community: the Handlers, Trainers, and Owners of the world.

In this article, I’ll break down my thoughts on what it means to be a Handler, why someone should consider being a Handler, and my perspective on what makes a good” Handler. With this, please keep in mind that the thoughts laid out in this article are primarily based on my personal views and are not meant to be an objective guide to being a Handler. As stated in my article introducing pet play, there is no single right’ way to enjoy pet play,” and therefore you may find your personal views are different from mine.

What Does It Mean to Be a Handler?

At the most basic level, I see a Handler as someone who commits to serve as a caretaker in the pet play community. Most commonly, this might mean being the caretaker for one or more pets that you’ve collared (i.e., a caretaker to specific pets), but I believe it’s also important to recognize the caretakers in our community that might not have pets of their own (and particularly those who choose to express their Handler side by acting as a caretaker for the community as a whole). As members of the community who tend to not experience a headspace, Handlers are also the human companions to pets in the community. Handlers assume the responsibility of the care and and safety of their pets, similar to how a person would do so for a bio-dog. Handlers can also make great leaders in the community, especially those who take the time to connect with those in roles different from their own to understand how we as a community can work better together and ultimately help our community grow. In my mind, the specifics beyond these concepts are up to the specific Handlers and pets involved, as not all Handler-pet dynamics are the same in terms of scope and depth. Lastly, for those who observe the Dominant/submissive (“D/s”) model of relationship dynamics, a Handler is also a type of dominant. We’ll talk more on this point specifically as we discuss what makes a good” Handler.

Why Be a Handler?

One might wonder, When you can be a pet, why be a Handler?” After all, pets have all these fun pieces of gear and experiences! While that is true (and the market for similarly fun Handler gear seems to be small at the moment), being a Handler has many benefits.

It’s Fun

First and foremost, being a Handler is fun. Handlers get the joy of playing with (consenting) pets and both loving and being loved by them (especially those a Handler may choose to collar). I’ve found myself at the bottom of a cuddle puddle a couple of times and highly recommend it.

Develop a Bond With Your Pet(s)

One of the more rewarding parts of being a Handler for me is the bond I get to share and nurture with my pup. Through training, play, and enjoying time together both in and out of headspace, the bond between pet and Handler is something truly special.

Serve Your Community

Another reason to become a Handler is to serve the pet play community. This is a great option for Handlers that don’t have pets of their own or those who prefer to be more of a communal Handler” that focuses on fostering their community. Handlers like this are invaluable, especially at social events where it’s important to ensure that pets are enjoying their headspaces in a safe and affirming way.

What Makes A Good” Handler?

While there is no objective definition of a good” Handler necessarily, I think there are a few things that make a Handler stand out among others; things which I strive to live up to in my own practice. Most notably, I believe a good Handler is respectful to their community and its members, mindful of consent and power dynamics, and committed to the care of their pets and community.

Respectful to Their Community and Its Members

One of the most important qualities of a Handler in my eyes is that a Handler is respect for their community and its members. To me, this means a good Handler should approach every interaction in the community with respect for those involved and the community as a whole. Sometimes, this can also mean that a Handler should ensure others in the community are respecting each other. This can be especially important in settings like moshes where pets in headspace may eschew certain thought processes or behaviors (often unintentionally) as they get deeper into the mindset of their pet of choice. By respecting their community and its members, a Handler can help both their local communities and the broader pet play world be a positive and affirming community for all and encourage a culture of respect globally.

Another critically important quality of a Handler (and an extension of the first quality in certain respects) is mindfulness of consent and power dynamics. Inherently, the Handler role tends to be viewed as a dominant role, and with that can come a sense of power that needs to be carefully examined and wielded. I subscribe to the school of thought that a dominant’s power comes from their submissives, and that a dominant does not have the right to wield such power without the consent of their submissive. That is, a Handler should not assume they have power over anyone unless explicitly given that power and being granted power over another person is a privilege, not a right. This goes hand in hand with respecting consent, as a Handler should not assume that they have consent to do something unless they have received consent to do that thing from the people involved. Being a Handler does not grant a person blanket consent to do as they please with pets or other members of the community.

Let’s break this down with an example. I’m part of a few online communities consisting of thousands of pets, Handlers, and other folks in the pet play world. Often, Handlers make up a small fraction of these communities, which can intensify the perception of a Handler’s power in such communities. In my model of how a Handler should conduct themselves, I am not entitled to treat a pet (or anyone else for that matter) as lesser than myself unless a given person tells me otherwise (or, in other words, grants me that privilege). If I’m talking with a pet in one of those communities, I should treat them as my equal if not better unless they have asked or provided me consent to treat them another way (and, ideally, we’ve discussed the parameters for such treatment). After all, at the end of the day, everyone in the community is human and deserves to be treated with the decency and respect one would expect of a fellow human.

Committed to the Care of Their Pets and Community

Another pillar of what makes a good Handler from my perspective is that Handlers are committed to the care of their pets and their community. While I think every member of our community should be committed to these to some extent, I think it’s especially important for Handlers as the humans” of the community to ensure they are creating safe and positive environments. However, I don’t expect every Handler to become a leader in their local community or do extravagant things to improve the community; even just being present as a Handler and making sure every individual you interact with is safe and respected goes a long way.

Closing Thoughts

This article has been a challenge to write. In particular, I’ve spent weeks thinking about what I think makes a good Handler and how that might relate to my own practice as a Handler. I might update this article from time to time to reflect new thoughts and perspectives I develop over time, but I think the guiding principles outlined above cover a lot of ground on my personal views on the matter. At the end of the day, Handlers are a unique and special role in the pet play community, but the role of Handler does come with responsibilities and considerations that can make a difference.

Happy handling!

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