Is my pet gay? This vet takes up the question of gay pets (against her better judgment)

Patty Khuly, DVM
Updated: October 28, 2010
Published: January 30, 2007
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“I wish I could quit ewe” and “He’s just not into ewe” are but two of the tasteless puns to make the rounds of headlines after a researcher at Oregon State University got some untoward PETA press. The scientist has been trying to figure out if there’s any genetic difference between the 8% of rams that prefer rams and the balance of ewe-seeking rams.

It may sound silly but the researcher is ostensibly looking for ways to breed out the so-called “gay” rams. What self-respecting sheep rancher wants to pay for the maintenance of an intact animal who won’t contribute his fair share to the genetic pool?

PETA and some gay rights activists claim that the research uses animals for needless, unethical research which could ultimately be used to help eliminate gays from the human population.  It does sound like a touchy subject but I don’t know about all that eugenics stuff…sounds a tad paranoid to me. But I don’t know enough about the research to comment.

On the subject of gay pets, however, I’m often asked to render my “expert” opinion. I have no idea what makes me an authority on the subject in the minds of some of my clients but, no matter, I try to take this line of questioning in stride.

My gay clients are the ones most likely to comment or query on the subject and I guess that makes sense; it’s not as if they consider the subject off limits. But I’m still never sure what to say when I’m asked if their pet is gay.

“I don’t know” (said with a smile and an amused gleam in my eye) is my best reply. I mean, how am I supposed to know? I’m sure it’s possible but what does it really matter? Is it a medical issue? Only if they choose not to mount their selected mate does it become an issue, in which case it doesn’t really matter anyway; I just collect males by hand and artificially inseminate the females. Done. No gay or straight issue there.

The bottom line? I spend so much of my life trying to convince people to spay and neuter their pets that to venture into the realm of sexual orientation seems like an unreasonable and unnecessary leap into a fruitless and potentially harrowing oblivion.

OK, sure, pets engage in all kind of sexually evocative behavior (i.e., humping) with members of the same sex. Then again, they’re also willing to hump their friends’ heads, the household cat, stuffed hedgehogs and their parents’ legs. Does this make them gay, perverse or deviant? No! (And I am quick to point out here that I am NOT equating “gay” to “perverse” or “deviant.” I am simply offering the latter two as separate and distinct alternatives. You see why I reluctantly engage in conversation on this subject? It’s fraught with a plethora of political pitfalls.)

As to the humping, a personal example: My own dog is a casual “play humper.” I think it’s actually quite cute (though she embarrasses others shamelessly). But how many times can I say it? This is not necessarily sexual behavior. Somehow, it’s socially satisfying and, at least for my dog, doesn’t seem sexual at all—but who knows what lurks in the canine mind? Maybe it is.

But as I asked before: What does it matter? And who cares anyway? Spay and neuter your dog (or don’t—if you have a well-informed reason) and get over the issue of his or her sexuality. Unless you plan on breeding your dog, his or her sexual behavior should be entirely irrelevant. And you’ll never fathom the mind of a dog anyway.

One final, emphatic point: There’s something disrespectfully anthropomorphic about how we humanize our dogs’ sexual and pseudo-sexual behavior. More specifically, it seems altogether wrong to apply our own convoluted and divisive sexual politics to animals, whether we’re talking about pets or farm animals.

So leave the subject alone, or at least leave your vet out of it. Better yet, leave the work to the experts who already have their hands full trying to convince the general public that research into sheep sexuality might actually benefit the planet in some way. ‘Nuff said.