Written By: Pup Sirius and Handler David, IPTC International Puppy & Handler 2019-2021
Where we are
Bark and hello to all the Pets, Handlers and Hoomans out there around the world! As we write this, our community is facing truly difficult times. Our ability to connect in person has disappeared, as local meetups, large events, and travel have become dangerous or legally forbidden. Every day we hear about someone in our community struggling with isolation, anxiety, and depression.
What we have done
However during these times, members of the community have stepped up in so many ways. Zoom, Twitch and Discord meetups are regular fixtures on the calendars of most PaHs, with virtual Pet game nights, educational sessions, and gear-friendly social hangouts appearing on our screens.
On the individual level, Pets, Handlers, and Hoomans are making masks, taking up fundraising, and being there for each other in new ways. Some have opened up their homes, pantries, and wallets to those who have lost their jobs or homes, and supporting people in isolation and quarantine with care packages and physically-distanced social interaction.
What we have learned
Among so much difficulty and pain, we have seen the best of our community coming through. The creativity and resilience of Pets, Handlers, and Hoomans around the world has enabled communities to continue to thrive even without the traditional in-person events that have been so much a part of our play lives.
Many members of our community have thrived on online events, taking the opportunity to engage with organisations around the world that they would not be able to visit in-person. The reduced barriers to entry for online events, and the ability to “lurk” has also seen many new people attending and engaging, switching their cameras on once they feel comfortable.
Our local communities have also run new kinds of events that rely on online technologies. Whether it’s a Netflix Party movie night, a Jackbox game session, or a Zoom quiz, online events can be flexible and accessible, with low startup cost that may make them attractive on an ongoing basis.
However, as events have shifted online, we have also seen those members of our community who rely more on in-person interaction and physical contact, who are unable to get what they need from a screen, feel increasingly isolated and shut out. The diversity of our communities means that a diversity of events is necessary to ensure that every person can find a place where they feel comfortable.
What comes next (after Pandemic)
As the roll-out of vaccines begins to make it safer for in-person events to restart and become more like what they were a few years ago, it is important to remember that the landscape has changed. While physical contact may be less risky for those who receive a vaccine, the threat of infection will still linger, particularly for those who are unable to be vaccinated, yet to be vaccinated, or who have other health problems that may make infection particularly dangerous.
In addition, vaccine rollouts will take time, and will happen at different rates around the world. As a result, it is still important to be understanding of all people as the virus continues to spread.
We have learned, over the course of 2020, new ways to interact and socialise, and new structures that we can put in place to make our events safer. Temperature checks, physical distancing, regular hand washing and sanitising, and restrictions of in-person attendance for those who are actively showing symptoms or who have been in close proximity with known cases of the virus have proven remarkably effective at reducing (although not nearly to zero) the risk associated with in-person events, especially in areas where and at times when the prevalence of the virus is low.
However, the explosion of online events gives us all new ways to supplement in-person events, bringing our communities together between social events and moshes, and providing a safe space for new potential members to meet and interact with us. The benefits of online events are wide-reaching, and to leave them behind and go “back” to mostly in-person interaction would be a great shame, especially given the relatively low cost of many of these events.
Over the coming years, we will need to rethink the way that we work. Large events may not be able to be safely held for another year. However, we can find ways to bring our community back together safely, socially, and emphasising the fun spirit that makes our communities so valuable.
So our message to you: stay strong, know that you are never alone, and know that you are loved. If you ever feel overwhelmed, isolated or need to talk, your community is here. If you don’t know where to find your place within this wonderful community, please reach out to us anytime, as this is what we are here for. We love helping people find their place in our diverse and welcoming pet community!
And please, if you feel overwhelmed or are at risk in these difficult times, call a local LGBTI or mental health support line near you.
USA: The Trevor Project 1-866-488-7386
Australia: QLife 1800 184 527 (3pm-midnight)
United Kingdom: Switchboard 0300 330 0630 (10am-10pm)