Rescue dogs

Don’t You Want Me focuses on the love of rescue dogs, LGBTQ+ companions

The bond that exists between a person and their dog can be so strong that sometimes words are not enough to describe it.

So visually showing that special unconditional love between humans and their canine companions became a subject that fascinated Toronto photographer Jack Jackson, especially when he focused on members of the LGBTQ+ community.

As a trans man from a village in the Channel Islands, Jackson needed time to find balance after moving to Canada, finding a calling in photography and love in the form of his dog, a boxer named Jet during a difficult time adjusting to a new home. In collaboration with Deb Klein, based in Brighton, UK, these two passions have merged in the form of Don’t You Want Me, an award-winning and ever-expanding exhibition of images of rescue dogs and their LGBTQ companions. + currently on display at PetValu in Spryfield until May 20.

Jack Jackson, co-creator of the Don’t You Want Me exhibit, poses with his rescue dog Jet for the Don’t You Want Me exhibit. On Saturday, the photographer will be on hand to discuss his lunchtime work at 4 p.m. at Spryfield Pet Valu. – Max Lander

In his early days, Jackson started his own dog walking business Doggy Dates Toronto, while also offering his services as a pet portrait photographer. His specialty was producing unique images of puppies that captured their winning personalities, but something special clicked when he posed dogs and their humans together, and the connection inspired not just a series, but an opportunity for change. the lives of people and animals by sharing their stories.

Sara describes how her dog Stella Bella Bing Bong provided comfort during nights of sleeplessness and migraines following two bicycle accidents. Nanook, who grew up in Inuvik, says rescue dog Kulu helped them overcome social anxiety and a troubled past from their mother’s ordeal in the residential school system. Teo, a trans man from Brazil now living in Toronto, recalls how his dog Timeline helped him regain a sense of well-being and belonging after he had to leave his native country following the presidential election right-wing and openly anti-gay Jair Bolsonaro.

“One of the main themes throughout the project has been, and it’s kind of heavy, how the dog saved this person’s life,” says Jackson, who shows up in person at PetValu to discuss the project on Saturday, May 14, 12-4 p.m. “I feel so lucky to be doing this work and talking to these people. Some I’ve met are refugees, you know, and they’re so thankful that they ended up in Toronto, had their dog, and stuck it out.

“We’ve been in tears in some of the Zoom interviews that we do before every shoot. You know, their families reject them, and then they’re alone, and then you have all the issues that come with that. Then they get a dog and they cling to the dog. It’s just remarkable, the transformation that can happen.

“Honestly that’s what drives me to do this project, if I can just help one person, if I can just keep one person alive, I’ll give one person hope. Then I have the impression of having done a good job.

Pet Valu's Carri Blunden adjusts the Don't You Want Me photo exhibit at her temporary home in Spryfield, where it runs until May 20.  -Stephen Cooke
Pet Valu’s Carri Blunden adjusts the Don’t You Want Me photo exhibit at her temporary home in Spryfield, where it runs until May 20. -Stephen Cooke

While in Halifax, Jackson will be hosting pre-arranged photoshoots with members of the LGBTQ+ community and their pets, in addition to her visit to PetValu’s show in Spryfield on Saturday. The campaign, named NOW Magazine 2021 Readers’ Choice for Best Public Art Project or Exhibit, continues to grow with plans for a book and documentary down the road.

Natalie Churchill, a PetValu franchisee in Halifax, says hosting an exhibit like Don’t You Want Me at a pet supply store is a new kind of event for her, but she was thrilled at the idea to support a diverse community and promote the promotion and adoption of animals. who needs a home and proper care.

“I think from the point of view of this project, it’s to show that there’s unconditional love out there, no matter the situation,” Churchill says, noting the channel’s motto, “Love lives here”. “Dogs are non-judgmental and they will love you no matter what.

“(Caring for a dog) gives people purpose, gives them a routine and gives them a chance to be loved, without boundaries and without stereotypes.”

Toronto couple Cat and Gab pose with their rescue dogs Bertie and River for the Don't You Want Me photo exhibit, on view at Spryfield Pet Valu through May 20.  -Jack Jackson
Toronto couple Cat and Gab pose with their rescue dogs Bertie and River for the Don’t You Want Me photo exhibit, on view at Spryfield Pet Valu through May 20. -Jack Jackson

With donations from the public through the dontyouwantme.com website and support from corporate sponsors such as PetValu, the Don’t You Want Me exhibit led to the creation of Companions for Change, an associated charity that connects members from the queer and trans community who have been marginalized with a rescue dog and provides them with the support needed to help this relationship grow.

“We have a pilot program in place where we give them a rescue dog, and we help them with the associated costs,” Jackson says of the development of Companions for Change. “Like food, vet bills, or dog walking, so they can get out of whatever situation they find themselves in that challenges them, so they can find work and can really progress. in their life.”

The stories that accompany the photos of Jackson and Klein are incredibly moving as participants share how their dogs have brightened their lives, given them purpose and created lasting companionship without judgment or bias.

Toronto couple Amie and Diana share their lives with rescue dog Nassau and roommate Kyle in this photo from the Don't You Want Me exhibit showing the love between members of the LGBTQ+ community and their canine companions.  -Jack Jackson
Toronto couple Amie and Diana share their lives with rescue dog Nassau and roommate Kyle in this photo from the Don’t You Want Me exhibit showing the love between members of the LGBTQ+ community and their canine companions. -Jack Jackson

At the same time, Jackson doesn’t mean to downplay the responsibility or challenges that come with introducing a rescue dog into your life, or suggest that getting a dog is the ultimate cure for depression or other mental health issues that have become increasingly common over the past two years.

But from what he saw through his camera lens and meeting so many people from different backgrounds and the animals they bonded with, caring for dogs that might not have not being able to find a home otherwise made all the difference.

“It just provides people with what so many people struggle with these days,” he says. “It removes that isolation, it gets them out, it gives them routine and stability, and it really gives them a reason to survive and thrive.

“It gives the impression that the project is only about mental health or difficulties; it touches on that – you know that’s a lot of what some of us have been through – but it’s also a complete celebration of those people and what they’ve been through and how they got there have reached.