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Photos by Natasha Vargas-Cooper

An Afternoon Romp with People Who Dress Up Like Sexy Dogs and Horses

Natasha  Vargas-Cooper

Natasha Vargas-Cooper

At the 14th annual Domination Convention, man's best friend is a man (on a leash).

Photos by Natasha Vargas-Cooper

I could try to reach for a lofty quote penned by a distinguished man of letters to help you understand what I witnessed in the basement of a Los Angeles hotel last weekend, but any words will fall short. The scene inside the Hilton was beyond language. Beyond convention. Beyond the very conception of human boundaries. These words I offer are mere specks of filth compared to the sublimely weird event I encountered at the 14th annual Domination Convention, a gathering of kinksters, sadists, masochists, (a mime), slaves, masters, handlers, and their human pets.

The premise of a human pet show is simple: people act as pets and compete in categories of agility, performance, and best tricks. The pets are put through their paces by their owners or trainers before a panel of latex-clad dominatrixes who serve as judges. Some pets go all out and commission meticulously crafted leather masks to resemble a dog's face and ears, while others will simply crouch on all fours while panting and waggling their butts.

Before you even ask, you Fifty Shades of Noob Kink, human pets are not furries, bronies, or cosplayers. Pet play is simply another riff on the classic dominant and submissive dynamic—just with less words and sturdier knee pads. Once the pet show begins, no one breaks character. Pets are collared, leashed, and presented to the judges. But I've already said too much; you must see to believe.

The first contestant in the pet show was a "zombie mastiff." He had a giant tattoo that said "MAGGOT" on his arm. Points for inventive use of boxing gloves.

The judges observe and ask questions about breed and routine.

This young woman is a long haired chihuahua. Her constant preening and plucky disposition were very convincing.

Spiritually, I connected the most with the cone pup. Even with a nasty ankle injury she was still willing to strap on some leather cuffs and pop her tits out. A champion in breed and moxie.

The sexual energy radiating off these two could be felt from the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The creature on all fours is a hybrid species, begat from an unholy union of a dog and a pig. Her master was a six feet tall Amazon woman clad in 1930s military latex with a fascist edge. Speaking of which, I'm excited about Trump's America. Aren't you?

A splendid law enforcement duo. They were totally in character, with the K9 even pulling at the leash when a cat critter crawled by. Later in the show the K9 planted weed on another dog and attacked her. A delight!

Now I will introduce you to my favorite contestant: a golden labrador who didn't need a mask or tail. He was simply the embodiment of a sweet, soulful, kind of dumb, pet that loyally awaits you each day. Witness him:

Oh my god. Look at him licking his masters face.

Why can't all burly men be effervescent puppies?

In between the pet show and the horse show, I asked Danarama, the Dean of Kink University (the educational wing of the porn site Kink.com), about the appeal of pet play. "There's a notion that only children need play. [People think] that adults don't need it, but we do," he says. "We need a way to de-stress and de-personalize. It's another way to relax, be imaginative, and to say, 'Hey! I'm going to be a horse for tonight!' Being in the role of a submissive can be very relaxing because you don't have to make decisions. That's one of the things people fear the most in life: making the wrong decision." When you're on the end of a leash, Danarama says, all you have to do is follow your master's orders.

The horse show was smaller but more refined, with challenges that focused on prancing, trotting, and dental care. The horse players were silky, athletic, reserved, and prone to much less licking.

When the ribbons were handed out for Judge's Favorite, Most Well-Behaved, Best Latex, and Best in Show (the cop dog won), the critters beamed with a palpable joy. After all, here is a pursuit that most would find bizarre and even disturbing. But in this florescent-washed basement—away from the Disneyland tourists upstairs and road-weary business travelers scrolling through their smartphones—there is a shinny community that grooves on what you do. They even give you prizes for it.

Get into it. Get into all of it.