Photo by Michal Andrysiak
Meet Oliver, a man fighting for his right to a relationship with... a dog.
In the city where anything goes when it comes to sex, one practice remains a no-no: zoophilia. Or at least that’s what German lawmakers decided when, following years of lobbying from an unlikely alliance between tabloids, animal activists and neo-Nazis, they decided to criminalise sex with animals last July.
Engaged in a romantic relationship with Joey, a pure-bred Siberian husky, Oliver Burdinski has technically been a ‘criminal’ ever since. The fortysomething Berliner from North Rhine- Westphalia has nonetheless chosen to remain open about his sexual inclination and agreed to discuss sex’s last great taboo.
How did you first become aware that you were a zoophile?
When I was growing up we had a family dog, a German Shepherd. I fed him, I walked him, he lived in my bedroom and at the age of 14 or 15 I began to explore my sexual feelings with him. I became aware that I was more attracted to him than to other human beings, but I didn’t know there was anyone else like me. I felt completely alone with my feelings.
Did you try and flirt with girls – or boys – your age?
After my family dog died, I didn’t have another dog for 10 years. I tried to be normal. I tried women and also men. I got involved with a long-term girlfriend and we had a very good relationship. But in 1995, I got an internet connection and discovered through forums and chatrooms that there were other people who felt like me. I realised I could never be truly happy in a human relationship, marry her or have children, that it simply wasn’t right for me. I had to be honest with her.
How did your girlfriend react?
She was naturally very shocked and we separated, but she said that it explained a lot of things about the way that I was. She remains one of my best friends to this day.
When did you get Joey?
In 2004. I had two other dogs before him, they grew old and died at 10 and 15 respectively. I took Joey in because his owners no longer wanted him and couldn’t find room at the animal shelter. It was only meant to be temporary, but I quickly realised that Joey loved living with me and I loved living with him. It is difficult to explain, it is a mixture of a relationship and, for lack of a better word, ownership. But I love him as a partner, and I feel that he loves me too.
As his ‘owner’, you are in a position of power over him?
I would never do anything to a dog that they did not like or that might cause them harm. I am the passive part of the sexual relationship and I react to what he wants.
It is difficult to speak of ‘owning’ a dog for a zoophile like me. However, it is a fact – I have to care for him, I have to use a leash when I take him for walks. But in a way, human relationships also very often have differences in power between the partners. I do accept that there is a clear and obvious intellectual imbalance between us. We are different species, that is an undeniable fact.
Do the relationships that you have with dogs involve sex?
What exactly does that mean?
I do not penetrate him. I would never do anything to a dog that they did not like or that might cause them harm. I am the passive part of the sexual relationship and I react to what he wants. For example, we are not having sex at the moment because Joey does not want to do so and I respect that.
What about the issue of consent? How can you be sure Joey consents to sex?
Of course a dog cannot speak to you like a human being, but they can clearly show what they like and don’t like, whether they are hungry, whether they enjoy being touched... They can also show whether or not they want to have sexual intercourse. Mounting is not merely a sign of dominance, but also a sign of sexual desire. This desire is often seen as a problem by owners – they neuter their dogs, something the animal has certainly not consented to.
You’re a member of the German zoophile activist group ZETA [Zoophiles in Commitment to Tolerance and Enlightenment].
The organisation emerged in 2007 when the Greens proposed a law to ban zoophilia and more and more zoophiles were coming under attack, both from certain animal rights activists and from the far right. We have around 120 members, with a core of around 15 active ones. Most of our members are afraid to be open about their sexuality. The harassment and threats drove Michael Kiok, David Zimmermann and myself to write and talk openly about who we are.
Do you and ZETA make a distinction between yourselves and those who have a purely fetishist sexual interest in animals?
There is not a clear boundary between those who have caring romantic and sexual relationships with their animal and those who might be sexually attracted to animals. A lot of zoophiles also have human partners. However, we make a total distinction between ourselves and so-called zoosadists. We do not tolerate people causing harm to animals. For instance, we became aware of a man in Sweden who had filmed himself raping and murdering a dog. We traced his IP address and reported him to the Swedish authorities. He was sentenced to two and a half years in jail.
Have you experienced harassment as an open zoophile?
Yes, of course. I get a lot of hate mail, anonymous phone calls threatening me with physical harm or threatening to steal Joey. Other open members of ZETA have been driven out of their homes, shunned by their families and driven out of jobs. The founder of our organisation, Michael Kiok, had to leave Münster after being harassed by animal rights activists. They’d come to his place and he received death threats.
How has the situation changed with the criminalisation of zoophilia last July?
Prior to this, there were laws that already covered violence against animals, as there should be, but the new law criminalises the act itself regardless of the well-being of the animal involved. We would fully accept a legal framework that bans sexual intercourse that can be shown to be physically or emotionally harmful to an animal. But the new law is not just. We are taking this issue to the Constitutional Court; we intend to fight.
What do you tell people who think you’re perverted or mentally ill?
That is a difficult question to answer, I see zoophilia as a human sexual orientation, different but comparable to any other. It is being increasingly recognised as such by the scientific community.
Originally published in issue #128, June 2014.