Animal roleplay may be either a non-sexual or an erotic sexual role-play (when it may also be called petplay, ponyplay, ponyism, kittenplay, or pup-play). In its erotic sexual role-play form, one or more of the participants takes on the role of a real or imaginary animal in character, including appropriate mannerisms and behavior. Sometimes a partner will act as another animal, or, in a sexual context, may take the role of rider, trainer, caretaker, or breeding partner.
The principal theme of animal roleplay is usually the voluntary transformation of a human being to animal status, and focus on the altered mind-space created. The most common examples are canids (pup, dog, wolf), felines (cat, kitten, lion) or equines (pony, horse). Animal roleplay is also used in a BDSM context, where a person may be humiliated by being treated as an animal.
Like much of erotic play and roleplay, animal roleplay in an erotic or relational context is entirely defined by the people involved and by their mood and interests at the time of play. It ranges from the simple imitation of a vocal whinnying of a horse to the barking, panting or playful nudging of a puppy, or playful behaviour of a kitten, to crawling around on all fours and being fed, or petted, by hand. (In the latter instance, its motives may be similar to those of ageplay, i.e. taking on a role that one feels spiritually appropriate or which allows for nurturing, and a change from usual roles in everyday life). To the greater extremes of dressing up as a pony in modified horse tack, masks, prosthetics and temporary bondage based body modification (such as binding the forearms to the upperarms and/or the calves to the thighs).
Public participation in human animal roleplay is varied. A couple could inconspicuously role-play a silly but loving pet play scene in public, but it would look like one partner is merely stroking the other’s neck innocently to the casual observer. In the case of many convention-going furries and some BDSM fetishists, one partner may wear a dog collar with a leash attached.
The reasons for playing such a character or animal can vary. Some people enjoy being able to “cut loose” into a different, or more dynamic personality. In some cases, pet play is seen as a loving, quiet cuddling time where there is no need for verbalizations and the simple act of stroking, rubbing and holding the other partner is satisfying or reassuring in and of itself for those involved. For others, there may be a spiritual side to it. Some feel closer to their animal totem, while others may identify with something akin to a deeper side or part of their own psyche. For still others, there is the experience of power exchange setup in a context or structure which they can accept. Clearly, again, it depends on the people involved and what they bring to it or take from it.
Additionally, some cases could be considered a type of animal transformation fantasy. They can have strong elements of exhibitionism, be totally enjoyed in the privacy of the home, or lie somewhere between either boundary. While not widespread, erotic human-animal roleplay is still enjoyed by a sizable number of people. However, it is still primarily identified with BDSM practice, or as being associated with furry or other alternative lifestyle activities.
For a majority of participants, pet play has no connection whatsoever with bestiality, which is controversial and would usually be considered edgeplay in BDSM circles.
It should be pointed out that each type of play can focus on a certain “strength” of an animal character. Pony play often involves the practice and training that a horse owner or trainer would put their horse through to learn how to walk, canter, etc., as modified for human limbs. Puppy play often can involve BDSM related discipline. Cow Play often involves fantasies of lactation and impregnation. The usual limits of safe, sane and consensual apply to roleplay as much as any other activity between humans who accept and respect their partner’s interests and limits. For most, this does not include bestiality.
(Note: Just because one partner is playing the “pet” does not necessarily make them the passive or submissive play partner in the scene. For example, if the form of pet play is for the meek and timid wife to “transform” into a werewolf or mischievous anime catgirl, she may take the upper hand and dominate the partner.)
Some people believe that they have certain animal ‘instincts’ and through animal roleplay can let them out. This is especially true in the BDSM communities, where some people ‘live’ as their chosen animal 24/7. This type of mentality goes beyond roleplay and becomes a full lifestyle for the parties involved. There are also ‘hybrids’. These are humans who live part time as one type of animal, and part time as another.
There seems to be a growing trend among the BDSM scene in animal roleplay, especially pup and kitten play. Playing the role of a pup or kitten is one of giving over complete control over to another, while the ‘Master or Handler’ expects only unconditional love and obedience from his/her animal.
Pony-play is sometimes referred to as “The Aristotelian Perversion,” in reference to legend that Aristotle had a penchant for being ridden like a horse. Ponies (people involved in pony-play) generally divide themselves to three groups although some will participate in two or perhaps all three:
- Cart ponies: ponies who pull a sulky with their owner.
- Riding ponies: ponies who are ridden, either on all fours or on two legs, with the “rider” on the shoulders of the “pony,” also known as Shoulder Riding. (Note that a human back is generally not strong enough to take the weight of another adult without risk of injury, so four-legged “riding” is generally symbolic, with the “rider” taking most of their weight on their own legs.)
- Show ponies: ponies who show off their dressage skills and often wear elaborate harnesses, plumes and so on.
A documentary film Pony Passion was produced by British pony play club De Ferre in 2003 showing their club’s activities and Born in a Barn, a 2005 documentary film, depicted the lives of several pony-play enthusiasts.
Pup play or dog play is sometimes (though not always) associated with leather culture. At least one of the participants acts out canine mannerisms and behaviors, or simply imagines such behaviors or identities, and attempts to assume the mental state of a dog. Pup-play does not require any involvement with bestiality. The dominant role is taken by a “Handler,” “Trainer,” or a “Master.” The submissive may be called a “pup,” a “dog,” a “stray,” or in the case of a more aggressive or dominant participant that still identifies as a dog, an “alpha.”
In the pup-play community, biological canines are referred to as “canines,” to differentiate between them and human role players (the pup, dog, or alpha). Pup play is more about being a playful, goofy being on all fours who shows his/her Master their love and devotion. Instinct also plays a big role in pup play. This can also be taken in the context of master/slave relationship. The dom can have his slave collared and tied with chain indoors or outdoors naked. The slave would be asked to bark, kiss/lick the dom’s foot/shoe, eat like a dog and also try catch people and things nearby.
BDSM Kitten Play
In kitten-play the person assumes the less serious role of a pet that keeps some independence and–as part of the fantasy–might retaliate against the partner trying to tame him or her. Kitten-play is less well known than pony or pup-play, although in recent years has been growing in popularity
Some consider costume play, or cosplay, anime catgirls to be a form or look of pet play as well, because these are generally young female characters that have the combined aspects of females and cats (generally a human girl with cat ears, a tail, fangs and a propensity for catlike affection or curiosity). Examples would be Cat Girl Nuku Nuku, Pink from Dragon Pink and others. Some superheroes, heroines and villains could also be classified as related to pet play, such as DC Comics’s Wildcat, Catwoman and Vixen, Marvel’s Tigra, Man-Wolf and Black Cat, or even Nastassja Kinski’s Irena Gallier in the 1982 film Cat People (a remake of the 1942 Simone Simon film), and Miss Kitty from the Brendan Fraser movie Monkeybone. All involve animal qualities taken on by a human. Some would even count the enactment or spiritual belief in therianthropy (werewolves, werecats, etc.) as falling under human animal roleplay or transformation play as well.