Oliver Burdinski is fighting for the right to have a relationship with his dog. His purebred Siberian husky, Joey, is his sexual partner. And while some of his fellow Germans might reel at the prospect of intercourse with another species, Burdinski is open to discussing the taboo of being a literal animal lover. Just don’t use the word bestiality.
“I don’t like this word because it’s often misleading and used in different cases,” Burdinski told me.
Burdinski first realized he was a zoophile while growing up with a German shepherd—his family dog. He was responsible for taking care of the creature, which lived in his bedroom. Around the age of 14 or 15, the young man started exploring his sexuality with his companion. He remembers being more attracted to the dog than to humans but felt rather alone with such desires. After living without a dog for a decade, Burdinski began dating men and women. He settled down with a long-term girlfriend until 1995, when he got an internet connection. That’s when he discovered forums and chat rooms devoted to the zoophile community. Soon thereafter he broke it off with his human partner (they’ve remained good friends). Burdinski realized he could never be happy in a traditional relationship.
Joey came from an animal shelter in 2004. Burdinski and Joey share ownership of each other because Burdinski disagrees with the idea of treating animals as possessions. But he cares for Joey and uses a leash when he takes him for walks, and there’s a clear intellectual imbalance between them—which is to say there was no wining and dining in this courtship. “I don’t try to humanize him,” Burdinski said. “He gets food made for dogs.”
As for what goes on in the bedroom, Burdinski does have sex with Joey, but the lovemaking does not involve penetration, as Burdinski doesn’t want to harm the dog. “I would never force him,” he said. He tries to be the passive member of the sexual relationship and simply react to whatever Joey wants. Burdinski pointed out that dogs can clearly show what they like and don’t like, whether they’re hungry or whether they like being touched. They can also indicate whether they do or do not want to have sex. Mounting is a sign not only of dominance but also of desire, though Burdinski told me his dog is “not really interested in sex anymore.” Joey is 11 years old, well past any canine’s sexual prime.
Pet owners often neuter their dogs, a process to which the animal, of course, does not consent. “People can’t accept that their dogs are adult animals with adult wishes and desires,” Burdinski said. “They can’t accept that a dog is not a soft toy.”
As in most other countries, zoophilia is a legal no-go in Germany. Prior to the formal criminalization of the practice in February 2013, there were already laws that covered violence against animals in the country, but the new one bans the act itself regardless of the well-being of the creature involved. The Germany-based zoophile activist group ZETA—Zoophile Engagement for Tolerance and Enlightenment—has indicated it would accept a legal framework that prohibits sexual intercourse demonstrated to be physically or emotionally harmful to an animal. But its members argue that the new measure is unjust. “At the moment we work with a special lawyer to prepare the lawsuit,” Burdinski said.
When I asked whether he’s afraid of being charged and having Joey taken away, Burdinski replied, “Of course. That’s one reason I fight against this law.”
ZETA formed in 2009 when the German parliament proposed outlawing zoophilia. At the time, zoophiles were coming under attack from animal activists and far-right groups. Zoophiles say there’s no clear boundary between those who care for animals and those who are sexually attracted to them. Most of the members have relationships with dogs and horses. “I also know zoophiles who are into other mammals, maybe bovines or pigs,” Burdinski said.
A lot of zoophiles also have human partners. They make a distinction between zoophiles and zoosadists, and they don’t tolerate people who harm animals.
Nonetheless, ZETA members have been driven out of their homes and their jobs and shunned by their families. The group’s former chairman, Michael Kiok, had to leave the city of Münster after receiving death threats and being harassed by animal-rights activists. Burdinski has drawn some flak too. “I always get a lot of hate mail, also hate messages on Facebook,” he said.
This February, the German zoophiles will meet for the third annual Zoophile Rights Day in Berlin. They’ll demonstrate at Potsdamer Platz, a concrete intersection steps away from the Canadian Embassy, the Berlin Wall, and the glowing Sony Center. There’s already a rebuttal from animal-rights activists and far-right groups in the works. Burdinski told me that last year’s event saw roughly 30 to 50 neo-Nazis, including representatives from the National Democratic Party of Germany, turn out. “They were aggressive. They insulted us and spat on us,” he said. Police intervened as violence broke out. “Three Nazis were arrested by police.”