This post contains spoilers from this past week’s episode of Project Runway. Be warned.
This week’s episode of Project Runway was all about the unconventional. The designers had to use bygone technological items to create runway ready looks. It was the usual fare of reality television drama but the biggest standout moment was a designer left the show early for personal reasons.
Jake Wall, a San Francisco based suit designer, excused himself from the competition because something at home was too distracting. The reason was most unusual, at least for premature exits from reality shows: his dog was dying and he wanted to be with his pup. You could see the production gears turning as he broke down to Tim Gunn about why he needed to leave: this designer was leaving the show because his pet was dying. His dog. Not a person, not a relative, not a child: his dog was dying and he could not continue participating in the competition because his pet was in pain.
The television show seemed to snicker at the situation. They show Jake mention his dog helping him through the death of his parents and that the dog is his best friend—and it almost feels unreal, like a parody. It isn’t until Tim Gunn starts crying and sharing his experiences about his dogs dying and the severity of the situation that it turns into something very important. It became a peek into the lives of childless people.
It was a landmark scene. First, for pet owners. The current climate of dog ownership has shifted so much that our pets are now considered family. Dogs have been declared people and “fur baby” is officially a word. We’re at peak dog. It’s no longer considered ridiculous to treat your dog like a person. They are family. Dog’s are very important.
Beyond this, the moment between Jake and Tim was very special in that it was a unique moment for men. (Note: I don’t know if Jake is gay so I’m not going to say “two gay men.”) For Tim Gunn, it felt like a unique experience for gay men had opened up. We can’t have kids no matter how hard we put our pudding together so dogs have long since been gay babies. The same can be said for childless straight couples, too. Our pets are indeed our children and this was the first time (to my knowledge) that we saw two grown men talk and cry over their animals in the context of a popular, mainstream program. Dogs have been having a moment for a while but this felt real. As a gay men who owns dogs and whose dogs are the only children he will have, it felt like some poked into the window of my little life to show the world how I, my gay friends, and my gay extended family view our animals. It was very important.
Dogs are very special. Beyond puppies being models and inspiring actors, this moment helped evolve their curious personhood in a new way. This televised mini-moment, one that was so big and so small, is an extremely contemporary moment in live broadcast to the world. Men—especially gay men—have a very special bond with dogs. It’s nice to see that dynamic played out to broader audiences.