Everyone has experienced that “In the Arms of an Angel” moment and locked eyes with a sad puppy or homeless kitten, only to realize that not every animal can be rescued. But when Kylie Edmond, founder of Rock & Rawhide, had that moment, she decided that not only can every animal be rescued, every animal deserves to be rescued and dressed up in a tutu.
“My husband and I were looking for another dog, and we noticed that [at the animal shelter] there were no blankets, no toys, nothing to take their energy away,” explained Edmond, who lives in Manhattan. “It was so loud with the barking and we didn’t adopt anyone that day, but on our way home in the taxi crying, we were like ‘how can we help, what can we do?’ We decided we could get some blankets and toys and take them back to the shelter.”
Thus, the initial idea for Rock & Rawhide was born: a charity that provides dogs, cats, and other shelter animals with essential items like toys and blankets that keep animals happy and cheerful instead of restless and miserable. Edmond realized that good pets probably often got overlooked because of bad behavior that is only caused by boredom and depression.
As her charity thrived, so did her singing career. Edmond was working as singer and songwriter at the time, often spending time with those who performed drag. One day, the concepts of drag and animal rescue collided, and she knew that it was time to take her charity to the next level.
“Kylie was always part of my annual birthday drag show, and she would usually donate a gift baggy of doggy products,” explained Witti Repartee of Kaleidoscope Collaborations, the queen who helps with curating drag performers for Rock & Rawhide events. “One of the auction lots that she won was a collection of 10 or 15 necklaces or earring sets, and said ‘wouldn’t it be hysterical to see these on a dog?’ I said ‘with drag queens?’ And from that moment on, the idea for this whole campaign was born, the idea that we would do a shoot with the dogs and jewelry matched with drag queens. So we sort of split up the duties and she got the dogs and I got the drag queens, and we did the show.”
The concept is pairing queens in drag with similarly-dressed dogs or other pets who normally wouldn’t be adopted, either because they are from a breed with a bad reputation, an animal with a disability or behavioral issues, or an older animal. The queens do a drag show and photo shoot with the animals in order to both increase visibility for the animals, and give them the one-on-one attention they need to become more desirable. Not only does this help improve the lives of dogs who need homes, there is also an obvious metaphor to be drawn between dogs that need homes and a community that hasn’t always felt at home in their surroundings.
“A lot of people in the community have such a hard time; a lot of people have misconceptions, and people are not willing to learn or are too scared to learn [about LGBTQ people],” Edmond explained. “But finding that likeness between the two was really interesting. People have a lot of preconceived ideas about animals in shelters, that they are broken, not trainable, can be thrown away and discarded, and we see the same on the other side where people are fearful of many in the LGBTQ community, fearful of our trans and drag friends, so putting the two together was fun, and what’s not fun about a fabulous drag queen? Their glittering glory and fabulous outfits are a great way to bring attention to both communities.”
When Edmond and Repartee decided they to curate their first drag show and photo shoot with queens and dogs, the response was overwhelming. They found many queens willing to participate, and Bideawee, a New York shelter, was happy to collaborate with Rock & Rawhide to provide the animals. Since their first show was a success, they plan to start visiting shelters each month as part of a longer photo series pairing queens and furry friends.
“When we go to a shelter for a shoot, there might be an animal that is having a really tough time in a shelter, she explained “Some of the animals in the shelter, they break down after a few days or a couple of weeks, and they’re not showing that sparkly, fun, carefree animal that first walked through the doors, so we are hoping we will get those ones in there first so we can give them the extra attention and promotion that they need. Maybe it is an animal that is harder to adopt, an animal with one eye, three legs, an older pet. Once a month, we will pair them up. We want to keep going; there are plenty of animals that need our help, and there is certainly no shortage of incredible drag queens.”
In addition to expanding in New York, Rock & Rawhide would like to make their operation national. Repartee has friends and drag connections in cities all over the U.S., and has already heard from interested queens in other cities. And she is confident that through their collaboration, Rock & Rawhide can bring the same positive energy to other areas.
“The amount of love Kylie has is really what drives it,” Repartee explained. “One woman’s love of dogs and care for them is saving lives, feline, canine, and human.”
Cover image: Bella Noche and Ellia J. Garlands with Irving of Animal Lighthouse Rescue Photo Credit: Nik Poon
Dogs styled by Tutu Blossom