My name is Keith Lamar Murphy, and I am a Black man with a tiny dog.
Like most Black men, I was taught that dogs are an extension of our manhood and the contract with our canine companions was all about mutual protection. I grew up with a German shepherd named Heidi. Heidi technically belonged to my grandmother, but we knew she loved us all. And my late old man, God bless him, owned a comically intimidating Doberman pinscher named Bonnie who took commands — in German, no less!
For decades, the image of the powerful, imposing dog breed has dominated hip-hop iconography and movies. In New Jack City, Nino Brown walked into a Cash Money Brothers meeting with an unnerving rottweiler before stabbing a member of the crew. Snoop Dogg transformed into a Doberman in his 1993 video for “Who Am I (What’s My Name)?” And back in the ’90s, infamous Death Row Records bogeyman Suge Knight was known to travel with a menacing shepherd named Damu (Swahili for “blood”), who was reportedly trained to attack on command.
Today, these dogs don’t have quite the same reputation. OutKast’s Big Boi famously owns and operates the high-end 25-acre Pitfall Kennels in Georgia, where he breeds French bulldogs, blue nose pit bulls, and English bulldogs. “These are the best, loyal, most family-oriented dogs ever,” the Grammy winner told a video crew in 2016. “We’re here to dispel the stigma that’s been put on them.”
Perhaps that unfair stigma, that presumption of violence, is the main reason people don’t expect me to have a tiny dog. Considering how people look at me while I’m walking Princey, my Yorkshire terrier, Black men are still expected to be seen with a pit bull wearing a muzzle and a steel chain leash. There are racial and gender dynamics involved with that calculus, not to mention generations of toxic masculinity.
Still, I never thought this would be my life. A dog that could be carried around? Absolutely not.
But in 2014, I officially became a tiny dog owner when a longtime friend could no longer keep Princey. I was reluctant; one look at him, and I could see he was bougie, sneaky, and spoiled. I’m sure he could tell that I was a moody writer who needed space. On the first night, I directed Princey to a pillow on the floor — and made it clear that sleeping on my furniture was an absolute deal-breaker.
But within a few months, Princey had somehow wormed his way onto my couch for snuggles and belly rubs.
And before I could even understand what was happening, Princey was sleeping in my bed, and I was hand-feeding him. Not dog food. People food. Me!
Then came the sweaters.
I can promise you that dressing up a dog — especially a tiny dog — was something I would have never envisioned as a kid growing up on the South Side of Chicago.
But it happened. There I was, online shopping for dog clothes as if I had just filed Princey as a tax dependent. This was not how I came up. And it certainly wasn’t part of the music and culture that I was immersed in.
As time goes on and my Brooklyn neighborhood becomes increasingly gentrified (Crown Heights stand up), Princey and I don’t stick out quite as much as we used to. I’ve bumped into a cock diesel, six-foot-something dude, pants sagging, rocking Tims — and carrying his shih tzu. Some days, I see this brother with an obnoxious toy poodle that barks at anything that moves.
Princey and I now see Black men with Chihuahuas, teacup Yorkies, miniature French bulldogs, and toy poodles on a regular basis. Often, we exchange knowing head nods as if we are part of some secret society.
We know, we know. Y’all got jokes.
But the joke is on you. Because we all revel in the benefits of owning a tiny dog. For one thing, tiny dogs don’t get in the way in smaller apartments, and food is less expensive. And if you’re single, smaller dogs are great conversation starters. And picking up after a Yorkie is a damn sight more pleasant than wrestling with what a golden retriever leaves on the sidewalk. I just have to get past the random nuisance of someone asking why I don’t have a “real” dog. Or why my dog is dressed better than me.
Not that I can blame them. Princey’s sweater game is mean.