The lawn is perfectly manicured, the calla lily flowerbeds lush and the turquoise-hued shutters contrast charmingly with the home’s peach stucco.
Moats greets me at the door and gives me a tour, which includes a sitting room that features all custom crown moldings that he created, the most realistic faux Victorian wallpaper you’ll ever see and a quilt-covered daybed where—next to an old-timey gramophone—a fluffy white cat named Miss Chievous naps the afternoon away.
Interrupting the Better Homes and Gardens vibe, a pair of latex Dalmatian paws rest atop the kitchen counter where they were set to dry. You see, Moats is the globe’s top designer and fabricator of realistic dog masks used for the fetish known as “puppy play.”
Asked to describe the practice in one sentence, he says, “Oh, god, that’s almost impossible.”
Dress-up plays a huge part, but there’s also dominance and submission, experienced between handlers and pups, that Moats says is starting to be lost in the gay community, especially in leather circles.
“We’ve lost so many people over the years, so it’s not being taught as much, which is a shame, because puppy play is something a lot people in the younger crowd that are looking for a niche could easily gravitate towards,” he says.
“Come over to the back shed—I’ll show you where the magic happens,” Moats instructs. I’m led to a space the size of a single-car garage filled floor to ceiling with his collection of prototype masks, some 200 strong, as well as tools used to make them, such as nail clippers, mixing vats and lots of paint brushes.
There’s also a vintage floral rug, a model of the streets of San Francisco atop his desk and a loud, mesmerizing tick-tock sound coming from myriad antique cuckoo clocks hung throughout the room.
“I figure I spend anywhere from 10 to 12 hours a day here, so I might as well surround myself by what I love.”
Moats is a window dresser by trade—a talent he picked up working at his father’s Chula Vista bookstore; if you ever caught a movie during the 1980s at Plaza Bonita’s Mann Theater, chances are you were blown away by his custom creations that whimsically reflected whatever movie was premiering.
Eight years ago, Moats’ professional life took a sharp turn. That’s when he first heard of puppy play. “I really didn’t think that much of it,” he recalls. It wasn’t until a friend showed him a rubber mask that Moats’ tail started waggling.
“Latex is my big thing, and he let me try it on, and I thought it was kind of cool. I remember thinking, That could be kinda fun, being on your hands and knees and roaming around the house.”
An invitation to a fetish party in Palm Springs later, Moats’ artistic juices started flowing. Considering that “everything that was out there looked like garbage,” he took matters into his own paws—he’d made a clay mold and brought an original mask of his own to the party.
The results made attendees at that gathering bark and howl. One even pissed himself in excitement, Moats says. It was clear to him that he’d found his new calling.
“People went ballistic,” he recalls. One such individual was thorn, editor-in-chief of hardcore fetish magazine Instigator, who arranged a meeting with Amsterdam-based specialty gear and clothing provider Mr. B’s. After an initial order of 25 masks, the business that would later morph into RubberDawg.com was born.
Given his innovations in the medium, such as zippers, texture and a paint covering that’s 35 coats strong, Moats is now the go-to guy for these sorts of masks, not to mention something of a legend at his local post office.
“You see this?” he asks, pointing to a huge map hanging on a side wall. “Everywhere you see a pin, I’ve sent at least one.”
Doren, his partner of 20-plus years, wasn’t initially too keen on the idea. “He’d ask me why was I wasting my time.” Moats says, reaching for a pin and sticking it into St. Petersburg. “I throw that back at him every so often.”
The tour continues outside, with an adjacent space he calls his “play area,” which features a maze-like setting, some glory holes and a couple of bathtubs, all next to the storage space that houses materials from his previous movie-house-decorator life, like a life-size Slimer from Ghostbusters and a 4-foot-tall Roger Rabbit.
There, he shared his advice for potential puppies. “Try what feels comfortable to you. You’re not born into anything, really. You kind of already have a niche somewhere in you; you just need to find it.”
He also suggests hanging out with someone who’s already into the lifestyle. “The San Diego Eagle”—the North Park gay bar—“has a puppy-play night every first Wednesday of the month,” he notes. “Just show up.”
Moats adds: “You’re bound to meet both obedient puppies and ones that are rambunctious and run around and might bark and sniff. Don’t worry; it’s nothing a good newspaper swat can’t fix.”
Write to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com. Enrique blogs at elzonkeyshow.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @enriquelimon.