Tea time with Andrew and Venom

1
3322
Andew and Venom. Image by Axl Thomas.

‘Five Minutes of Hot Tea’ propelled one outspoken commentator to vlogging stardom – and soon to American TV screens – but it is his sidekick, Min Pin Venom, that we’re especially interested in…

The last couple of years have been undeniably gruelling. Things were already a bit rocky, even before the pandemic. People were frustrated and angry. Political divisions had become gaping chasms on both sides of the pond. While Brexit and the subsequent fallout was causing arguments in communities and homes throughout Britain, the US was dealing with a president who seemed to be exploiting political hot topics such as racism, sexism and homophobia in the hope of winning another election.

Many of us watched all of this unfold as we socially distanced, often in isolation, eating too much, drinking too much, and spending far too much time on social media and watching television. There were plenty of talking heads and commentators who filled our screens 24/7 and much of what they had to say just added to the confusion and started to become a constant, sleep-depriving, stressful drone that we could never escape.

Even in places we thought we might be safe, dog groups on Facebook, or even knitting groups, rage would start to boil up from and between people who normally were perfectly content with their once, non-controversial, common interest. Humour is what kept a lot of us sane. That is how one young gay man from Texas with a distinctly southern accent and a razor-sharp wit appeared out of nowhere and invited us to sit down and enjoy some tea time.

Andrew has a charismatic and stunning little rescued Miniature Pinscher named Venom. Venom was docked and ear cropped before Andrew adopted him…

Andrew Joseph Duffer, now well on his way to stardom, is a sassy, smart and highly entertaining young man with a lot of opinions. His first video, ‘Five Minutes of Hot Tea’ went viral and from there, he rapidly attracted fans from around the world. Once celebrities such as Lance Bass from N Sync shared his video, his rise to stardom started.

I remember the first time I saw one of his videos. I thought he was hilarious and was incredibly impressed by the way his commentary was so cleverly composed. His presentation style had to fit the circumstances we all found ourselves in, so he films himself as he moves around his own flat from room to room, using his southern charm to say things that might just not be so palatable said by others. He does swear a lot too.

I looked Andrew up out of curiosity and what struck me, more than anything else, was that aside from his videos, his social media was full of photos of dogs. Lots and lots of dogs. I had no idea what his involvement was with dogs, but he seemed to spend much of his time with them and they all seemed as thrilled to be in his company as his fans did when he deemed to invite them in for a new dose of his particularly special brew of tea.

Tea time with Andrew and Venom
Andew and Venom. Image by Axl Thomas.

As a dog lover myself, I was intrigued. So, I got in touch with Andrew and asked him if I could talk to him about dogs and his response was so full of enthusiasm for the subject that I wanted to share him with all of you.

Just for the record, and before we continue, I want to clear one thing up. Andrew has a charismatic and stunning little rescued Miniature Pinscher named Venom. Venom was docked and ear cropped before Andrew adopted him and I felt that it was important to ask him how he felt about that. Andrew first response was emotional: “I would never do that to my baby.”

I told him that there had been campaigns in the UK, where ear cropping is illegal, to ban the importation of dogs with cropped ears and explained that there was a belief among some in the animal welfare community in the UK that ear cropping was so common and normalised in the US because most Americans approved of it. He was absolutely clear about where he stood on the matter.

“Humans are responsible for just about everything dogs experience. We need to train them kindness, patience and love.”

“It’s not true at all. I know that the American Veterinary Medical Association, the American Animal Hospital Association, and Banefield Pet Hospitals oppose it. Also, I’m an American and I strongly oppose it. I hate that Venom had to endure getting his ears and tail cropped.”

What makes Andrew so special is his unapologetic manner of expressing his opinions and that they always come from a place of caring. He cares passionately about his country, his state, his community and about dogs. In fact, Andrew had never written comedy before his first video. Andrew is the manager of a dog day-care centre and that is where all the incredible photos of dogs come from.

After working a soul-destroying job in retail that he hated, for a company that did not care about its employees, and having to deal with rude and unpleasant customers, Andrew had enough. He had no quality of life and it was affecting his health. So, he followed his heart and found a job at a dog day-care facility, where he quickly rose to a management position and has been there ever since. I had to find out how he got so many great photos of the dogs he worked with and, without skipping a beat, he showed me that he certainly is not just a pretty face. He knows his job and he knows dogs.

“Each dog is different, and they all have their own personality. Sometimes I hold a treat and tell them to sit and then snap a quick pic. There are times when all I have to do is hold a ball above the camera. But most of the time, I just compliment them and tell them how much I love them in my ‘baby talk’ voice and they eat it up. They love that tone in my voice. It always makes them light up and wag their tails like crazy. I just have to keep them interested long enough to get the shot I’m looking for.”

Andrew went on to explain his views on dog behaviour. “I think positive reinforcement training is extremely beneficial to dogs. When we reinforce dogs with things they like for desired behaviour, they will learn to repeat those behaviours. I don’t think physical punishment is effective and I think it’s cruel. Humans are responsible for just about everything dogs experience. We need to train them kindness, patience and love.

“Humans often take a dog’s misbehaviour as disrespect and I don’t think that’s the case. Dogs have needs just like you and me. Sometimes, our dogs’ needs aren’t being met and they’re trying to communicate with us in any way they can.”

Andrew grew up in Texas and his experiences seem to be pivotal in his desire to help underdogs, whether they are humans or dogs.

Now this is the sort of celebrity we need in the dog world. While Andrew does a lot of talking in his videos, there is no doubt he walks the walk when it comes to dogs. He raises funds and awareness for animal charities every year by organising events like ‘Barktober Fest’ and ‘Pupsgiving’. He also puts up an angel tree this year. I will let him explain…

“I write down items that shelters are asking for on a paper ornament. Customers pull ornaments with those items and bring those items back and we donate them to the Humane Society of North Texas, which is where I rescued Venom. Dogs can’t speak for themselves, so we need to do it for them.”

Andrew grew up in Texas and his experiences seem to be pivotal in his desire to help underdogs, whether they are humans or dogs.

“I’m a Texan born and raised. I’ve lived here all my life. I grew up in a rural area. I moved to Dallas Fort Worth not too long after I graduated high school, but my parents still live in that rural town, unfortunately. So, every holiday and birthday, I’m back in that town.”

“I’m obviously gay. You could be deaf and blind and still know. But luckily for me, my father used to be president of the city council. He has his own accounting business and he’s very active in the church. My mother’s family is very well known and liked in that town, so even though I was gay, I got a pass because of who my parents were. But that pass really just meant things were only slightly better for me. I was still bullied and didn’t get to be my true self, growing up.”

He has used his platform with his hugely popular Teatime videos to raise awareness about social injustice. I was curious what happened that sparked him to make his first video, which has travelled the world and probably been viewed millions of times on various platforms.

“I got fed up eventually. I wasn’t ‘Andrew’ or a person. I was ‘gay’! That’s all I was viewed as. Trump’s name was something I heard all day, every day, for years. He was clearly anti-gay and anyone who supported him may not have necessarily been anti-gay themselves, but my losing rights or being discriminated against really didn’t concern them. You can’t claim to love someone if you’re OK with them losing civil rights and other protections and being treated as less than.

“So, one day, I picked up my phone, hit ‘record’ and started ranting. I filmed and refilmed my ‘Five minutes of Hot Tea’ video about 30 times before I posted it. It went viral. I had never done any political comedy or writing before that.”

“Dogs are not accessories. They are living creatures and they should be treated as such”

Anyone who follows Andrew will know how much he loves Venom. He shares photos and videos of his antics almost daily and it appears that Venom does not mind the limelight one little bit. Andrew suspects that his fans may even love Venom more than they do him.  “Honestly, I think they love Venom more than anything.”

If that were the case, I felt obliged to ask if Venom was also on his way to worldwide domination, not that dogs really normally want that, just to be clear.

“Venom hasn’t received any offers yet. I’m sure he would be flattered.”

I wanted to find out more about Andrew’s views as a dog professional and it appears that he is as insightful about the way we interact with them as he is about the way we treat each other.

“I think we need to let dogs be dogs, and we can do that by educating ourselves. We say that dogs are man’s best friend, so let’s be their best friend. We need to put in the work and learn how dogs see the world, how they communicate, and how to help them better fit into ‘our’ world. Humans see the world through their eyes, but dogs see the world through their noses.

“I see people all the time reprimand their dog for sniffing other dogs’ butts or genitals. They won’t stop and let their dogs smell the sidewalk or the bushes. It’s frustrating to me. Just because we perceive the world with sight doesn’t mean their perception through scent is anything different or less important.”

So, what advice does Andrew have for people who might see all the incredibly beautiful and happy dogs on his social media and might want to adopt a dog themselves?

“Dogs are not accessories. They are living creatures and they should be treated as such. We can make the world better for dogs by being better to dogs. Don’t pick dogs based on their looks. Read up on breeds that interest you and see if their behaviours and needs fit with your lifestyle. Make sure you can meet their needs before you make a commitment to them, so they don’t end up in a shelter because you didn’t take the time to learn about them.”

I must admit that it is so refreshing to speak to a social media star who not only loves dogs, but is so deeply knowledgeable about them. Given his strong opinions, so acerbic and laden with sarcasm, I can only be grateful that he is on the side of every dog lover who believes in treating dogs humanely, with dignity and respect. So, where is all this leading Andrew?

“I was spotted immediately after my first video went viral. I’ve been working on a big project, and if things go well, you just might see me on your TV.”

As a fan and a dog lover, I am thrilled to hear that news. You can find Andrew on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. Just make sure that you wait for your own tea time until after watching his videos, or you may well spit it out on your screen. He is that funny.

This is an article by Colette Kase. Studio Photography by AXL THOMAS

1 COMMENT

  1. I’ve been watching Andrew for about a year now, he’s extremely smart, cute as a button, and very entertaining. Love his Tea Time. Thanks for picking him and Venom for your magazine.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here