News: Guest Posts
National Portrait Gallery exhibit reminds us why we love her
A riveting photographic exhibition, Portraits of an Icon, recently opened at London’s National Portrait Gallery illustrates the life of actress and fashion maven Audrey Hepburn (1929-1993). This exhibit features photographs from Hepburn's early years in London as a dancer to her later years as an impassioned philanthropist. From the museum’s description:
“A selection of more than seventy images defines Hepburn’s iconography, including classic and rarely seen prints from photographers such as Richard Avedon, Cecil Beaton, Terry O’Neill, Norman Parkinson and Irving Penn. Alongside these, an array of vintage magazine covers, film stills, and extraordinary archival material complete her captivating story.”
Hepburn is revered for her performances in a string of films produced in ’50s and ’60s including: Gigi, Roman Holiday, Sabrina, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Charade, My Fair Lady and Funny Face (my personal favorite). Along with her acting and humanitarian work with UNICEF, Hepburn was also an avid animal lover. Dogs were an important part of her family for much of her life. Her dog, Mr. Famous, is one of her best known companions. He traveled with the actress to film locations and photo shoots, and even had a cameo in 1957’s Funny Face. It was a common sight to see Hepburn and her beloved Yorkie bicycling around studio lots during breaks in filming.
The camera loved Hepburn’s natural beauty and inimitable style. The best images on display in Portraits of an Icon radiate an inner quality seldom captured on film. Like the subject herself, the portraits display a wide range, showing Hepburn as a young ballerina, Hollywood actress, fashion model, humanitarian. For those fortunate to attend the exhibit, they will find more reasons to fall in love with Audrey Hepburn (and her canine co-pilots).
Portraits of an Icon appears at the National Portrait Gallery in London through October 18, 2015. For more information visit www.npg.org.uk.
The play I was watching was just 10 minutes in when a black Labrador jumped up next to me and settled in for a nap. This was going to be no ordinary theater experience.
I was at JACK, a performing-arts space in Brooklyn, N.Y., to see Comfort Dogs: Live from the Pink House, the latest experimental play written and directed by William Burke. The Labrador, Gypsy, along with mixed-breed pups Bronco and Bluet, was part of the play’s canine cast.
Comfort Dogs explores the relationship between humans and canines, and our dependence on them, through music and spoken word. Burke was inspired to create the play after reading about therapy dogs visiting a local nursing home in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. It sparked his curiosity about the emotional responsibility we assign to dogs, and their willingness to stay by our side despite not understanding most of what we say or do.
Normally, when dogs are involved in theatrical productions, their roles are carefully scripted and their behaviors are thoroughly rehearsed. Burke wanted something that felt more natural and spontaneous for Comfort Dogs.
“I didn’t want trained dogs doing things because they had to. That’s not what we were trying to do,” Burke explained. “The idea was to create an environment where the dogs could do anything they wanted, and no one would tell them not to be a dog.”
The result was about an hour of organic interaction between human and canine actors that complemented the play’s monologues and songs. The people also acted like dogs, sniffing, howling and scratching, while the three canine stars were free to be themselves. The dogs’ unscripted roles also meant that each show was unique. It felt like canine improv.
Working with animals, especially in an unscripted setting, presents logistical challenges—among them, finding the ideal performance space. An early iteration that enclosed the dogs on stage, per the original theater’s requirements, took away from the show’s free spirit. The space at JACK allowed Comfort Dogs to unfold as Burke had originally envisioned, showcasing the dogs’ natural behavior.
The three canine actors, each a different breed, size and personality, complemented each other as well, although they were primarily chosen because they were familiar with all of the people on stage. Bronco is Burke’s dog; Gypsy is bass player Paul Ketchum’s pup; and Bluet, whom Burke rescued from a local park, now lives with a friend. The actors’ existing relationships with the dogs grew as they worked on the play together.
It will also come as no surprise to any dog lover that the human actors learned a lot from being on stage with their canine counterparts.
“When you’re an actor, you always talk about ‘being present’ on stage,” says Burke. “With the dogs, they’re present all the time. It was certainly exciting to see.”
Now that Comfort Dogs has closed, the director hopes to work on a longer piece that incorporates more dogs. One of his ideas is to partner with a local shelter so that audience members could adopt the canine actors, making the play even more immersive.
It was refreshing to see Comfort Dogs explore canine theater in this manner, and I look forward to Burke’s next work. Incorporating shelter pups would be an exciting way to give back to dogs, who give us so much.
Ruth Silverman is a treasure. She combines a curator’s eye for fine photography with a lifelong passion for dogs. It has resulted in two seminal books The Dog: 100 Years of Classic Photography and The Dog Observed, numerous photo exhibits and a personal collection that rivals many museums. The Bark crossed paths with Ruth many years ago, and she has been an invaluable advisor to our efforts on many fronts, introducing us to a host of great photographers and art of all kinds that have graced our pages. Ruth is one of those people who seem to know everyone, after having been a curator for the International Center of Photography in New York, as well as a successful photojournalist. She takes delight in connecting creative parties, be it in art, writing or publishing—Ruth is a cultural matchmaker.
Visiting Ruth in her home in Berkeley is like a trip to gallery row. Every wall, shelf and corner is filled with fine prints, paintings and photographs … a framed André Kertész, a William Wegman Polaroid, a classic Nicholas Nixon. We were excited to hear that Ruth has donated a good portion of her collection to raise money to help the dogs she so dearly loves. Friends have organized a month-long online auction to benefit both the SPCA’s “Take Your Best Shot” program, which increases the adoption rate in high‐kill, low-income shelters by presenting quality, attractive portraits of available pets to potential adopters, and the HSUS’ “Pets for Life” program, which addresses the need for spay and neuter services in underserved communities.
The appropriately named “Good Dog Art Exhibition and Silent Auction” can be viewed online at http://tinyurl.com/GoodDogArt through February 26, 2015. It’s a wonderful opportunity to acquire first-rate photography and art while helping animals in need and the programs that serve them. And if you happen to be in the Bay Area this month, you can view the art in person at two venues—Wag Hotels and San Francisco SPCA. A special Good Dog Art Party is being held at Wag Hotels on the closing night of the auction, February 26. Tickets can be purchased at the URL above. We hope you’ll expand your art collection and help the dogs!
Culture: Stories & Lit
Learning that life can be good
She and I are alone. When I say the B-word, she rushes to my side and goes into a sit, the first thing she learned, and so far the only one: sit comes before treat the way head comes before tail. It’s not open for discussion.
“Bagel! Maxine! Bagel!”
She’s so wiggly, she can barely hold her bum to the floor. The eyes that were sad and dull in her adoption photo are now bright. Her long tail goes back and forth at the rate of maybe a hundred swishes per second. Come to think of it, since she came to live with us a month ago, she’s also learned something else: incredibly, there is such a thing in life as feeling alive.
Maybe she remembers that a frozen blueberry bagel was what I gave her to chew on after I brought her home for the first time, after she had torn apart every toy in her crate— toys that were supposed to be (ha-ha) indestructible. Last week, she got hold of her adopted brother’s yellow rubber duck, which now has no head. Yesterday, she attacked the only toy her other new brother loves, a small purple bear he’s had for seven years, since his puppy days. She pulled it from under his chin while he was sleeping. Now, it looks like someone put it through a miniature leaf-shredder, after pulling out the stuffing.
She’s close to a year old: a chocolate Lab/Wirehaired Terrier mix, bearded, scruffy, skinny, long-legged. On our walks, strangers who stop to ask about her haven’t always been kind. It’s been pointed out to me that she looks like an Irish Wolfhound crossed with a monkey, a Labradoodle with ancestors who were porcupines, a Schnauzer crossed with a Whippet. I’m never bothered by these observations. I happen to know my new girl dog is one of the most beautiful creatures on earth.
The woman who rescued and fostered her told me during a phone conversation that she was guessing Maxine would turn out to be Retriever-ish, but maybe she said that to make me feel I’d have some experience to draw from (my other two dogs are Retrievers). I thought it would be nice to live with a dog who has two different but equal sides, like kids on a seesaw who weigh the same. That was a fantasy. I know a lot about Terriers now. I know the Terrier part of any dog has no interest in being equal. Terriers feel they should be allowed to do whatever they want, all the time, and if you don’t agree with that, something must be wrong with you.
“Maxine, this is a lesson! School time! School and bagel!” I home-school my dogs, making things up as we go along in a trial-and-error sort of way. I’m a dog-training amateur, and sometimes, their behavior drives me crazy, especially when other people are around. Anyone who comes to my home, stranger to the dogs or not, has to hurry to a chair (as in, “sit down and hang on!”) because the dogs get carried away greeting and checking out humans and vying for attention. If I shut them in another part of the house when someone’s visiting, I break their hearts. They act like eager students who do not understand why their teacher won’t give them a lesson in something they’re dying to learn.
I don’t have dog-education credentials, but I taught creative writing to humans for a long time. Also, I’m a mom. I love teaching and it’s always come naturally to me, and I do think my students and my son fared okay with me pushing them to try things they never thought they could do, and then pushing them a little harder to do those things as well as they possibly could. But they’d probably, every one of them, welcome any chance to say I was tough, or I was demanding, or I was “Terrier-like.”
“Yes! It’s blueberry!”
Maxine watches me take the bagel out of the freezer and drop it into an empty cereal box. Her tail stops moving, like an excited voice going suddenly silent. She’s confused. Why don’t I hand her this favorite thing? Is something wrong? Did I stop loving her after only one month, when I had sworn to love her forever, when love was the first word I taught her, even before sit and bagel? I set the cereal box upright on the floor. She is baffled. She takes a step toward it, then two steps back, tail drooping, head low.
When I do this with Andy, my giant, high-strung Golden, he gets whatever big carton I have. It takes him just minutes to jump the box and jaw it, paw it, crush it and rip it. When he finishes the treat, he commences to see how much cardboard he can eat before I take it away. Skip, my undersized Nova Scotia Duck Toller, gets a shoe or boot box, the lid secured with duct tape to thwart him. He is the MIT student of my household. He takes forever to paw-push and nose-nudge the box around, tipping it, studying it, until he figures out exactly where the treat is. When he creates an opening, it’s the right size for him to reach in with his snoot or a paw, and there you go. It would never occur to either of them not to liberate the treat.
Maxine went into a high-kill shelter when she was a tiny pup. There is no information about her past except that her mother is a chocolate Lab owned by a “backyard breeder.” Somehow, the Lab had mated with an anonymous bearded Terrier—definitely not one she was supposed to step out with.
The woman who saved Maxine is connected with the adoption group I had applied to. This is how she described the rescue to me: “I ran to the shelter when I found out they put her name on their euthanasia schedule for that day. Her time had run out and no one wanted her. I don’t suppose anyone going there to adopt had looked at her twice, her being so unusual. She’s the only one of that litter—they were all surrendered— who didn’t get homed. I opened her cage and grabbed her and tucked her under my arm. I wish you could’ve seen how she looked at me. She was real quiet, but she knew what was what. They always know.”
Maxine looks at the box. She lies down. Her eyes are the eyes of one who feels defeated about trying something before the trying has even begun. In her head, she is still in her cage. Everything she wants is outside it.
They say that dogs don’t cry like humans. But anyone who has lived with a dog knows they do. They just don’t get wet about it.
I whisper to her, “Don’t cry. It’s okay.”
I’ve been afraid that all those months in a cage damaged her in ways that cannot be undone. She has space issues; she’s always banging into things. Her vision checks out perfectly, but she has trouble seeing anything that isn’t straight ahead and up close. If she hears a noise behind her, she still doesn’t know she can learn what it is by simply tuning around. When you throw her a tennis ball, she leaps to catch it, but by the time she jumps, the ball is no longer in the air; then she freaks out a little, not knowing how to look for it. And she was terribly ill when she arrived: parasites, malnutrition, poor digestion. Then came a scary infection that put her into emergency care and hospitalization. This is a dog who, in her first year of life, has twice been at the brink of death.
What am I doing? Why am I forcing her to confront a task she clearly can’t handle? Why didn’t I know right away that expecting her to try for the bagel is the same as asking her to grow wings and fly around the room like a bird?
For a second, I comfort myself with the thought that maybe I rushed this. It’s only been a month. Surely, when I try again at some point in the future, all will be well, and she’ll make a tiny effort to at least put one paw on her box. But the signs aren’t good.
The top flaps of the cereal box are open and folded back. In the moment before I reach for the box to tip it and let the bagel fall out so she can at least retrieve it, I smile at her and try to tell her with a look that what I’m about to do is completely right, and what I’d meant to do all along. I didn’t really want her to do to the box what she had done to her crate toys, Andy’s bear, Skip’s rubber duck and all the other things she’s destroyed. It’s fine that she doesn’t do what Terriers have done historically to small animals, such as rats. I want her to be happy and safe and okay with herself exactly as she is. I want her to …
There’s no such thing as ES P, right? There’s no such thing as thoughts in a human mind transporting, somehow, to the mind of a dog, right?
This happened. I was thinking something along the lines of Get this box and kill it, Maxine. I was thinking, I want …
She jumps up from what was nearly a stupor so fast that I almost don’t see it. She pounces. She sinks her teeth into the side of the box, then tips her head and hoists it, and shakes it and shakes it and shakes it. Her head is going side to side almost as fast as her tail. She doesn’t know the bagel flew out until she takes a break from the shaking to catch her breath.
She spots where the bagel landed. Oh! How did that happen?
She is awestruck. She grabs it and jumps to the couch, which is covered with an old cotton blanket. As soon as she’s up there, she licks the bagel like it needs to be cleaned. I see the way she settles into the blanket. Her cage had a floor of cement.
I go to the treat container to get a biscuit. Andy and Skip are out in the dog pen and they’ll soon be inside. I know what will happen if they smell blueberry bagel and not a ordinary treat on their sister’s breath. I’ll never hear the end of it, but they’re both on a diet.
I send Maxine this thought: no way am I leaving the box lid open the next time, no way. She doesn’t tune in. She’s too busy chewing.
Crumbs are stuck in her beard. She’s holding the bagel between her slim, strong paws. She seems too fixated to know she’s about to get a biscuit, too, but of course she knows. Her tail starts thumping the couch, up, down, drumstick-like, sounding out a beat I want to listen to forever. A heartbeat.
Dog's Life: Travel
For the ultimate road trip, set your GPS for Patagonia via the Pan-American Highway
For those who cannot imagine a vacation without their canine companions, a road trip is the obvious way to go. And when it comes to roads, the Pan-American Highway is the mother of them all. Stretching 30,000 miles from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, to the southernmost tip of Patagonia in Ushuaia, Argentina, it traverses almost every type of terrain imaginable, from deserts to rain forests and tropical beaches to snowy mountains. If you’ve exhausted local options and have time for a more far-reaching adventure, you may want to give it a whirl. Here are some tips on planning for and enjoying a road trip with your dog through Mexico, Central America and beyond.
Can I really take my dog all the way to Patagonia?
Yes! The Pan-American Highway is a well-traveled route, and you will be sure to meet countless people touring with their much larger, much smaller or even multiple dogs (not to mention cats and the occasional bird). Traveling with a dog has many advantages. We all know that dogs provide us with a great way to meet people, and they can keep homesickness at bay if you plan to be on the road for a while. Having a dog around can also contribute to your own and your vehicle’s security when you’re camping or in an unfamiliar place.
That said, you know your dog best. If she has health or behavioral issues, or gets carsick, you might want to find a friendly place for her to stay while you’re away.
What kinds of dog-related supplies do I need to bring?
Any special medications your dog may need and proof of an up-to-date rabies vaccination are critical. Otherwise, people keep dogs as pets in all of the Americas, and you will be able to find dog food, accessories and common medications like flea and tick treatments almost everywhere you go. Although rabies is the only required vaccination, it’s a good idea to also have your dog inoculated against kennel cough and parvovirus —boosters can also be renewed along the way.
Is it difficult to cross international borders with a dog?
It depends. Experiences at border crossings vary by location and by the inspectors who happen to be working that day. It is always a good idea to be prepared: check each country’s entry requirements a few days before you plan to cross. Most countries ask that you obtain a health certificate for your dog three to 10 days in advance and make this certificate available for inspection at the border, along with vaccination information. Vets are plentiful and will produce this document for free or at very little cost, although many will insist that it is not needed—and in most instances, they’ll be right.
Chile has the most difficult pet-related border crossing requirements. A health certificate from the previous country’s agricultural inspection agency (such as Argentina’s SENASA) is required; to get this, you’ll need to make specific office and vet visits, both of which come with small fees. If heading all the way south to Ushuaia, the Chilean border must be crossed at least twice; if you plan to do it in a short period of time, special transit paperwork can be arranged— just ask at the corresponding agency.
What health concerns do I need to look out for in the Americas?
It’s always a good idea to drop in at a vet facility periodically to see what the local issues may be. Heartworm is not a problem in South America, but intestinal worms are. In some parts of Central America, dry spells can lead to a proliferation of ticks, which can transmit ehrlichiosis, fatal but treatable if identified early. Additionally, South America has a problem with screwworm, a fly-like boring insect that can infect animals through open wounds and orifices. Stay current with your dog’s flea and tick treatments, and be sure to groom them regularly for ticks; when in doubt, visit the nearest vet.
How dog-friendly is Latin America? Will I find places I cannot visit with my dog?
In general, it is much more dog-friendly than the U.S. That being said, dogs are not permitted in most national parks, historic sites and anywhere with protected wildlife. When visiting these areas, make arrangements ahead of time to leave your dog in a hotel or kennel for the day—or, on the fly, have a local shopkeeper watch your pet; a small tip is usually appreciated. Depending on the area, you can always ask park staff to make an exception, as sometimes more flexibility is granted to visiting foreigners with well-behaved dogs on leash.
In terms of lodging, smaller, family-run campsites, hotels and hostels are your best bets; it’s a good idea to call ahead if possible. Many places are not used to travelers with well behaved dogs, so a simple display of canine obedience is often enough to gain your dog entrance into a place that may otherwise prohibit them. Demonstrate that your dog can sit and lie down on command, and learn how to say in Spanish that your dog is housebroken, doesn’t bite or bark, and will sleep in his own bed—if you have one, show the innkeeper a dedicated dog blanket or even a travel kennel.
How about crossing the Darién Gap?
Right. Crossing from Panama to Colombia means negotiating this stretch of jungley, roadless swampland. While a simple car ferry has been planned for some time, it doesn’t exist yet; most overland travelers ship their vehicles as cargo, cross either by boat or air, and meet them on the other side. With a bit of research, you may be able to find a passenger boat willing to take you and your dog to Colombia, with stops in the San Blas Islands. However, if you decide to do this, be prepared for a 30-hour, open-sea crossing that can be quite rough. The other option is to fly. High temperatures ground dogs between July 15 and August 15, however, so plan accordingly.
What else can I do to prepare for a trip like this?
The best resources for up-to-date pet and travel information are other travelers. Always check in with those you meet on the road to see what their experiences have been, as rules and management change frequently.
with Pope's Blessing CORRECTED VERSION
On Dec. 16 The New York Times, where the following article was sourced from, published a clarification about the remarks attributable to Pope Francis:
An article on Friday about whether Pope Francis believes that animals go to heaven — a longstanding theological question in the church — misstated the pope’s recent remarks and the circumstances in which they were made.
He spoke in a general audience at the Vatican on Nov. 26, not in consoling a distraught boy whose dog had died. According to Vatican Radio, Francis said, in speaking of heaven, “The Holy Scripture teaches us that the fulfillment of this wonderful design also affects everything around us.” He did not say: “One day, we will see our animals again in the eternity of Christ. Paradise is open to all of God’s creatures.” Those remarks are reported to have been made by Pope Paul VI to a distraught child.
An article on Nov. 27 in Corriere della Sera, the influential Italian daily, compared Francis’ comments to Paul’s, and concluded that Francis also believed that animals go to heaven. A number of subsequent news reports then mistakenly attributed both quotations to Francis; The Times should have verified the quotations with the Vatican.
What a refreshing, and can I say, enlightened pope that Catholics have with Pope Francis! In responding to a little child’s grief at his dog dying, Francis told a crowd at St. Peter’s Square that, indeed, “paradise is open to all of God’s creatures.” This message sent theological scholars and humane societies across the world into a frenzy, the former trying to figure out exactly what the pope meant, the latter rejoicing in the great news that dogs and all animals can go, and merit going to heaven, and in fact, have souls. Such marvelous news. In reading through the reports about this “divine” decision, it was learned that it wasn’t until 1854 when papal infallibility was actually inscribed in that faith by Pope Pius IX who also supported the doctrine that animals have no consciousness, hence have no place in heaven, and even worse he tried to stop the founding of an Italian chapter of the SPCA. But back in 1990, Pope John Paul II seemed to reverse Pius when he said that “animals do have souls and are “as near to God as men are.” This position wasn’t well advertised by the church. Unfortunately John Paul was followed by the stricter more conservative, Benedict who reverted back to Pius’s position.
But now we have a new pope and definitely a new age in the way that most view animals, with a pope who, “citing biblical passages that assert that animals not only go to heaven, but get along with one another when they get there." Francis was quoted by the Italian news media as saying: “One day, we will see our animals again in the eternity of Christ. Paradise is open to all of God’s creatures.”
The editor of Catholic magazine, the Rev. James Martin, who is also Jesuit, like the pope, said that he believed that the pope was at least asserting that “God loves and Christ redeems all of creation,” and adds that “he’s reminding us that all creation is holy and that in his mind, paradise is open to all creatures, and frankly, I agree with him.”
While it is not such as surprise that Pope Francis, who took his papal name from St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals, would take this humane, enlightened position, it is a remarkable gift he has given to all animal lovers this holiday season. Viva le Pope Francis!
News: Karen B. London
The effects can last a decade
For years after the release of 101 Dalmatians, I saw representatives of this breed a lot in group classes and in private consultations for serious behavioral problems. Then, after the popularity of Eddie in the TV show Frasier, I saw more Jack Russell Terriers than before, even though that dog was a mix. When the movie Mozart came out, there was a bit of an upswing in the number of Saint Bernards I saw. I never thought I could see MORE Labrador Retrievers, but when Marley and Me was all the rage, there were even more than ever. I’m always conscious of what types of dogs are becoming stars, because it’s been my impression that it will affect my work.
Now, a new study in PLOS ONE titled “Dog Movie Stars and Dog Breed Popularity: A Case Study in Media Influence on Choice” has confirmed what anyone working with dogs professionally has long suspected: Canine movie stars influence the dog breeds that people choose. The reason that can be a problem is that it means that people are choosing dog breeds based on fads and fashion rather than on compatibility of the breed with lifestyle or the health of the dogs.
To study the degree of media influence on the choices people make about the type of dog to welcome into their family, researchers collected data from the American Kennel Club (AKC) about registered dogs of each breed. They analyzed the changes in popularity of dogs that were featured as main characters in movies from 1927 through 2004. In order to make sure that specific dogs were not in movies BECAUSE the breed was popular, they looked at trends in the relevant breeds both before and after the release of the movies
Movies in the early period of the study had a greater impact on breed choices by the public than movies in later years. The researchers suggest that this might be because of competition from other movies. Early on (before 1940), movies featuring dogs came out less than once a year, but later on (by 2005), it was not unusual for seven dog movies to be released in a single year.
In many cases, an increase in registrations of a particular breed that was seen in a popular movie was strongest 10 years after the movie was released. This may mean that preferences for a certain breed seen in a movie may be long-lasting and influence decisions about what dog to acquire many years after seeing a movie.
Did you ever fall in love with a dog in the movies and acquire one of the same breed later on?
News: Karen B. London
It adds to the town’s beauty
Dogs and art both dress up a city, and when they are combined, the charm is more than doubled. That’s why I was so pleased when I spotted this fire hydrant painted to look like a dog with a firefighter’s hat in West Jefferson, North Carolina. I already liked the area, and this discovery added to my warm feelings about it. It’s not everyone’s style, to be sure, but I like the whimsical look.
I spent some time watching the fire hydrant while sitting on a nearby bench. Though I saw a few people—certainly tourists like me—stop to admire it, I did not see a single dog sniff it or mark it. In this town, there were not a lot of dogs walking around, so the fire hydrant was not serving as a place to mark.
The real purpose of fire hydrants, of course, is to provide water in the event of fire and they are therefore important safety tools. Some people object to painting fire hydrants for fun because it may make them harder to find in an emergency. They are usually red or yellow in order to be easily seen, though the Dalmatian is one of the most common themes when they are painted as an art form.
Are there dog fire hydrants in your area?
News: Guest Posts
John Dolan and his dog George
Coming home a little earlier from nights out; waking up with the sun to get in that daily walk; adding a new vacuum to the top of your birthday wish list—things have a tendency to change when you bring a dog into your life. London based artist, John Dolan, was no exception to this rule. We recently read about Dolan and his dog, George, in an interview published by the Guardian earlier this month, and we were instantly enamored with the duo.
Dolan, struggled with poverty, addiction and homelessness for most of his adult life, then, one day in 2009, a young homeless couple, about to move into an apartment, gave him George. And then things began to happen...
The Guardian writes:
Dolan was terrified to be entrusted with George, his first ever responsibility. "How was I going to cope with him? I couldn't even cope with myself," he says. But he'd loved the family dog, Butch, as a boy, and he noticed how George always looked him in the eye when he talked. They bonded and Dolan had a stark realisation: if he went to prison again, he would lose George. So he gave up crime. "It was only because I had the animal and he's a responsibility," he says, stroking George. "He's like my child in a sense and I feel obliged to keep a roof over his head and keep him warm."
In 2009, in an attempt to make an honest living, John turned to selling sketches of George to passers-by on the street for about $30 each. A few years later, his drawings were published in Shoreditch Unbound, a limited edition book showcasing East London's creative culture. After that, commissions started rolling in, including a request from gallery director, Richard Howard-Griffin. This is when his fledgling career as a working artist took off.
John now has a solo show under his belt (which happened to be a sell-out) and another just opened; he has collaborated with many high-profile street artists, including ROA, Stik and Tierry Noir; he has written a book about his life with George (an experience he likened to therapy), and, later this year, he'll cross the pond for a third solo show in Los Angeles.
While John's life has seen a dramatic turn-around in the past few years, there is one thing that remains constant—George, the staffy-bull who saved him.
Again, from the Guardian:
"I feel like he's a guardian angel. If it hadn't been for him I'd have never picked up my pen," he says, stroking his companion.
Click HERE to see more of John Dolan's work. Keep up with John and George on Facebook.
We had the chance to talk with Matthew Gilbert, TV critic for the Boston Globe and author of one of our 2014 “Best Reads” about his first book, Off the Leash: Year at the Dog Park and his conversion to being a dog lover. His is a rather unique perspective because not long ago he was definitely on the other end of dog-loving spectrum.
You seem to be in a rather unique position being rather new to the dog world, you can see both sides, can’t you? So from the “other” side, the non-dog-loving side of things, can you recall your reasons for not liking dogs, and are they any that perhaps make you cringe today when you remember those feelings?
The first thing I think of is the way my hand would buzz after I touched a dog, until I got to a sink to wash it. I did not like to have physical contact with dogs, or with anything they’d touched!
Good lord. Now, I pet my dog Toby 100 times a day, scratching under his chin and around his ears until he starts swooning with pleasure. I kiss his snout, I sniff and kiss his paws, I rub the boogers off his eyes in the morning. I love the tactile sense of him.
I think back on my distaste and cringe ten times over. I was missing one of the great joys of life…. Wow. I was living in a bubble, and I felt that dogs were just too spontaneous and reckless for me. I depended far too heavily on a sense of order and control, and dogs were the opposite of that.
Also, my mother was terrified of dogs, and that filtered down to me. She would not be able to relax if there was a dog in sight. Nowadays, when I see little kids at the park, I enjoy introducing them to Toby, trying to make them smile at the big lug of a goose who’ll sit and give me his paw for a treat. It’s very healing, unless the parent is too nervous.
What advice would you give to people who don’t much like dogs but perhaps, for the sake of the children or their spouse, might be considering getting one?
It took me years to fall in love with dogs. I fell in love with a dog person, and that was the start of the change. To use a popular term, I evolved… So I don’t think there’s a magical solution to the dislike of dogs.
My advice would be to open up your heart as much as possible, watch the pleasure the dog brings to the other members of the family, try to appreciate that. Don’t shut yourself out of the experience because you were pushed into it. Who knows, you may evolve, too, in a lovely way.
In your book you do a very good job about what that immersion was like, but tell us what your biggest surprises were about discovering that you are really a dog lover? Any surprises about being thrust into the middle of the dog park community? What did you think it would be, and what was it really like?
I continue to feel surprised by the change, some 10-12 years into it, and I have friends from the old days who still tease me about how I once did not like dogs. When I’m with dogs now, I feel happy in a way that’s hard to define, but that still feels new. It’s like the presence of dogs changes everything for the better, and I relearn that over and over again.
The surprises at the park were fantastic. I thought it would be a catty (!) environment with lots of breed snobbery and competition. I thought conversations would be painfully superficial. I thought watching dogs play would be boring. But within a few months, I understood that those fears were mostly unfounded, that the relationships we form daily at the dog park can be profound, that watching dogs play is one of the best pleasures in life, that we meet great people at the park we might never have met otherwise.
I’ve never been so happy to have been so wrong.
Are there things about the dog park community now that make you wonder if you are truly a part of it? I realize there are all sorts of factions within any societal group, but like the bulldog meet up group who “spoiled” it for others at that one park, what are you views of that? And what, if you were able to warn enthusiastic dog people about, what would that be?
Some days, I feel like an outsider. Either there’s no one to talk to, or there are people but they’re in what seem like closed groupings. But I’ve learned to let that go, and it has been a great shedding of baggage. No friends at the park today? Wait until tomorrow.
Dogs are my role models in many ways, not least of all because they are experts in resilience and letting go.
I’m not a fan of breed “meet-ups,” just because they can be exclusive. They also draw people from far away who may not much care about treating the park with respect. Still… who am I to judge any kind of celebratory gathering of dogs? Meet-ups are not for me, but any dog joy is good.
My biggest warning to a dog-park newcomer is: Don’t assume all owners are responsible. We want to think the best of anyone who loves dogs, but some owners have aggressive dogs and subject other dogs to that. It’s so awful. I recount an attack on Toby in my book, and I still shudder when I think of the sounds my little goose made while a whippet started snapping at him.
No one wants to be in the position of keeping a dog on leash at the park, but if your dog has been proven to have issues, you need to protect others. If you show that you want to be fair, that you are responsible, people will inevitably try to help you out. If you keep letting your dog go after other dogs, you will probably face a hard road with a lot of angry people moving away from you.
I do think that a lot of the “opposition” to dogs results from some of us being rather clueless when it concerns others and how they perceive us and our dogs. What do you think and do you want to give any examples?
Some dog lovers don’t understand just how terrified of dogs people can be. But, as someone who has been on the other side, I am fully aware of it. It’s not an act. A person who is afraid of dogs doesn’t understand anything about breed temperament or size; all they know is they are scared. So I think dog owners need to find some patience and respect for the fearful.
We kind of need to be ambassadors of the dog world when we are among those who don’t understand it. I’m not saying we don’t have rights; I’m just saying a little bit of sensitivity and friendliness goes a long way. Rather than put a non-dog person on the defensive, try to cultivate them.
One other thing: Dog owners need to pick up their dog’s poop, always. Poops on sidewalks and park grass are the dog-haters’ best ammunition against us. Plus, no one – not even dog owners – wants to step in it.
Are there any things about raising the pup Toby that you would do differently?
We’re lucky, because he’s turned out so happy and peaceful. I was very gung ho about training him early on, and in retrospect, as I detail in the book, I was being too controlling. So maybe I would be a little less aggressive about teaching him commands.
Although he still won’t “drop it,” dammit!
Everyone seems to love to talk about the “lessons” learned from their dogs, so tell us if there are any you would like to share with us?
That’s such a great question, and one I hope my book answers to some extent. The lessons include resilience, being in the moment, remembering to play, keeping joy in your daily life, not being afraid of the complications of socializing, becoming more trusting, and on and on…! I still learn new things from Toby and his friends every day.
You and your partner have a different style of dog-raising, has that resulted in any conflicts, how are they resolve? Has he ever taken to the dog park scene that you so successful have?
Tom is definitely not a dog park person. For a while, my friends at the park teased me about my phantom husband and whether I’d made him up.
He loves Toby in a more private way. He has a man-and-his-dog fantasy, and he lives it out by walking Toby around the city and on trails. Some couples come to the park together all the time, or alternate; not us.
There have been tense moments when I’ve had to remind him that Toby loves to be among dogs, and there have been moments when he has gotten tired of my dog park stories. But overall, we have adapted to our differing styles. We both love Toby so much; it always comes down to that.
Do you have a difficult time seeing Toby as a dog? Do you ever fear that you aren’t living up to his expectations?
Sometimes, yes. For one thing, I talk to him all the time, and I give him voice, too. I have conversations with him, while he sits looking at me with his big brown eyes like I’m such a strange creature. But ultimately, I love the fact that he is a dog, and not a human being. That’s one of the best things about dogs – that they aren’t human!
His expectations are steak every day, cookies in between, and a constant flow of the best, most squeakiest toys. So I know I’m not living up to his expectations! But seriously, I think he’s a happy dog, and I think he likes having some restrictions – say 10 cookies a day instead of 1000. I think he knows that we are madly in love with him, and that we would do anything for him. And I love that feeling. He trusts us, and that is everything.
Being a TV critic, what are the most memorable dog characters on TV now? If you were to write a TV show about your dog, what would that be?
It’s not for everyone, but I love “Wilfred” on FXX. We see the dog on the show as a man in a dog suit, which is kind of twisted but a lot of fun. The writers insert a lot of jokes that only dog owners will understand. I also enjoy Stella the French bulldog on “Modern Family,” mostly because of the love and humor she brings out in the humans.
My fantasy would be to see “Off the Leash” as “The Office” at the dog park, with a cast of lovable misfits and a mockumentary tone. I think that would be perfect.
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