Culture: Stories & Lit
When the action kicks in real life, being a movie buff pays dividends
My Boxer puppy is allergic to bees.
I found out as I barreled home from work on I-580 East toward the Richmond–San Rafael Bridge one recent afternoon.
Cali—short for “California”— goes to work with me every day. One moment, she was a spry, energetic, sporty Boxer; the next, vomit everywhere, bile and diarrhea all over the passenger seat. I accelerated, crossed two lanes of traffic and pulled onto a wide shoulder just off the exit to the bridge.
Within seconds, my door was open and I was crunching through gravel to the passenger side, driven by adrenalinesoaked instinct: “Dog is sick,” “Have to protect dog,” “Dog comes before you.” I got her out of the car and put her down, watching helplessly as she just kept throwing up thick, yellow bile. She ran toward the bushes and fell on her face, grinding to a halt in dirt and gravel. Out of answers, I picked her up, inadvertently coating my Sevens and Sperry Top-Siders with dog poop. Fashion goes out the window when you’re looking at your best friend dying. I might as well have been wearing a ratty, hand-me-down pair of sweatpants and slippers.
Instinct, that quiet genius that whispers the right answers in your ear in moments of trauma, kicked in again. I called 9-1-1. Who the hell are you supposed to call? There’s no protocol or schematic. Puppy-care books don’t have a section on “What to do when you’re emotionally stranded on the edge of a highway with a dying, breathless puppy.”
One ring, and a female operator picked up.
“9-1-1, how can I help you?”
“Ma’am, my dog is dying!”
Cars piled up at the nearby intersection and pale, worried faces turned toward a man holding a limp puppy and screaming helplessly into his phone.
Turns out, the woman who picked up the call was an angel. She was exactly the right person at exactly the right time—a serendipitous turn of events that allowed her to know exactly what I needed.
“Sir, there’s an emergency vet clinic in San Rafael. I’m putting you through now.”
The phone rang once, and a man picked up. He told me the address. With shaky, uncertain, too-large-to-be-effective-onan- iPhone-keypad fingers, I punched it into the phone’s maps app. Cali’s tongue was hanging out of the side of her mouth.
And this is where the story became all too familiar. The surreal events that were unfolding in front of me were uncannily similar to the scene in Pulp Fiction in which Vincent Vega (John Travolta) races across Los Angeles with his mob boss’s wife overdosing in the passenger seat. Because I’d watched the scene at least 20 times, I knew what I needed to do. When the action kicks in in real life, being a movie buff pays dividends. I went into attack mode. This story would have a happy ending.
I screeched through a red light to get back on the highway, and drove to the vet clinic. Cali was Mia Wallace—eyes rolled back in her head, froth around her mouth and nostrils— and I was Vincent Vega, driving at breakneck speed in his candy-apple red Chevy Malibu (or in my case, an unassuming black Toyota Prius). I weaved through traffic. Horns blared.
In the passenger seat, Cali continued throwing up. Weak and exhausted, she rested her head on my outstretched arm, her bloodshot eyes rolling lazily around in their sockets.
All I could think to do was talk to her.
“Cali, you can’t die. You’re so important to me. I know it’s ridiculous, but you literally are my best friend. You can’t die. The six months you’ve been alive—we’ve spent every moment together.”
The robotic female map narrator told me to take the next exit.
As Cali continued to slip away, I sped off the exit, right into a wall of traffic and nearly into the rear end of another car.
“Cali, Cali, Cali …”
Looking over at her, I thought she had died. Her eyes weren’t registering; they were glazed over and the inner eyelid covered most of her pupil. I stuck my face next to her muzzle and could feel only the faintest whisper of breath.
Back into adrenaline mode. This dog would not die if I had anything to say about it. The Pulp Fiction fanatic in me recalled John Travolta speeding through the empty LA streets—“Don’t f---ing die on me, Mia!”—as I whipped around the corner and through the next two red lights. Traffic began to pull into the intersection, but I could tell that Cali wouldn’t have a whole lot of time left unless I got to the clinic.
The robot woman told me the destination was on my right. In a move similar to Vincent’s when he drove through the front window of his heroin dealer’s house to get Mia the adrenaline shot, I pulled into the parking lot, angling the car haphazardly across three spaces. I left the car running, picked up Cali and ran inside.
A vet tech met me halfway across the lobby and grabbed Cali, taxiing her back to the examination rooms, past a door locked with a key code. The last image I had was Cali hanging from the vet tech’s arms, her too-long-for-her-body legs swinging awkwardly back and forth.
And then I broke down. Adrenaline only goes so far, to the point at which you can finally take a breath and process what has happened. I cried like I haven’t cried in a long time. I’m the last person to throw a self-pity party, but confronting the reality of a dying dog when you’re driving home from work on an otherwise-ordinary Friday shocks you right down to the bones.
That’s where the picture-perfect similarity with the scene from Pulp Fiction came to a close. I spoke with the lead veterinarian, who gave me a rundown of the procedures and measures they’d need to take. Cali had gone into anaphylactic shock from a bee sting, which can be fatal. The cost of the treatment would run between $900 and $1,200. “Here’s my Visa. Keep it.”
I went out to the lobby to get some coffee to shock myself back to life before saying good-bye to Cali. I both thanked and apologized to the people working the front desk. They led me to the examination room to see Cali, and all I could do was fold down to her and sob. I needed comforting from her; isn’t that what dogs usually do? Our roles had been traumatically reversed. She shivered from the fluids they were pumping into her, and looked around in confusion at her surroundings. The vet, the technician and I comforted her. As she lay on the examination table, we went over the diagnosis and logistics.
This experience convinced me of three things:
One, even though I’m conditioned to be angry and resentful about speeding tickets and the CHP, I think it’s true that, for the most part, people working in law enforcement want to help. A hysterical man calls an emergency line about his dying dog, and the operator deftly handles the situation, pointing the man toward the best solution to the terrifying problem. It was the help I needed when I needed it.
Two, veterinarians and people working in animal health are amazing. A grown man bursts into the vet clinic with a wild look in his eyes, breaks down completely and they take over with both precision and grace. Within minutes, the dog is hooked up to the right concoction of medicine and fluids and slowly comes back to life.
Three, when a loved one is dying, all the mundane, ridiculous things we worry about go out the window. All the bills I have to pay and all the obligations I have to fulfill dissipate on the wind when I’m faced with a genuine existential crisis: my best friend is about to leave my life forever. For the first time in a long time, I was humbled, reminded of what really matters in life.
At the end of “Vincent Vega and Marcellus Wallace’s Wife,” as a kind of favor for saving her life, Mia Wallace tells Vincent the stupid joke she had refused to tell him at the beginning of the sequence: “Three tomatoes are walkin’ down the street. Papa Tomato, Mama Tomato and Baby Tomato. Baby Tomato starts lagging behind, and Papa Tomato gets really angry. Goes back and squishes him and says: ‘Ketchup.’”
Depleted by shock, Vincent only manages a crooked smile and a half-hearted laugh. After Mia turns away, he blows her a good-bye kiss.
Later that evening, I got a call from the vet saying that Cali was going to be all right. Within a half-hour, I was picking her up. And although this joke had a dark and ominous quality, I have to look back at what happened that day and do my best to laugh, even if it’s only an uninspired chuckle.
I know, I could probably ease up on the saccharine. But that day, I gained a better understanding of how precious life is. Since then, I’ve followed Vincent’s lead and blown my loved ones a kiss whenever I leave home—a tribute to Vincent Vega and Marcellus Wallace’s wife.
The painting depicts a boy and his dog in a style that has become known as American Regionalism. It is signed “Benton” for Thomas Hart Benton, the movement’s greatest practitioner, best known for his murals embracing the populist idealism of pre-WWII America. On this painting’s reverse side is inscribed “For T.P.’s birthday/11 years old/From Dad.” The painting depicts the artist’s son, T.P. Benton, and his beloved dog, Jake.
Last November, the painting was one of more than 500 works from the A. Alfred Taubman collection auctioned at Sotheby’s in New York. T.P. and Jake was painted in 1938 and was estimated to fetch between $1.5 and $2.5 million. After a flurry of bidding, it sold for $3,130,000. Appropriately, the sale of the painting benefited the Sam Simon Charitable Giving Foundation, dedicated to saving the lives of dogs.
T.P. was eight years old when his mother, Rita, found Jake on a farm west of Kansas City, MO. The Bentons adopted him as their family pet and he became particularly devoted to the young boy. When Jake died in 1946, Thomas Hart Benton wrote Jake’s obituary/biography and dropped it off at the offices of the Vineyard Gazette in Martha’s Vineyard, where the Benton family had summered for decades. It also ran in their hometown newspaper, the Kansas City Times. We’re pleased to reprint it here.
He was with us for 11 years before he died.
Rita found him on a farm west of Kansas City. She was learning to ride a horse there and he followed her about. He was friendly, and Rita took to him. The farmer who owned him saw this and said, “If you’ll give that dog a good home you can have him.” So he was brought to our house.
T.P., our boy, who was then eight years old, was delighted. So was the dog, but because he had never been in a house he was a little gawky and clumsy, and slid on the rugs. He was named Jake because he was a country dog, a country jake who hadn’t learned city ways.
Jake had a laughing face. His mouth was so set that, active or in repose, he had to smile. Even when he was sad, as when he was not permitted to go with us in the car, this smile persisted. His mournful moments had thus the appearance of an act. There was also something humorous about him which made you say, “Jake, you old faker,” and which also too frequently made you yield to him and take him along whether you wanted to or not. Jake became a very adept actor. He calculated his effects and in the course of years became master of most of the family situations that concerned him.
Jake was a traveler. He sat with T.P. in the back seat of our car on the long trips from Kansas City to the summers on Martha’s Vineyard. He was fascinated by the speeding world out of the window. He would sit upright on his haunches, his tongue rolling out of his laughter, his ears erect and with the spit of well-tasted pleasure dripping off his lips. When he got tired he’d lie down on the seat and he and T.P. would battle for room. They loved each other.
On Menemsha Pond T.P. had a rowboat with a small centerboard. He rigged this up with a homemade mast and a three-cornered sail and called it the Red Jacket. It was supposed to be a pirate ship. Every afternoon T.P. and Jake would board this vessel and sail the pond. Sometimes Jake would sit in the stern with T.P. and sometimes by himself in the bow. He would bark at the gulls. If he got tired of this he’d jump overboard and swim to land, sometimes nearly half a mile. Then he’d bark at T.P. from the shore, running up and down, full of a tense glory of life.
In the winter, back in Kansas City, Jake went along when his pardner was taken to school. He learned the way, and A Dog Named Jake The painting depicts a boy and his dog in a style that has become known as American Regionalism. It is signed “Benton” for Thomas Hart Benton, the movement’s greatest practitioner, best known for his murals embracing the populist idealism of pre-WWII America. On this painting’s reverse side is inscribed “For T.P.’s birthday/11 years old/From Dad.” The painting depicts the artist’s son, T.P. Benton, and his beloved dog, Jake. Last November, the painting was one of more than 500 works from the A. Alfred Taubman collection auctioned at Sotheby’s in New York. T.P. and Jake was painted in 1938 and was estimated to fetch between $1.5 and $2.5 million. After a flurry of bidding, it sold for $3,130,000. Appropriately, the sale of the painting benefited the Sam Simon Charitable Giving Foundation, dedicated to saving the lives of dogs. T.P. was eight years old when his mother, Rita, found Jake on a farm west of Kansas City, MO. The Bentons adopted him as their family pet and he became particularly devoted to the young boy. When Jake died in 1946, Thomas Hart Benton wrote Jake’s obituary/biography and dropped it off at the offices of the Vineyard Gazette in Martha’s Vineyard, where the Benton family had summered for decades. It also ran in their hometown newspaper, the Kansas City Times. We’re pleased to reprint it here. Masterwork 60 Bark Spring 2016 sometimes when the long wait for the return trip was too tedious, he’d slip away and run the two miles or more to the schoolhouse and wait outside until closing time. Then he’d play with T.P. and the other boys until Rita arrived. He went coasting and skiing and participated in all the games that eight- and ten-year-olders devise.
After three years had passed, Rita took T.P. to Italy to visit her mother. This was a sad time for Jake. Up to now he’d given me little attention. Rita fed him and T.P. played with him. Of what use I might be he had little need to consider. I was just there, good enough to shake hands with occasionally but not important. Now, however, he clung to me, and I took him on a long roundabout tour of the South, which ended, after seven weeks, at the docks in New York where we met the boat returning his real master and mistress.
There was a high rail fence between the passageway for debarking passengers and the people who had come to meet them. I stood by this fence trying to catch a glimpse of Rita and T.P. in the crowd of voyagers. But Jake beat me to it. The chain leash in my hand twisted suddenly and before I knew it Jake’s full-grown 70 pounds of muscle and tawny hair was soaring over the fence.
No one who saw that meeting of boy and dog could ever forget it. The travelers and those who met them stood aside to watch the play of Jake’s ecstasy. They forgot their own emotions in the more intense one of a delighted animal. This was a high point of life and those who saw, recognized it.
Jake and T.P. grew older. They continued sailing in summers each year, now in a larger boat. Jake didn’t much like the later boats. They went over in the wind too much and he jumped overboard oftener. But he could accustom himself to changes. He accepted things.
When T.P. started playing the flute, over long practice periods he lay quietly at his feet, though he would have preferred to be out and doing. When we had musical evenings he took his place by T.P.’s music stand and after things got started he’d wander about among the guests to be petted. Sometimes he’d nibble on the back of one of our cats. Jake loved cats.
When Jessie was born into our family, Jake was opposed to her. He would turn his head disdainfully away as she was brought into the room. But after a while, and as T.P.’s older concerns failed to provide him a proper share, he relented and took her into his life and played with her and helped her grow up.
The war days came for T.P. and took him away. Jake then went fully over to Jessie, though for many weeks, and especially when Jessie was in bed, he’d sit up with his ears cocked, listening and listening. We knew he was on the alert for a sound of T.P. He’d moan in his sleep and sometimes wake up with a bark and go upstairs and sniff around T.P.’s old room. Then he’d go back to listening.
Half shepherd and half collie, with the shepherd blood predominant, Jake had always liked to go out and wander at night, especially on moonlit nights. He generally fought on these expeditions, for there were wild and half-wild dogs living in the woody sections of the parks surrounding us in Kansas City. Jake was always full of cuts and scars but he took them laughing.
One morning last autumn he came home in a bad fix. His ears were slit and his legs torn. A big slash was over his eye and the front teeth between his fangs were broken off. This was his last nocturnal spree.
After this he’d go out on the porch, cock his ears up, and stand with one leg lifted and curved in a dainty sort of way and listen to the wild dogs baying. His ruff would bristle and he’d bark, but he let his urges go at that and in a little while scratch at the door until one of us let him in. He slept a great deal on the stair landing, moaning and talking more and more in his dreams. We often wondered what kinds of images were built up in this interior life of his sleep.
Jessie’s return from school always snapped Jake into life, though, and he’d romp and play with her as if he were still a pup. He rode east this summer, taking his old place in the car, laughing the miles by. For three years, due to the war, he’d been traveling unhappily on trains and he seemed now to be revivified by this return to old and familiar ways of going places
June and July were gay. T.P. was in far-off Tokyo, gone out of Jake’s life, but Rita was here to see that he got his food, and Jessie, now seven years old, was a pretty good substitute for his lost master. She made daisy chains for his neck and watched him chase the wild bunnies, which he never caught, which he never tried very hard to catch, and which certainly he would never have killed if he had done so. Jake was not a hunter. He had no instinct for the kill. Cats were to be chased, all right, but merely to be nibbled on when caught. Other animals were the same.
Dogs, of course, had to be fought, but with Jake this seemed a sort of ritual, a ceremony by which status was maintained, particularly status on his home grounds. No strange dog would be suffered in his own house or even too near the door.
But outside of this hangover of suspicion and violent appeal, coming down from the savage centuries of his blood’s past, Jake was gentle. He was polite. He bowed, front feet stretched out, tail wagging in the air. Sitting close by a steak in preparation for the grill, he’d waggle his ears and drool mightily but never touch it. With his red tongue, his smiling mouth, and gentle eyes, with his tawny ruff and his pointed ears, he was immensely pretty and appealing in such moments of polite restraint. But he was always pretty.
Last week Jake returned to sleeping a great deal. When he was awake he was subdued and given to listening again. With ears up and head cocked sideways, he strained as if for something very far away and faint. Was he listening once more for T.P., for his voice or the sound of his flute? Certainly he was trying to hear something. Trying very hard.
Maybe, though, it was not toward anything he’d heard before that he reached. Maybe he was listening for something which would tell him the meaning of the change he could feel was coming to him. Maybe, because Jake knew something strange was near.
I like to believe, however, that a part of him was pointed back to the early times with T.P., back beyond the days of the flute-playing to those of the little boat with the red sail, where he sat with his devoted partner and sailed Menemsha Pond and barked and laughed in the fullness of young vitality and joyous companionship. Those were Jake’s ultimate days, the days of his high success, and surely they were not lost to his old dog’s memory.
On August 2 Jake played with Jessie as usual. In the evening after supper he went out. He had a green ribbon gaily knotted around his neck. Jessie liked to dress him up. Returning from a visit about 10 o’clock, I was surprised to find him greeting me as I put the car in the garage. It was a late hour for Jake to be out. He jumped up and I petted him and we went into the house. He had taken to sleeping under a couch in the living room and as soon as we were in he crawled under, thumping his tail on the floor in a sign of satisfaction.
About three in the morning Rita and I were both awakened by a strange, prolonged wail. It was high-pitched and mournful, so utterly mournful that it made a creeping in the flesh. It was wild and without definite locality, like something coming out of far spaces or distant times. We were startled, sharply so, but hearing a panting of breath we said to ourselves, “It’s just old Jake, dreaming again,” and went back to sleep.
When we got up we found Jake dead. His head was lifted a little, his ears were erect, his eyes were open, and his smile was still with him. Jessie’s green ribbon slanted jauntily across his neck. He looked as pretty in death as he had in life. His face was happy. We wondered how this could be in view of the utter sadness of his death cry.
Jake is buried beneath a young pine tree in front of our house.
A young sculptress, who has a dog of her own and knows what it means, is carving his name on a stone. The stone comes off the beach at Menemsha Pond over whose waters and about whose shores Jake tasted most of the sweetness of his life.
Culture: Stories & Lit
Nick was my husband’s dog. But, come June, he tagged along every time I ventured out to the garden with my picking bucket. Like me, the big yellow Lab knew that nothing in the world tastes as good as a strawberry plucked hot from the vine on a summer day. I think of him now, with this year’s bumper crop of berries, as I lean over to snap the stem of each scarlet jewel between my thumbnail and index finger.
Years ago, a friend gave me these plants, an ever-bearing variety that yields fruit almost until the first frost. Strawberry plants usually produce for just two years and then must be replaced using the offspring or “suckers” from the original plant, and most people grow them in regimented rows with ample space between the rows for the pickers to navigate. But mine have been allowed to roam—much to the dismay of my straight-line, engineer husband—wandering aimlessly around the front of our vegetable garden, replanting themselves among the flowers, rhubarb and herbs with which they share the space.
Picking berries in my patch presents a challenge even for the average two-footed being, but this Retriever’s four club-sized paws bouncing atop my bumpy red-and-green crazy quilt spelled disaster for the tender fruit. So, Nick soon came to understand that his place was on the perimeter. There he would wait, brow wrinkled, nose twitching, ears pricked forward until I called, “Hey Nick ... Wanna berry?”
One for Nick, one for the bucket, one for me: that was how my picking often went.
Nick left us at age 14 and a half—a good long life for a big dog but not nearly enough for me. I miss him every day. He was the only fruit-loving dog I’ve ever known, dancing on his hind legs to pick green apples from the gnarled Red Delicious over by the pasture as soon as they grew to size in August or September. “Where’s Nick?” somebody would wonder, and we’d go hunting to find him under the old tree, sucking the remains of an apple core.
He had a taste for cantaloupe and watermelon as well, though he didn’t participate in the kids’ seed-spitting contests. He ate bananas, and even developed a foolproof way of picking raspberries, sauntering between the rows of canes, lifting that droopy upper lip and positioning his teeth just so to roll each purple pillow from its thorny stem into his soft Retriever’s mouth. Still, his favorite was strawberries.
This dog’s taste for strawberries allowed him a kind of symbiosis with the birds. Birds are strawberry lovers, too, and they can do a lot of damage. It should come as no surprise that a robin, for example, will bypass all the piddling undersized berries and pick the biggest, shiniest globe in the garden to sample first thing in the morning. These juicy morsels with a slice out of the side will spoil the rest of the berries in your bucket and so have to be thrown away unless you have a hungry Lab waiting nearby.
In my experience, strawberries hide as a matter of practice. Under their big clover-shaped leaves, they conceal their ripeness. Not wanting to be picked, they lurk in the shadows of sunflowers that have come up voluntarily next to the compost bin. As I reach into the waxy leaves of sweet marjoram that has surprisingly returned to my Pennsylvania garden, my fingers find the most luscious berry, hot in the sun, effervescing a delightful scent with hints of oregano—a perfect specimen, save for one ignominious gash on its crimson shoulder.
Hey, Nicky ... How about a berry? I call silently, closing my eyes, expecting to see my golden boy there next to Grandma Graham’s peony bush, doing his happy dance, bouncing first on one oafish front paw and then the other, ears cocked, mouth open, pearly whites just waiting for the toss.
Finding only a disappointing empty place in the sun, I bite off the good half, ruby juice rolling down my chin. And I savor the sweetness, knowing that even in dog heaven there can be nothing better than a strawberry, fresh from the patch on a summer’s day.
Message from the Editor
The first issue of what would become The Bark came out in 1997, which makes this our 19th year. It’s hard to believe we’ve lasted this long. In the beginning, Bark was a humble community newsletter drumming up support for an off-leash area in Berkeley. We had no intention of transforming it into a full-fledged magazine.
But, as they say, timing is everything. While publications aplenty focused on what’s called the dog “fancy,” there was a noticeable gap in the larger area of everyday life with dogs—what has come to be called dog culture. Bark stepped in to fill it and, in many ways, defined it.
For dogs and the people who love them, things have evolved in many interesting directions over the last 19 years. Most of the changes have been for the better.
On the science front, researchers across a number of disciplines are expanding our understanding of the canine mind, the domestication process and how our two species co-evolved. More humane and science-based training methods have come to the forefront, as have increasingly sophisticated and well-informed behavior-modification strategies. Advances in veterinary medicine and health care include an increased validation of alternative modalities.
Then there’s food, which always provokes a lively discussion. In the commercial food sector, a greater variety of ingredients can be found, along with different delivery systems —dehydrated, freeze-dried, raw-prepared—many of them healthier than they were 19 years ago. The industry also has paid attention (to some extent) to consumer’s post-2007 food-recall concerns, but there is a still a long way to go on that front, and greater transparency is still needed. In the DIY sector, there’s a growing interest in angst-free home-prepared meals that can be as balanced and nutritious as packaged varieties.
Many of Dog Nation’s greatest strides have come in the increasing social acceptance and understanding of the role of dogs in communities—not just in the lives of dog lovers, but in the lives of people in general. For example, we’re seeing more dog-friendly housing opportunities (some with amenities), dog parks, off-leash recreation options, day care centers and professional services. There’s a canine sport for every type of dog, and people are actively interested in supplying dogs with enrichment activities. Hotels and resorts are eager to attract the growing number of people who travel with their co-pilots. In literature, a flood tide of books, both fiction and nonfiction, explore our oldest friendship, and filmmakers and other inventive artists recognize and pay homage to our favorite muses.
In another healthy sign of progress, there are fewer dog race tracks, which are now legal in only six states. This bodes well for Greyhounds, who can retire and live their lives as the elegant companions they were meant to be.
In the digital world, Petfinder and similar sites have revolutionized the way we locate the dog of our dreams and, by extension, meet up with others of similar dog-centric interests. A plethora of apps and gadgets promise what seems like hands-free pet care, and a few may prove to be helpful in enriching the lives of workday-home-alone dogs.
Dogs have many talents, more of which are being tapped for a wider variety of guide and assistance work; many jobs can’t be done—or done as well—without them. It’s also inspiring that canine rehabilitation and training are taking place in unlikely venues, such as prisons and juvenile institutions.
The best development of all, however, is that mixed-breeds are now number one in the nation, most of them likely to have been adopted from a rescue group or shelter. People are beginning to understand how important it is to be part of the solution by adopting rather than buying, to opening their homes and hearts to shelter dogs. Shelters also have come a long way since 1997, with many of them offering state-of-the art care and accommodations and paying greater attention to enriching the lives of their charges: organizing play groups and innovative volunteer, foster and walking programs, and working collaboratively with local rescue groups. Burgeoning rescue and sanctuary movements, including the transport of animals both within the country and internationally, are inspiring to behold.
As editor-in-chief of The Bark, when I look back at the past two decades, I can truly say that there have been more positive advances in Dog Nation than in most other areas of our society. But while we celebrate these developments, I must also caution that there is a still a long way to go. The number of Beagles and other dogs being bred for and used in labs—living out their entire lives in cages—remains a blot on the landscape; there really has to be a better and more humane alternative. And there must be an end to the needless deaths of animals in shelters, and to animal abuse and cruelty.
That being said, I’m proud to be in a position to keep tabs on these situations, and to report on them to you. My hope is that by chronicling what’s going on, and shining a light on areas that still need work, we (the magazine and our readers) can inspire policy- and decision-makers to step up and make the changes needed to push that progress along. We would love to hear your thoughts on this.
Maira Kalman’s new book, Beloved Dog (Penguin Press), illuminates her friendship with her first dog, Pete. Kalman, who movingly writes, “It is very true that the most tender, complicated, most generous part of our being blossoms without any effort when it comes to the love of a dog,” grew up being terrified of them.
Featuring her fanciful paintings and handwritten text, Beloved Dog details a life of love, loss and companionship. It also includes numerous examples of her work, including New Yorker covers and several of her Pete-inspired children’s books. As long-time fans of her delightful, quirky and just a bit offkilter work, we were particularly happy to snag some phone time with her recently. Following are highlights from our conversation.
Bark: Early in the book, you say that you are “besotted by dogs”—what a great term.
Maira Kalman: I used to be afraid of dogs, and that switch-over to realizing how important they are in my life and how completely besotted I am was a wonderful revelation and a great moment.
B: That discovery is pretty magical.
MK: It is, and it really does change the world. It opens things up in ways that were incomprehensible before. I don’t want to liken it to having children, but next to having children, it is that kind of relationship.
B: Tell us about Pete.
MK: I had always thought that if I got a dog, it would be a dog that jumped up— shpringeny—on all four legs, a scruffy kind of animated cartoon. And there he was. From the beginning, he was not only a beloved, beloved companion and an easer of sadness, but also a damn fine model.
B: Having a dog to guide you through the streets of New York must be a great entree into the world.
MK: Yeah, because when you have a purpose, which is “I am walking my dog,” you are already calmer and you have a companion. Of course, when you walk a dog, you have to add at least another half-hour to get to any destination because you meet people, the dog stops, you stop. You’re engaging in ways that you just didn’t do before. People who are walking their dogs usually are delighted to chat. It’s a friendlier world when you have a dog with you.
B: Can you talk about dogs as a subject matter for your paintings and books?
MK: Sometimes the dog is a human character and (of course) a stand-in for me, or a composite of me and other people. The dog is a conduit to emotions and humor, all those universal experiences. The other way that I work is to depict dogs as secondary characters, or digressions—my work is always about digression anyway. So, they populate the landscape the way people do, and contribute to the emotional quality of my paintings. They surprise me— they’re funny. The paintings are really observational journals of my life and the dogs who live in my world.
and all species too
As proclaimed in the New York Times, Pope Francis is definitely a pope for all species. Like we noted in the past the pope has not only shown compassion and concern for animals but has suggested, underscoring what a previous pontiff had declared, that there is a place in heavens for animals. I’m sure we can all agree that what would a heaven be without dogs. But to see the joyfulness that this spiritual leader greats, acknowledges and blesses dogs is its own blessing. His visit to the White House would of course include a meet and greet with the ebullient pair Bo and Sunny, canine members of the Obama family.
It’s also important to note that in Laudato Si’, his encyclical on the environment that he warned that, “We must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God’s image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures. The Bible has no place for a tyrannical anthropocentrism.” Certainly a strong position on animal right’s! Laudato Si’, translated in English is either as “Be Praised” or “Praised Be,” and is a quotation from a popular prayer of St. Francis of Assisi written in 1224 praising God for the creation of the different creatures and aspects of the Earth. “Be praised, my Lord, through all Your creatures, especially through my lord Brother Sun,” St. Francis wrote in the third stanza of the prayer. He then continued, expressing praise to God for “Sister Moon,” “Brothers Wind and Air,” “Sister Water,” “Brother Fire,” and “Mother Earth.”
As noted by Nicholas Kristof:
Charles Camosy, a Catholic theologian at Fordham University who has written a book about the theology of animal protection, says that Francis’ carefully reviewed encyclical this year constitutes the first authoritative Catholic statements that animals enjoy eternal life.
It was so fitting that this pope took the name of the patron saint of animals, St. Francis of Assisi, and has followed him with humane and enlightened positions. It is wonderful to see him visit our country, spreading his inspiring messages wherever he goes.
Showing the world how beautiful they are
The Black Dogs Project is a extraordinary photo series by animal photographer Fred Levy. Known as “Black Dog Syndrome” in animal shelters and rescues, it refers to the unfortunate phenomenon that black dogs are frequently the last dogs to be adopted and the first dogs to be euthanized in animal shelters. Levy has turned his camera lens to black dogs, showing the world how beautiful they truly are and spreading awareness of the problem. A portion of all proceeds from The Black Dogs Project (Quarto) will be donated to black dog rescue. fredlevyart.com
It's been good to know yuh
As at least half of the world knows by now, tonight is Jon Stewart’s final night at the helm of the Daily Show. I must admit that I get choked up just contemplating what we’ll do without him. Accolades, reflections and perhaps some Fox-directed gibes, have been pouring down on him, so it’s hard to add much more. Except that I really want to thank him again, and the writers, producers, staff and all the office dogs, for letting me share one whole day with them in 2012. That will always be one of the highlights of my Bark career. Being invited to “do the Daily Show dogs” was quite the honor for us. And being given free rein to use the show’s set with our photographer KC Bailey, including excited dogs being able to sit in his chair and climb up on to the desk (leaving a few scratches here and there), and then allowing me to trail along for the day, poking into offices, chatting with all the people behind this amazingly creative show, well, you probably can guess it—how much more fun could there be?
Jon Stewart is a man with a big heart and a wise head who gave us endless hours of insightful entertainment and now what might he do? In a recent interview with his wife, Tracey Stewart, whose delightful book, Do Unto Animals comes out in Oct., she let us know that the family is about to grow a little furrier and feathery when they add an animal sanctuary to their New Jersey homestead. She also revealed one of Jon’s secret passions—but you gotta tune into our fall issue to find out what that might be! Let’s also hope that he’ll follow in the footsteps of Sen. Franken—another dog-loving comedian/politico—and make a play for public office. Who knows, there might be a future opening in his state’s governor’s office.
But for now I just want to add our “thanks for the memories” to Jon Stewart for all that he has given us and wish him and his family the best in their next chapter. And yes, the tears are now flowing.
Culture: Stories & Lit
By the time George had come into my life, I had more than three hundred convictions to my name and had been in prison over thirty times.
You might be thinking that I couldn’t have been much of a thief to get caught so many times over the years, but the truth is I found it so hard to cope with life on the outside that I had started to effectively check myself in to prison for the winter. It got to the point where I wouldn’t even bother to cover my tracks while I was out burgling. I’d deliberately not wear gloves so I’d leave fingerprints, or I wouldn’t clean up after myself if I grazed my arm and started bleeding.
I knew what I was letting myself in for in jail, but at least inside I didn’t have to worry about having a roof over my head and feeding myself, which was sometimes too difficult to deal with on the streets.
It’s exhausting being homeless, shifting between day centres and hostels or missions, or sleeping in cars and bin sheds as I had to do after losing my flat in President House. Sometimes I was so desperate I felt like chucking a brick through a police station window and holding out my hands for the cuffs, just so I could get a bed for the night.
I was stuck in one such cycle the day George came into my life. He turned up after I’d been out of prison for about seven or eight months, and the cold winter of 2009 was really setting in. Under normal circumstances, I’d have been thinking about getting sloppy on the next job, so as to get myself a short stay inside that would tide me over until the weather warmed up.
As it was, George had his feet well and truly under the table by the time I got round to thinking about that, and that threw a bloody big spanner in the works. If I went to prison, I would lose George. It was as simple as that. We’d come too far for me to even consider that an option. For the first time in what seemed like an eternity, I had someone other than myself to care for, and it had filled my life with meaning.
Over the years, I had met a few girls and I’d had a few relationships here and there, but nothing that had lasted more than a couple of months at most. I’d seen how my brothers and sister were with their children and how much love they had for them; I was beginning to feel that way about George.
My feelings for him became crystal clear to me one day when we were sitting outside Fenchurch Street station and a well-to-do woman came up to us and started raving about George.
‘What a lovely dog!’ she said, scratching him on his head and generally making a big fuss of him. ‘He’s absolutely gorgeous! I’ve never see such a cute Staffie. I don’t suppose you would let me buy him off you?’
I was completely stunned and totally speechless. Who was she to ask that?
‘He’s absolutely fantastic,’ she continued. ‘I’d give you a really good price …’ She started to say she could pay £2,000 cash, but I stopped her in her tracks.
‘Look, no offence, miss, but have you got kids?’ I asked her.
‘Yes, but I know Staffies and I’m sure he’s good around children …’
‘No, forget that. What I’m saying is, how would you feel if I asked you if I could buy one of your kids?’
She looked at me in confusion.
‘You see the thing is, George is like my son. I love him like he’s my own flesh and blood. I wouldn’t sell him for two grand. I wouldn’t even sell him for a hundred grand. He’s too important to me.’
She was very gracious about having her offer turned down flat. There were no hard feelings and even George had a twinkle in his eye when the lady walked away.
Anyhow, that conversation had cemented what I already knew to be true; I was sticking with George come hell or high water. I just wasn’t sure how I was going to do it, not in those early months. George meant a hell of a lot more to me than anything else in the world. I loved him, and losing him was unthinkable.
When we sat together on the floor of my bedsit, I was remembering that woman and the crazy amount of money she’d offered for George. Two thousand pounds would have been mighty nice right then.
‘I should have sold you to that lady, George. Could have got myself a nice gold watch for that.’
George let out a sigh, lay down and put his head between his front paws. He looked quite sad, to tell the truth, and I felt bad.
‘Oi, listen, I was only joking. It ain’t your fault,’ I said. His ears pricked up.
‘Well I suppose it is, you daft git,’ I laughed, ‘but that’s a good thing, mate. Don’t you worry.’
I thought back over the time I’d had George. I had barely let him out of my sight since the day I took him on. I wouldn’t even leave him tied up outside Tesco if I needed a tin of dog food; I’d always ask a mate I trusted to keep an eye on him for a minute, and I’d dash in as quickly as I could.
To begin with I was terrified of the mad Scot showing up, and then after that lady tried to buy him, I was scared stiff of him being stolen.
Leaving George alone to go out thieving was completely out of the question. My gammy leg already made that difficult, because I wasn’t as nimble as I used to be. What if I got caught and was put in the cells overnight? Who would feed the dog and take him out? I knew full well I would lose George for good if I got locked up, because there was nobody I knew who would be able to look after him for me for any length of time.
‘That ain’t happening,’ I said out loud, thinking about being banged up again. ‘I need to get a job.’
George was sitting up attentively now and had one of those looks on his face that said ‘Silly bastard, how you gonna do that?’ but I wanted him to know what was on my mind. I suppose I was a silly bastard to think he might have understood, but he seemed to be listening to me.
I know I was also a very stupid bastard for being nearly forty and having no job prospects whatsoever. Who would take me on with a criminal record as long as mine? It read like a telephone directory. And, even if some poor bugger was mad enough to take a chance on me, how would I manage to hold down a job with George by my side? It was beyond me.
There was only one thing for it. I didn’t want to have to rely on begging forever, but I knew I had to carry on doing it in the short term at least, or the pair of us would starve. It was that simple.
‘Come on, George,’ I said. ‘Let’s go and take a little stroll down Shoreditch High Street.’
From George the Dog, John the Artist by John Dolan. Copyright © 2014 by John Dolan. Published in 2015 by The Overlook Press, Peter Mayer Publishers Inc. www.overlookpress.com. All rights reserved.
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.
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