Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Cincinnati Center provides an opportunity to use the connection between people and their dogs to help heal sick children.
On the grounds of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, children threw their arms around furry necks and bodies amidst a flurry of wagging tails. Many hadn’t seen their dogs for weeks, or even months. Some children were attached to medical equipment but didn’t seem bothered; they were just happy to be reunited with their canine family members.
During the reunion earlier this year, Cincinnati Children’s broke ground on a revolutionary project that introduces hospitals to a new kind of therapy: the Family Pet Center, a grassy, fenced-in area behind the facility’s main building, where hospitalized children can visit and play with their dogs and other pets.
Cincinnati Children’s, one of the largest pediatric hospitals in the country, has about 570 beds for children from all over the world. More than half the young patients come from outside the Cincinnati metropolitan area. “With all those patients, with hundreds of patients, you can’t reasonably or safely have dogs visit from home,” says Dr. John Perentesis, executive codirector of the hospital’s Cancer and Blood Diseases Institute.
It’s not just distance that creates a separation between the children and their dogs; time does that as well. The average stay at Cincinnati Children’s is about a month, but many are longer. Some children are hospitalized for more than six months without a break for home visits.
“That’s a long time — kids are wrenched from their families and their dogs, and pets are a huge part of their families,” says Perentesis. “Sometimes, you go into rooms and [see] far more pictures of pets than of brothers or sisters. Far more pictures of dogs.”
While dogs are the center’s primary animal visitors, its inspiration can be traced to Canadian horse country. During a trip to the Alberta Children’s Hospital in Calgary, Perentesis noticed an unusual addition to the hospital. Connected to the lobby was a pet visiting room, a shed-like structure large enough for a small pony.
“We were really intrigued [with the idea of] kids having contact with their pets from home,” says Perentesis. “It seemed like a great idea, but all of our internal resources are poured back into biomedical research for the next therapy, so we didn’t have the opportunity [to go further with it].”
With no realistic way of funding the Family Pet Center through Cincinnati Children’s, Perentesis shared his idea with Ellen Flannery, founder and director of the nonprofit charity CancerFree KIDS, which has been partnering with the oncology program at Cincinnati Children’s for years. However, the center remained a dream, as CancerFree KIDS was also unable to fund the project. “Our donors give to us because they want to support research, so for us to divert those funds away from our core mission didn’t make sense, even though we all knew intellectually and emotionally what a great thing [the center] would be,” says Flannery.
The only way to make the Family Pet Center a reality would be to secure a grant. So, at the end of 2011, CancerFree KIDS began the application process for a 2012 grant from Impact 100, a local organization that uses 100 percent of its membership fees for grants to tri-statearea nonprofits each year.
“We review the letters of intent and, by committee, determine which ones we would like to submit a full grant application,” explains Sally Nugent of Impact 100. “We take a tremendous amount of pride in the fact that we really dig into each organization’s financials, the sustainability of the project and their ability to service the client in an efficient way. The project has to be life-changing for the client.”
After a long process that included research, grant writing, site visits and answering questions on the importance and logistics of the project, the Family Pet Center was selected as one of five finalists for the two Impact 100 grants.
“The winners come together for an evening [membership event], and they have ten minutes to present their story,” says Nugent. “No Power Point, no brochures, no dog-and-pony show. It’s just from the heart. They’re telling [us] what their project is and how they’re going to [affect] the greater Cincinnati area.”
After the presentations, Impact 100 members voted. Within the hour, Perentesis and Flannery’s vision was suddenly tangible: they were awarded one of the two $107,500 grants. The pet visitation center would finally be built.
“As Ellen’s board was thinking through new dimensions of moving things forward for kids with cancer, this opportunity came up; they really breathed life into it. This wouldn’t be happening if it weren’t for Ellen,” says Perentesis.
“And we wouldn’t have been able to fund it if it had not been for Impact 100, because it isn’t our mission,” adds Flannery. “It was the perfect storm. Coming together was an opportunity for us to secure funds that didn’t come from our donors. Even though we’re still promoting the wellness of kids with cancer, it has the added bonus of being available to every child in the hospital.”
The Family Pet Center officially opened in late 2013, the culmination of a long journey to a goal that goes beyond what medical science can prove.
“We do a lot to fix kids medically, but there’s a piece [missing] even with all the technology we have,” says Perentesis. “We think this is going to have a huge impact on the children’s quality of life, their well-being and, potentially, the trajectory of their disease. Curing people psychologically is a big piece [of the process].”
For many years, research has linked people’s health to their relationships with their dogs. Now, the Family Pet Center provides an opportunity to use this connection to help heal sick children as well as to export their experience to other hospitals across the country. Cincinnati Children’s motto is “Change the Outcome,” and the goal of the Family Pet Center is to achieve this expectation locally and beyond. For now, though, the children are just happy to see their dogs.
News: Guest Posts
Inspired by 9/11
Jim Kessler has worked at the Seeing Eye school in Morristown, New Jersey over a dozen years now, and when I was training with my Seeing Eye dog Whitney, I happened to ask if he’d had any other jobs before this one.
His answer was surprising. “I worked for Lehman Brothers until it imploded, and then I worked at the Federal Reserve,” he said. “And I can tell you the very last day I ever went to work in Manhattan: it was September 11, 2001.”
Jim had already been contemplating a career change at the time, and 911cemented the decision. He said a position at the Seeing Eye appealed to him because it combined his interest in teaching, working with dogs and helping people. His three-year apprenticeship program at the Seeing Eye started at the end of 2001, he became an instructor in 2004, and he was promoted to Senior Manager of Instruction and Training in 2011.
I learned all this during a drive with Jim to visit his daughters’classrooms. The last few days of training at the Seeing Eye are called “freelancing”—instructors expose us to some of the unique situations we’ll be facing once we’re home.
I’m a children’s book author, and I give a lot of presentations at schools. When I learned Jim and his wife Carrie have three daughters in school (in addition to a two-year-old son at home), I asked if I could spend my freelancing time visiting the students at Warren G. Harding Elementary School with Whitney.
Jim stayed at the school with us during the visit, and you didn’t have to be able to see to know he was beaming when we arrived. He was unabashedly delighted to be at school with his daughters, and they were proud to have their dad—and a Seeing Eye graduate with her working dog—at school with them that day, too.
A story in The North Jersey Record reports that salaries start in the $40,000 range for those in the Seeing Eye’s three-year apprentice training program, and that the salary for full instructors ranges from $50,000 to $85,000. Odds are that Jim Kessler took a significant paycut to work for the Seeing Eye, but he doesn’t talk about that. He talks instead about his respect for the instructors he works with, his pride in the remarkable work the dogs do, and how much he loves his family. And after what happened on September 11, 2001, he'll be the first to tell you that he considers himself a very lucky guy.
News: Guest Posts
Mascot of the El Paso Chihuahuas
He sports a side-of-the-mouth snarl, nicks in his right ear, fiery eyes and a menacing spiked collar.
The face of the El Paso Chihuahuas, the newest team in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League, “Chico” is the creation of Brandiose, a San Diego design firm owned by longtime friends Jason Klein and Casey White.
“He’s been in a few alleys in his time, and sometimes he’s even come out on the positive side of a fight,” explains Klein. He and White got their inspiration for Chico by asking themselves, “What would the Oakland Raiders look like if they were a minor league baseball team and their name was the Chihuahuas?”
The product of a “Name the Team” contest, Chihuahuas was chosen to reflect the scrappy spirit and fierce loyalty for which El Pasoans are known, as well as the surrounding Chihuahuan Desert. From these elements, Brandiose then created the team’s colors and a marketable family of logos to appeal to kids and families, including Chico swinging a bone bat, crossed (and gnawed on) dog bones below a chewed baseball, and Chico’s signature fierce face.
The team takes its “canine culture” seriously.
The four-level pavilion in right field is the Big Dog House, and the open-air top level is the Wooftop. The game program is called “The Paw Print,” fans park in the Barking Lot and among the concession items are nachos served in a dog bowl. Among their social media hashtags is #FearTheEars, which has also become a hand signal.
The first of two “Bark in the Park” nights, during which accompanied dogs were welcome in two reserved sections of Southwest University Park, attracted more than 300 pooches of all sizes.
Brandiose’s brainchild now is known worldwide. Before the season’s first pitch, orders for Chihuahua merchandise came in from all 50 states and eight countries, and sales have remained strong.
Chico now has many amigos.
Charles Barsotti, a cartoonist whose drawings were a staple of The New Yorker magazine for decades, died on June 16 at the age of 80. While his name may not be familiar to some, most readers will recognize his cartoons—simply drawn with uncommon wit—nearly fourteen hundred of them appeared in that magazine over the years. Many featured his trademark round-nosed dogs—lying on a psychiatrist couch, gathered around conference tables, appearing before judges in court. One shows a dog dressed in standard issue spy garb confessing “They rubbed my tummy, chief—I told them everything.” Barsotti’s cartoons were poignant and sweet, delivering a good deal more than laughs. The best had a short story quality about them.
The Bark interviewed Barsotti in 2007 upon the publication of a collection of his dog cartoons entitled, They Moved My Bowl, the conversation, like his art, was spare and humorous. We asked him about the book’s dedication “to the memory of Jiggs, the world’s greatest dog.” The cartoonist replied, “Any kid who doesn’t think his dog is the world’s greatest dog is weird. Jiggs was part Dachshund, part mystery meatloaf. Jiggs was run over and killed when I was 10. In my book, there’s a cartoon with St. Peter and a dog named Rex who is a stand-in for Jiggs.” It dawned on us that one of our favorite Barsotti cartoons was autobiographical. We ended our interview by asking him his idea of dog heaven … he replied “I’ll ask Jiggs when I get there and send word back.”
Read the full interview here.
I was looking up “notable” (dog lovers) birthdays today (May 6) because that seems to be a favorite newsy item, and I saw that this date celebrates the birth of both Sigmund Freud and George Clooney. I knew that Freud was a huge dog fan with a partiality towards Chows, so checked to see what I could find about Clooney’s affiliation with our favorite species. And lo and behold, I found that not only does he love dogs, as attested to from this Esquire interview (conducted by Tom Junod, another great dog lover, whose own wonderful story appears in our book, Dog Is My Co-Pilot) but he adopted a rescue Cocker Spaniel mix, from LA’s Camp Cocker named Einstein.
From the Esquire's Dec. 2013 interview:
A few years ago, however, he lost one of his dogs to a rattlesnake. He is a dog guy—a little sign about men and dogs adorns a living-room wall otherwise dominated by signed photographs of dignitaries—and he set about to get another, preferably hypoallergenic. He saw a black Cocker-Spaniel mix on the Web site of a rescue organization and called the number. The woman who answered said she’d be happy to bring the dog to his house, but then she explained that the dog had been abandoned and picked up malnourished off the street. “He has to love you,” she told George Clooney, “or else I have to take him back.”
At first, he found himself getting nervous—“freaking out.” What if the dog didn’t love him? Then he responded. “I had some turkey bacon in the refrigerator,” he says. “I rubbed it on me. I’m not kidding. When she came over, the dog went crazy. He was all over me. The woman said, ‘Oh, my God, he’s never like this. He loves you.’ ”
As for Freud we published a great piece about him back in 2002, but here is a memorable quote from him:
"Dogs provide affection without ambivalence, the simplicity of a life free from the almost unbearable conflicts of civilization, the beauty of an existence complete in itself."
For a video of Einstein’s story see here .
For a People article on Einstein/Clooney see here.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
David Backes, NHL star launches Athletes for Animals
Stereotypes are hard to break. Mention hockey players and some picture battle-scarred faces and toothless grins. Mention shelter dogs and some assume that something has to be wrong with a dog for it to land in a shelter. David Backes, captain of the National Hockey League’s St. Louis Blues, is out to prove both of those stereotypes wrong.
Backes, a veteran of almost 500 NHL games, is a tireless supporter of animal rescue, something he first got a taste of as a young boy when his family took in a small Poodle a neighbor no longer wanted. With that seed planted early in his life, Backes’ interest in animal rescue truly took hold when he and his wife Kelly were students at Minnesota State University, Mankato, and began volunteering at a local shelter.
When the couple moved to St. Louis, Mo., to be part of the Blues organization in 2007, they looked for ways to become involved in the community, and found Five Acres Animal Shelter in St. Charles. During the time they’ve been with the shelter, they’ve worked on a number of projects, including a $1 million capital campaign that financed the construction of two new buildings. Recently, Kelly and David stepped away from their duties on the Five Acres’ board to concentrate on the next step: the formation of their own rescue organization.
As David says, “We’re going to try and use the story that Kelly and I have with Five Acres Animal Shelter to get players in all four major sports and in cities around the U.S. to use that template to start that good work.”
The good work that David mentions will begin with education and networking. “What we’re trying to do is educate the public on animal adoption and the truth about what goes on with the three to four million animals who are euthanized in shelters every year because of overpopulation, and the lack of spay and neuter,” he says.
Eventually, the work will go beyond public education to helping rescue organizations function together in a focused manner. As David describes it, “We want to network with organizations, to get everyone together so we’re all pulling the same rope, instead of having parallel organizations doing the same thing—doing double the work.”
David and Kelly walk their talk; their companion animals—cats Sunny and Polly, and dogs Marty, Rosey and BB— are all rescues. And after Kelly found a stray dog on the side of the road, things were much more crowded for a time. As David recalls, “We took her to the vet, and she had 12 puppies on board. Teammates D.J. King, Barret Jackman and I finished off a corner of our basement and built a little whelping box [for her]. Kelly and I fostered the 12 puppies until we could find them and their mom homes. We had quite a menagerie at the time.”
The NHL season runs from September through June and is bookended by training camp and the Stanley Cup playoffs, which doesn’t leave David with much downtime. Nonetheless, he dedicates most of it to rescue, and he’s quick to point out that Kelly is a huge part of the endeavor, responsible for the bulk of the day-to-day legwork.
The couple’s involvement with rescue is clearly something they are very passionate about, but David knows they face an uphill battle with the public at large in breaking the stereotype of shelter animals. “I think there’s a negative perception that they are damaged or thrown-away products,” he says. “These animals are amazing; there’s nothing wrong with them other than that they are in a shelter, and they need a home.
“If people knew that these animals are just like the dog they have in their back yard, [and are] being euthanized only because there’s no room for them, I think that starts to hit home pretty hard. [Ideally], they’ll think twice before breeding their animals, and they’ll get them spayed or neutered.”
The couple recently celebrated their fifth wedding anniversary by visiting two rescue organizations, the Gentle Barn in Santa Clarita, Calif., and Best Friends Animal Society in Kanab, Utah. As David tells it, he and his wife wanted to see the great work the two organizations are doing as inspiration for their own efforts. And, of course, they wanted to volunteer.
British crafter Donya Coward’s beaded, lacey creations.
Ten years ago, Donya Coward was a recent graduate of the knitwear fashion design program at Nottingham Trent University (UK). On a lark, she made some brooches from odd scraps she had lying around. Next came a children’s story illustrated with fabric faces. But her craft and career path really soared when she started to make full-blown animal sculptures that she refers to as “textile taxidermy.”
These eco-friendly, three-dimensional works are constructed with layers of knit and crochet and completed by a fine “skin” of embroidery and beading. When describing her process, Coward emphasizes her use of “antique, vintage and up-cycled haberdashery, laces, fabrics and embroideries,” and adds that, for her, “it is important to preserve the craftsmanship and skills of days gone and give them a new identity.”
She certainly has made her mark with her intricate and lovely dog heads, banners and full-sized figures. She takes commissions, and all her work is done by hand—definitely well worth the wait they might require.
“Vision,” Danelle Umstead says, “is to have sight, an idea, or a dream.” Danelle’s immediate dream is to win gold for the U.S. in alpine skiing at the upcoming Paralympic Winter Games (March 7–16) at Sochi, Russia. Danelle teams with husband Rob Umstead who acts as her coach and sighted guide as they race through the courses. Rooting the couple on in Sochi will be Aziza, Danelle’s new guide dog. Danelle began working with Aziza this past summer, after her longtime guide dog Bettylynn (shown here with Danelle and Rob) was forced to retire due to optic nerve atrophy. Bettylynn will be pulling for the couple back at their home in Park City, Utah, with their son Brocton.
At the age of 13, Danelle was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa, a genetic eye condition where the retina progressively degenerates and eventually causes complete darkness. Her vision is “spotted” and she can only see up to three to five feet in front of her, and even then, only contrasting colors without any level of detail. In 2011 she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Still, none of these hurdles have kept Danelle from achieving her best.
Danelle was introduced to adaptive skiing by her father in 2000, who acted as her guide. She quickly fell in love with the sport—the freedom, the speed, the exhilaration. After she began training and working fulltime with Rob in 2008, competitive success soon followed with Paralympic Bronze medals in Vancouver, 2010, nine World Cup podiums and Paralympics Alpine Skiing National Championships. Her success relies heavily on trust and communication—100 percent trust in Rob as he guides her down the hill at top speed. It’s similar to the trust and communication that she had with BettyLynn and is working to build with Aziza. Danelle and Rob have created Vision4Gold.org as a vehicle to mentor junior disabled athletes by sharing her story and offering encouragement. We’re hopeful that Danelle realizes her vision in Sochi.
Update: Danelle has finished 5th and 4th in her first two Paralympic events at Sochi and hopes to climb the medal stand sometime in her next three races.
Behind the scenes with the artist, his family and the dogs.
If you’re a dog and you’re waiting for the Director of Fun to wake up, you’d best find a suitable distraction, because William Wegman is still in bed. Early on a morning shrouded by a dense Maine fog, two-year-old Flo and one-year-old Topper make their way to the kitchen to scarf down healthy servings of oatmeal, freshly cooked for them by the artist’s wife, Christine Burgin.
The dogs are Burgin’s regular breakfast companions, until the pair return to bed, to snuggle up to Wegman and the family’s two older dogs, Candy and Bobbin, 13, and 14, respectively. Before the day gets underway in earnest, these extra few minutes of sleep are a sweet luxury. The dogs had already awakened once before dawn, with Wegman corralling the whole pack for a quick pee and a sniff, then back up to bed.
How the commotion of four large dogs and one regular-sized human arranging themselves on the bed doesn’t wake Burgin is a bit of a mystery. But then, so much of what goes on at the Wegman household seems like some kind of unusual ballet. There’s a gentle flow to the movements here, and the lake’s broad, shimmering expanses of water and the sparkling light lend it all a distinctly idyllic feel.
It’s no wonder that Wegman and his family spend a considerable chunk of both summer and winter at their rustic retreat in the Rangeley Lakes Region of western Maine. Built in 1889 almost entirely of pine, the 10,000-square-foot lodge hosted overnight visitors until 1961. The place still exudes a kitschy charm, but the dominant feeling now is one of ease and warmth. It’s the perfect counterpoint to life back in New York City, which is home base for Wegman and Burgin, their daughter Lola, 16, and son Atlas, 19 (when he’s home on break from college), as well as the dogs and Wegman’s city-studio and office.
In Maine, every day starts fresh, with opportunities for offleash dashes through the woods; endless stick-chasing and forest-sniffing; dips in the lake; meandering bike or canoe rides; napping (mostly by the dogs); reading; more napping; visits with nearby friends and family; jaunts into town to the library, barber or ice cream shop; and countless homecooked meals.
“It’s just easier with the dogs here than in New York,” says Wegman. “I don’t have to have them on a leash. It’s fun to see them being dogs. Really dogs. My kids like it here. My sister’s nearby. The air, the birds ... the whole thing is quite peaceful.”
With the array of amusements at Wegman’s disposal, you might wonder how he gets any work done at all. But it’s precisely this combination of play, fresh air, family and exploration that makes Maine appealing to this constantly evolving artist. “When I’m working outside of New York, I might do some really unusual, unexpected things, but when I get back to New York, I can put them up and compare them with some other work. It’s important to me to have that leveling.”
Born in 1943, in Holyoke, Mass., William Wegman certainly has nothing to prove, and yet he seems to be on an endless quest to find new forms of expression. Though he’s best known by the general public as the artist who photographs dogs, he is also recognized as one of the world’s most successful contemporary artists, masterfully mixing high art with pop culture.Still from Spelling Lesson, 1974, video
Wegman’s films, videos, paintings, drawings and photographs have appeared in exhibits and retrospectives mounted at some of the world’s most prestigious institutions, including the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, Minneapolis’ Walker Arts Center, the Smithsonian Museum of American Art and the Centre Pompidou in Paris.
Coming of age in the late ’60s in Los Angeles, Wegman quickly established himself as a leader in the conceptual art movement. Droll, original and offbeat, his videos made him a star before he turned 30.
By 1973, he had moved to New York City with his beloved Weimaraner Man Ray, where their iconic video and photo collaborations further burnished Wegman’s status as an influential and original artist. His popularity soared in America and abroad. Man Ray, with his intelligent looks and astonishing self-possession, provided both a perfect foil and partner for Wegman’s imagination and unique sense of humor.
“The first time I met him was when he was six weeks. He really looked like a little man, and he was standing in a ray of light, and that’s why I named him Man Ray,” says Wegman. It still amuses him to think that their work together was the result of a happy accident. “I was just starting to take photographs. I was photographing the things that I would be setting up, and Man Ray would always get in the way and start chewing on [them]. He was interested in what I was doing. He became different when I pointed the camera at him, and what I noticed was how non-cute he looked, but more strange and intense. I was really interested in how he kind of modulated the space around me. Not just the space he was in.”
After 12 years of living and working together, Man Ray left an indelible mark on Wegman. When his beloved friend and constant companion developed cancer and died, it didn’t seem possible that another dog could, or should, become a focus of Wegman’s work.
In the wake of this loss, the artist retreated to Maine—as he had many times before with his canine buddy—to fish, hike and explore the woods. It was there, in 1985, that he rediscovered his passion for painting and drawing.
“I gave up painting in 1967 as a grad student and started again up here away from people. I didn’t really want people to know I was painting. I was kind of sheepish about it.” He began creating works based on imagery culled from encyclopedias and obsolete information—“faded culture,” as he calls it.
At the time, Wegman wasn’t actively seeking a new dog, but a chance encounter with an admirer of his work who also bred Weimaraners led to the discovery of Cinnamon Girl, a gorgeous puppy with round, yellow eyes whom he later renamed Fay Ray. “There was something about her look that really spoke to me. I was kind of obsessed. Almost like a man in love. It was like a boy and his dog with Man Ray, and then an artist and his model or muse with Fay.”
Wegman shot countless large-format photos of Fay using the unwieldy and complex 20 x 24 Polaroid camera, which he had employed earlier to great effect with Man Ray. Wholly different in her approach to the camera, Fay offered Wegman an electric energy and a willingness to take on what must have seemed, to a dog, like curious challenges. The unforgettable image of the Weimaraner standing tall on old-school roller-skates? That was the inimitable Fay. Her work ethic, combined with Wegman’s imagination, led to other unexpected and idiosyncratic works, such as his videos and films for “Sesame Street” and “Saturday Night Live.” Dog Baseball, shot for the latter on film in 1986 and featuring Wegman’s deadpan narration as well as Fay and a collection of canine friends, further expanded his devoted following.Dog Walker, 1990, color Polaroid
Fay and her offspring—Battina, Crooky and Chundo— and their progeny—Bobbin, Candy and Penny—starred in a number of books and videos, many of which were based on re-imagined classic children’s stories, among them Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood and Mother Goose. Those works, with their lush sets, ornate costumes and more than a few crewmembers, were complex affairs and yielded some of Wegman’s most popular and memorable images.
In recent years, Wegman has moved away from elaborate, production-heavy projects, gravitating toward more streamlined, painting-centric work. Though his approach to his artistic endeavors is mutable, he currently spends 75 percent of his time painting and the remainder behind the camera.
It’s quiet in Wegman’s studio, which you reach by making your way through the lodge’s living room, where Lola is stretched out on the couch, deeply immersed in a book. Go past the kitchen, where Burgin, a Yale-educated publisher and former gallery owner who produces books with artists and writers, sits editing at a small table. Then cross the rec-room, still adorned with the kids’ childhood drawings and art projects, and through the double doors of the studio.
When it storms, raindrops dance on the metal roof. Otherwise, as Wegman paints—which he does every day here—the only apparent noises are the occasional snurfle and steady breathing of the four dogs arrayed around him.
“As a kid, I always loved rainy days like this,” says Wegman. “I was painting and drawing and hanging out in the woods. It was probably the most dreamy, wonderful counterpoint to my life as a fisherman/athlete, which was the other thing I liked to do as a child … play hockey, baseball, go fishing, build huts, that kind of stuff. So that’s what I’ve been doing in Maine, kind of recreating my childhood in a way.”
Like a spirited marching band, the dogs follow Wegman wherever he goes, watching his face intently, looking for cues. They jockey for the closest position, happy to soak up his praise and nestle by his side while he reads, paints or sleeps. The feeling is clearly mutual. “Don’t they look beautiful when they’re sleeping? I could never keep them off the furniture. Why would I do that? I just love looking at them. Having them near, in close contact … it feels good.”
The dogs thrive on direction and novel activities, and are always eager to be part of the action. All it takes for Topper and Flo to perk up is for Wegman to restack some magazines or randomly reshuffle the stools; suddenly, the dogs are racing to find a perch and posing as though a shoot is about to begin. Referring to the breed’s active and sporting nature, Wegman says, “They’re working dogs. And they love to work!”
Wegman’s devotion to the dogs and their care is made obvious by how his life and that of the family’s is built around an awareness of the dogs’ needs. “It’d be hard for me to have one dog, because I like to just stand back and watch the show, like I do with my two kids: you watch them interact. So, now I have these two gray sets. I have Bobbin and Candy, who were mates. They had a litter, and then there’s Flo and Topper. I had to get Topper to give Flo a companion, somebody to play with.”
The dogs are most content when Wegman is around to keep them well exercised and entertained, so long trips away from home are rare. “I’ve spent my whole life watching and caring for them and trying to figure out what works for them. The reason I’m good at taking their picture is that I’m good at taking care of them, and I respect what they want. I’m always trying to learn what makes them individually happy.”
Wegman’s good-natured approach to raising dogs also reflects his child-raising philosophy. When Atlas and Lola were young, he recalls building towering cardboard structures together.
“When things fell apart, and failed, that’s when we had the most fun.” Exploration, not the pursuit of perfection, was the lesson, and watching Wegman paint, there’s little doubt that he adopted the same mindset regarding his own work long ago.Sandy Beach, 2007, oil and postcards on wood panel
Wegman is currently working on a new series of children’s books. The first, Flo & Wendell, debuted in September 2013 and tells the story of a sister and brother and their adventures. This new series—and the paintings that illustrate each book—hews closely to techniques the artist employs in his postcard paintings, which begin with vintage postcards selected from his vast collection. They provide a physical starting point for the larger work, which is painted around the postcard like a sprout that blooms into an exuberant forest. His book Hello Nature (2012) features many of these postcard paintings, along with drawings, collages and prose —paeans to his love of the outdoors.
Similarly, the illustrations for Flo & Wendell begin with photographs that Wegman shoots of the dogs in his NY C studio. He’ll begin with a simple image of a puppy’s head juxtaposed against a large, blank, white page. The germ of the idea for these new books was born out of a moment of experimentation.
“I started to make this hilarious character out of Flo’s baby photo when she was eight weeks old, when she looked like a sad, little naughty eight-year-old child, and it was so funny. And I think if I hadn’t been doing that with the postcards, I wouldn’t have thought of doing that with these paintings. So I knew that this character could be developed, and I made some more characters. And then I thought, well, maybe this should be about this little girl. And what if she had a younger brother? Interestingly, the younger puppies I photographed— younger than eight weeks—they look older. So I would turn the ‘older’ ones into parents.”
Most often, Wegman sits down to work without a specific idea of what will come together on the page. “I almost never lie awake at night thinking about what I’m going to paint or write. Usually [it happens] just in the act of doing it. That’s why I have to keep busy, because if I’m not, I don’t think of anything!”
Once he’s chosen a color with which to start, his brush touches the page, and a playful scene quickly emerges. He smiles while he paints, chuckling to himself at the silliness and bravado of these pups who have come alive through deft strokes of his brush. This lighthearted, lively tone is evident on every page of Flo & Wendell, both in the illustrations and in the text.
As Wegman works, the dogs hear a curious rustling outside and wake with a start. Sixteen legs go racing through the studio, then the rec room, through the living room, and out onto the porch. There is barking—lots of it—and then a dashing-about to see what might be lurking in the surrounding woods. With a stern word, Wegman calms the pack and the dogs slip back inside. Topper and Flo trot around, wondering what might happen next, while Candy and Bobbin resume their naps.
Peace restored, Wegman cuts a path to the kitchen, where Burgin has spread out for review galleys of the early-reader counting books to be released in the spring. Burgin keeps Wegman’s projects organized and on schedule, and he values her strong editorial eye. The two work easily and productively together, and the artist clearly adores his wife of 18 years. “I’m lucky she didn’t go for tall, dark and handsome types,” he says with a wry smile.
As the sun finally begins to break through the clouds, Burgin decides that it’s a perfect time to wind down from the workday with a late afternoon bike ride. In a flash, she and Wegman are cruising down the gravel path, the four dogs running ahead like the most intrepid woodland scouts. By the time night falls, the family has gathered for dinner, each dog choosing a lap to rest a heavy head upon. It’s the perfect time for telling stories and catching up on the day’s events.
Just beyond the veranda, a moose and her calf stand in a sliver of moonlight, licking salt from the gravel road. Unnoticed by the dogs inside, the two take their time meandering past the house and up the road, while laughter pours out of the kitchen and into the night, mixing with the calls of the lake’s resident loons.
If there is such a thing as a perfect day in the country, this must be it.Creative Collaboration
When Randy Rubin, co-founder of Crypton, launched the company’s line of pet products back in 2004, one name topped her list of potential collaborators … William Wegman. The laconic artist, renown for his photographic portraits of Weimaraners has had phenomenal success in a variety of mediums—photography, video, painting, children’s books but fabric design would be a new challenge.
Randy was a seasoned pro at collaborating on creative ventures, having co-founded Crypton fabrics with husband Craig Rubin in 1993 from the basement of their Michigan home. The company has since revolutionized commercial fabric with the introduction of a patented process that produces a virtually-indestructible, stain/odorresistant material appropriately named Crypton Super Fabric. Designing and manufacturing products for the home would be an exciting new endeavor, and the playful imagery of Wegman seemed a perfect match for the new pet line.
The creative collaboration between the innovative fabric manufacturer and the downtown visual artist has since proven to be hugely successful— producing a visual style that is once recognizable and inspired, combining the ultimate in function and aesthetics. The resulting beds, pillows, throws (christened Throvers) are elegant, bold and sturdy … fulfilling the must-have checklist for discriminating and stylish dog lovers. The essential components to good product design are exemplified in this union of art and science—and thanks to the unique partnership of William Wegman and Crypton—better living through imagination.
Manhattan’s Vet On the Go.
Jeffrey Levy, a Manhattan-based DVM and Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist, is one of only a handful of veterinarians who makes house calls in New York City. And, as the lead singer and founder of Pet Rox, an animalcentric band, he’s also one of the more unusual. A specialist in canine rehabilitation, Dr. Jeff (as he likes to be called) offers both conventional and alternative medical treatments, including acupuncture, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Reiki. Plus, he can sing.
Bark: We’ve noticed a rising trend in the number of house-call veterinary services available in the United States. Why did you choose to specialize in this approach rather than a more traditional office setting?
BK: What kind of canine patients do you typically see?
BK: I should point out here for our readers that travel in New York City is never easy; a lot of people walk their dogs to the vet or hire a car service. Many taxi drivers will not even stop if they see that you have a dog with you. So it can be challenging. And expensive.
BK: How do you get to your house calls?
BK: What’s in your medical bag?
I should point out that some things are not appropriate for house calls: Broken bones require an X-ray machine. A breathing problem might necessitate an oxygen cage. This is why I spend time on phone consultations.
BK: I understand that you also work with a lot of cancer patients.
This leads to another category of patients: nervous or aggressive pets. They’re not going to enjoy trips to the vet’s office; they’re much more cooperative and comfortable on their own turf. Another advantage of seeing an animal at home is that it’s a more healing environment. With acupuncture patients, I get a much better sense of what we call in Chinese medicine their “constitution.” That helps with TCM diagnoses.
Home visits also help me develop a relationship with the animals. Dogs especially like routine, so I try to keep my appointments consistent in terms of days and times. I also remain consistent with treatment location. A dog might have a special bed or blanket that we use just for acupuncture treatments. Pretty soon, when I walk in the door, the dog will walk over to that bed and lie down. Ultimately, I let the dogs choose their environment. If they want to get upside down on the couch to receive their acupuncture treatment, I’ll get upside down on the couch with them. They know what to do. Most of them fall asleep as soon as I put the needles in.
BK: I’ve witnessed that myself. My dog receives regular acupuncture treatments for arthritis and takes Chinese herbs to help heal an ACL injury. While I can’t say she loves the needles, she seems to know it’s good for her. She falls asleep within minutes.
BK: How do you suggest your clients prepare for a home visit?
BK: I understand that you’re involved with a band called Pet Rox, a familyfriendly musical group dedicated to animal welfare. Tell us about that.
BK: Who else is in the band?
BK: You’re the force behind “Just Sniffing Around,” a Pet Rox CD. Do any animals sing on it?
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