Reviving a Nepalese folk-art tradition
Since 1986, Nepal has been a respite for Michelle Page, a former assistant film editor who lives in Santa Monica, Calif. The country’s friendly residents and low cost of living made it an attractive escape after she had spent countless 14-hour days in a dark room working on movie projects such as Spiderman II.
But in 2007, just as her own job security was starting to wane, Page noticed a similar trend on the streets of Kathmandu. “There used to be these beautiful hand-painted signs everywhere,” recalls Page. “Then suddenly, all the new signs seemed to be digitally printed on vinyl.” Hoping to help keep traditional artists employed, Page developed an art program inspired by her favorite Nepalese signs: the ubiquitous “Beware of Dog” warnings decorating gates throughout Kathmandu. Painted in colorful enamel, the metal signs often feature a German Shepherd, but also many other breeds that obviously live at the home or business in question —Beagle, Dachshund or Dalmatian. Page has documented 360 examples during her vacations.
Since opening Danger Dogs in 2007, Page has visited Nepal twice a year— a 60-hour round-trip commute—to connect U.S. pet owners with signboard artists who need work. Armed with photos customers have given her of their dogs, she spends six hours a day traveling in the sardine-can confines of minibuses to various painters’ studios, where she hand-delivers the photos for transformation into signs announcing “Danger Dog,” “Zen Dog” or whatever the customer prefers in both Nepali script and English.
To date, Page has overseen the creation of 2,700 pieces by 58 artists, who set their own prices for the work they craft for this unexpected U.S. audience. “There’s a big well of talent, and arranging the paintings is more fun than you can imagine,” says Page. “The artists are thrilled because they get to paint. They take it very seriously.” For each commission, Page hires three different artists. Although she tries to accommodate people who request a specific painter (“They do move around a lot”), she usually gives the portrait to whichever signboard artists she “would like to see do that dog.”
“Some artists do innovative lettering, while others do really well with hair or particular facial expressions,” Page explains. A handful of artists can work from “problem pictures,” ones in which the only shot of a deceased pet is out of focus or has “green eye” from the camera’s flash.
Once the signboards are complete, Page emails digital images to the customer, who can buy one ($250) or as many as they like—or none if they feel the painter missed the mark. Page then sells the other versions through her website (nepaldog.com), galleries and museum shops.
Narrowing the choice to only one proved impossible for Kristin Anderson of Malden, Mass. “Charles’ eyes are just perfect in one painting. It really captures his expression,” says Anderson, who commissioned a painting of her friend’s Cocker Spaniel as a wedding present this spring and ended up buying two signs. “We got a real rendition of Charles Barkley.”
Finding a balance of work and play
Zuke’s began over a decade ago, when Patrick Meiering was hiking in the Colorado Mountains with his energetic dog, Zuke. Noticing that Zuke had become exhausted, Patrick broke off a piece of his energy bar and tossed it to him—Zuke perked right up. The idea that pets need healthy, all-natural treats was born at that moment. Today, Zuke’s offers a host of treats that are formulated with only natural ingredients providing the specific nutrients needed by dog and cats. The company embraces a healthy lifestyle of work and play, including a dog-friendly workplace—making them the perfect partner to sponsor The Bark’s Best Places to Work contest in 2013.
Tell us about Zuke’s office environment and an average day on the job …
Is there an official dog policy in place?
What is ownership/management’s view of allowing dogs in the workplace?
Can you give some specific examples of how the dogs add to the work environment in a positive way ....
What are some of the tips and pointers you can offer a company who is looking to start a dog-friendly work policy?
Though we are a pet products company and are thus unfairly biased, we believe that the positives outweigh the negatives for workplaces considering dogs. Aside from having a ready and willing taste test team on hand at all times, our management and employees universally believe that there are huge benefits to having canine coworkers.
News: Guest Posts
Tough guy persona melted away with dogs
By now, most everyone is aware of the sudden death of 51-year-old actor James Gandolfini. The actor died on Wednesday of a heart attack while vacationing in Italy. His death came as a shock to his many fans and admirers, and we count ourselves among them. Like millions of others, we looked forward to sharing Sunday evenings with The Sopranos. Gandolfini’s nuanced portrayal of Tony Soprano, the violent yet charismatic crime boss in HBO’s critically acclaimed show was nothing short of brilliant. His performance connected with the audience in ways not seen before, and thus his passing seems particularly sad, and personal. Still, I doubt few of his fans will miss him more than his dog. In addition to being a loving husband and father, Gandolfini possessed a deep affection for dogs. He was an admirable advocate for Pit Bulls, believing them to be a misunderstood breed. His own pooch, a rescue dog named Duke, remained an important part of his life. The slew of photos found online of Gandolfini and Duke walking together, getting coffee, and driving around attests to their bond. Gandolfini’s last film will stand as a legacy of his passion for canines: Animal Rescue, a crime drama slated to come out in 2014, stars Gandolfini (with Tom Hardy) and revolves around a lost Pit Bull pup. We offer our condolences to his family and friends, celebrate his illustrious career and admire his contributions to the animal world.
In Conversation: Lance Weller and Katherine Griffin
First things first: tell us about your dogs.
Who was your first dog?
The book is many things, but at heart, it’s a story of woundedness and healing. How do you see dogs as a part of that?
But I had my dogs. And they didn’t care what I looked like, and they licked my face. (Not to say that my wife wasn’t the same way, except for the face-licking.) But I could always count on throwing an arm around my dog, or my dogs, and feeling a lot better. People have said that Abel suffers from PTSD. I don’t know about that, but I do know that dogs will heal you.
How do your dogs help you write?
Dog's Life: Humane
People Who Matter: Emelinda Narvaez, founder of NYC’s Earth Angels
Emelinda Narvaez, an animal rescue advocate working in both Manhattan and the Bronx, has become a familiar face to people visiting the city’s pet stores. She calls her rescues “earth angels,” and fittingly, that is also the name of her animal-rescue group. Narvaez Emelinda, who says she’s rescued over more than 10,000 animals over a span of 45 + years, was a nurse in a Bronx hospital. Until she retired about 15 years ago, she (and her late husband, who helped her) devoted evenings and weekends to animal rescue. Since then, it’s become her fulltime occupation.
A long-time admirer, I always dropped something in the donation box when I saw her in front of one of lower Manhattan’s pet stores. Then one day, I sat down and asked her to tell me more about herself and her work. That particular day, she had a terrier-mix puppy and an adult Poodle, as well as an elderly Chihuahua and a Shih Tzu who were not available for adoption; she felt the two seniors were too fragile to weather a big change, so she was caring for them herself. As we talked, she continued to work, answering my questions as well as those asked by passersby interested in her “angels.”
Catherine Johnson: I understand that you were born in Santurce, Puerto Rico, and raised in the South Bronx. Where did you get your gift?
CJ: Did you have any favorite animals growing up?
We lived across from St. Ignatius church in the Bronx, and every Sunday at the end of the mass, the priest would recognize my family’s work with animals. He would also let the congregation know they could adopt one from us, which is how we found homes for many of our animals.
When I was around 15, I realized that we needed to be more formal about these adoptions. So we started having the person adopting fill out an application. We developed a screening process—that was my idea.
CJ: What were your early years working in rescue like?
CJ: What do you consider to have been the worst crisis period in the city’s history?
[In 2009, the public housing authority prohibited residents from keeping purebred or mixed-breed Pit Bulls, Rottweilers and Doberman Pinschers, as well as any dog (with the exception of service dogs) expected to weigh more than 25 pounds when full grown. This ban affected residents of approximately 178,000 public-housing units.]
Dogs should be fairly assessed. Behavior has nothing to do with a dog’s weight. Of course, there is no place for a vicious dog in any apartment situation. But a policy for evaluation on a case-by-case basis needs to be put into place.
CJ: How could our state government help city shelters?
I also think they should be more proactive in letting people know they can foster an animal. Most people don’t know that’s an option.
The best thing the government has done within the last 10 years for the rights of people and their pets was the law that allowed owners to keep their pets after three months, regardless of what the lease states.
[Section 27-2009.1 of the NYC Housing Maintenance Code essentially says that if the owner of a multiunit rental has a lease prohibiting pets but doesn’t object to the presence of a tenant’s pet within three months, the lease provision is considered to have been waived.]
CJ: Where do Earth Angels’ animals come from?
I have cancer, which is in remission, and lupus, but I think my work heals me and gives my life meaning and purpose. I truly believe that. And I have a son and a godson whom I adopted and raised. They are both homicide detectives and I am so proud of them. My family of animals and my sons keep me going.
CJ: Do you have one particularly memorable story from your rescue work?
CJ: What keeps you going?
Also, the angels that I have had in my life: my mother, father, sister, brother and husband. I had a strong family. And I could not have done this work without a woman who helps me, Judy Ross. When I am no longer alive, I hope to still be of help; my will states that my house will be given to an animal rescue group working in the Bronx.
CJ: How would you describe the bond between a rescued animal and the person who takes that animal in?
Editor's Note: There is going to be an adoption event and fundraiser for Emelinda this Sunday, June 2 from noon to 3 pm at one of NYC's finest dog parks, Stuyvesant Square Park. Her friends and admirers are hoping to raise enough money to buy her a new van to replace the very old one she uses to transport the animals. If you are in NYC, do try to attend. See their flyer for this event.
The legendary comedian stands up for animals
When we think of Lily Tomlin, what comes to mind first isn’t her star turns in films like ShortCuts and 9to5 or on television’s The West Wing—or even Ernestine, the snorty, sassy, snood-sporting operator she played with such aplomb. Rather, we think of Edith Ann and her loyal dog Buster. A precocious tot, squirmy but serious Edith Ann often discussed the adventures she shared with Buster, from ice skating and bath time to making him a sandwich that included mustard, pickles, oatmeal, cheese, pretzels, tuna fish, peanut butter, salami, raisins and one black olive. He didn’t care for it, so Edith Ann decided to order pizza: “Buster likes pepperoni with double cheese and so do I. And that’s the truth!”
Underlying this comedy routine is another truth: Tomlin’s love of dogs, which comes through even when she speaks in the charming, halting voice of a five and- a-half-year-old girl explaining how she made a sandwich so unappetizing that it even went bust with Buster.
Tomlin—who, upon seeing a stray running by the roadside, has been known to pull her car over and attempt to lure the frightened pup off the busy street by means of a fast-food sandwich— has lived with animals all her life. Recently, she headlined “Stand Up for the Animals,” a comedy-and-causes benefit at the Comedy Store in West Hollywood devoted to bringing attention to the work of Voice for the Animals.
We hopped on the phone to chat with her about her work to improve the lot of Los Angeles Zoo’s Billy the elephant and other animal-related topics, and she also shared a few stories of the dogs she has known. As it turns out, Lily has lived with and loved beasties of all stripes throughout her life. She speaks movingly of Chi Chi, the dog she had as a teen; a Corgi-mix named Princess she doted on for years; and her current critters, cats Murphy (who came into her life when she joined the cast of Murphy Brown, natch) and Roddy McDowell, so named because, Tomlin says,“he’s elegant…and sensitive.”
She has vivid and emotional memories of her pets, including the death of one of her beloved dogs. “I knew she wasn’t well. I went out in the yard with her, and we lay on the grass for a long time, looking into each other’s eyes. She died later that evening.” We both paused to consider the moment, and then she continued.“ They’re our creatures, they’re just everything.”
Although Tomlin has lived with a number of dogs, she hasn’t worked with all that many, except for a comical elevator scene from Big Business, in which a dog she’s walking gets on an elevator and the doors shut. I asked about the connection between Hollywood and hounds beyond the larger topic of animal actors, and if there were any lessons humans working in showbiz could take from dogs in general.
She spoke about the authenticity of pups—“They have an innocence and a goodness because they’re not ambitious …”—and what performers can learn from that. Summing it up perfectly, Tomlin observed that “dogs want to love their people, and actors need to love their audience. Dogs have all the empathetic qualities that a good actor should have.” Dogs seem to inspire just about every calling, it seems.
Including conflict resolution. Remembering a time when she had a lot of animals in the house—including a goat named Bucky that she would take on outings with her dogs (“You’d have to walk behind him with a little lobby dustpan and a broom, sweeping up his pellets.”)— Tomlin recalled how one of her dogs would take on the role of mediator. “We had two cats in the house; the cats loved to torment Diva [a Doberman] because she was so easily cowed. One day, the cats were at the bottom of the stairs and Diva was at the top: They were at an impasse. Tessie [a Terrier], who was a little bossy thing, ran through Diva’s legs and stood there, barking at the cats and Diva too, as if to break it up.”
While tales of Bucky and Diva were not told during the “Stand Up for the Animals” night, Edith Ann did make an appearance, to much applause. Later, I learned more about Voice for the Animals from executive director Melya Kaplan.
Kaplan’s approach to animal assistance could be described as multi-dimensional. Among her organization’s projects are Billy the elephant’s well being, an animal assistance hotline, a senior-animal rescue program, and efforts to help the huge population of dogs and cats living on the streets in Greece. She’s also assisting families facing foreclosure with keeping their pets. And she isn’t shy about sending praise to one of her most front-and-center advocates. “Lily is absolutely phenomenal,” says Kaplan. “She’s been the celebrity who took the lead, just saying it like it is.”
Hearing about Tomlin’s work with this group, and her animated tales of Tessie and Diva and Chi Chi, it’s not surprising that she’s a friend of the furry. Now, whenever we catch a clip of Edith Ann bragging about Buster, we’ll think of all the real Busters Lily’s loved along the way, and her willingness to extend that love to dogs and cats (and elephants) today.
Family Dog: Touring band’s pups.
Things we learned:
Our band, The New Trust (Josh Staples, bass, vocals; Sara Sanger, guitar, vocals; Julia Lancer, drums) just returned from a five-week, nationwide tour, accompanied by our canine entourage: Josh and Sara’s Border Collie Murray and Julia’s Border Collie/Heeler mix Stella. We were in a new city every day, and we always started with a visit to the local dog park, where we’d chat with other dog owners. The friendliness we found at the dog parks offset the tour’s hard moments, lack of comfort and too much time spent in gas stations and diners.
We had a good night at Rubber Gloves, a great live-music venue in Denton, Texas; the dogs were allowed in after the show was over, and they had their very own mosh pit. In Chicago, they hung out in the Electrical Audio studios while we recorded our new album, Keep Dreaming (Josh wrote the dogs into the lyrics of the title track).
Q&A with Ted Kerasote, author of Merle’s Door
In 1991, while rafting Utah’s San Juan River, award-winning writer Ted Kerasote came upon the dog he would later immortalize in Merle’s Door. According to Kerasote, Merle, an adolescent stray who had been surviving on his own in the high desert, told him, You need a dog, and I’m it. It didn’t take Kerasote long to agree with him. Heartbroken after Merle died in 2004, Kerasote vowed to do all he could to ensure that his next dog— Pukka—would enjoy a long and healthy life from the very beginning. His quest began before Pukka was born— researching genetics and how to choose healthy parents, finding a breeder willing to rethink standard early vaccinations—and continued after Pukka came home, delving into quality-of-life concerns for all dogs, such as food, birth control and routine health care. Pukka’s Promise is the culmination of Kerasote’s extensive research. Bark contributing editor Rebecca Wallick recently spoke with Kerasote about some of his experiences and observations.
Bark: On your quest for longer-lived dogs, what were some of the more encouraging things you learned?
B: What did you find that disturbed you?
B: If someone wants a dog of a particular breed, what should they think about?
B: Of all aspects of canine care and companionship, are there things you feel are happening too slowly?
B: You spent a lot of time at shelters, investigating what makes some successful in becoming no-kill, while others can’t seem to reach that goal. What do you think makes the difference?
B: In Pukka’s Promise, you take on some big players in the dog world—breeders, veterinarians, dog-food and toy manufacturers. Are you concerned about their reactions?
B: What is the big take-away you want readers to get from Pukka’s Promise?
For the full interview, see The Bark, Issue 73, Feb–Apr 2013.
Making lifelong love of animals an international success
Almost every neighborhood has one—a young girl or boy who’s constantly bringing home all sorts of stray animals. While the responsibilities of school, sports and jobs lead many kids to put aside this selfless kindness, others make it their life’s calling. Betsy Saul is one of the latter. As a child, Saul rescued kittens, puppies, birds, squirrels and even an ailing snake. Today, as founder of Petfinder.com, Saul’s rescue efforts have gained international recognition and praise.
As Petfinder.com celebrated its 10th anniversary, Saul recalled that her original intent had been to harness the power of the Internet to reduce euthanasia rates; her initial goal was to save a few animals each month. Fast-forward 10 years, and it’s clear that Saul has achieved more than she ever imagined. As of June 2006, Petfinder.com had helped facilitate over 10,000,000 adoptions.
Rising to the Occasion
In the midst of this natural disaster, Petfinder.com became an integral part of one of the largest animal rescue efforts ever undertaken in this country when the Humane Society of the United States, Maddie’s Fund and the ASPCA approached it for assistance. Already in the process of building a universal database, Petfinder.com—with input from these agencies—began one of the most successful collaborations in animal disaster-response history.
In just a few days, with Petfinder.com’s programmers working 20-hour shifts, the Animal Emergency Response Network (AERN) web-based system went live. Information from more than eight databases—including those of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and United Animal Nations (UAN)—was made available to people who were frantically searching for missing animals, or those who wanted to help rescue animals left homeless by the storms. Thanks to the AERN database, 3,200 companion animals and their owners were reunited.
Cause for Pride
Saul was also proud of Petfinder.com’s response to Hurricane Rita. “Before [Rita] hit," she said, "we trained a 24-hour call center to use AERN. We issued ongoing radio news releases as people were evacuating, urging listeners to call a toll-free number to find temporary lodging [foster homes] for their pets along their evacuation route.
“The response was awesome. This system allowed people to take care of their own pets rather than give them up to a shelter. Imagine driving up a highway in Texas, not knowing if you would find a hotel that accepted pets, and being able to find a caring family who would help out. It was very cool and I’m really proud of that.”
When I asked her for some final thoughts on the rescue efforts after both hurricanes, her response was clear: “With the help of shelter staff, the rescuers who responded and Stealth Volunteers [a grassroots group who worked tirelessly on reuniting animals]… what a dream! I couldn’t have conceived of a more inspirational response. I’m so proud of everyone. I think tragedies like Katrina might shake the foundation of one’s faith in some things ... but my faith in people after that response is huge.”
From the beginning, Petfinder.com has been both an industry leader and a maverick. Saul herself considers it a “social profit” organization. She believes that Petfinder.com’s success proves that companies can be both profitable and successful in making social change a reality. Corporate sponsors including Purina, PETCO, Merial, Bissell and the Animal Rescue Site support the business through advertising, which allows shelters and rescuers to participate at no cost.
Betsy Saul has come a long way from the young girl who rescued neighborhood strays. Today, she is a dedicated woman who skillfully combines technology, caring people and socially responsible business practices to help improve the lives of animals, day after day. Her faith, vision and commitment are an inspiration to animal-lovers everywhere.
For more information, contact Petfinder.com.
Q&A with Alexandra Horowitz
In her new book, On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes, Alexandra Horowitz—author of the wildly popular Inside of a Dog—enlists the attention and insights of others to discover more about the neighborhood in which she lives. But when it comes to really getting the inside scoop, who better to turn to than dogs, those “creatures of the nose”?
Bark: What was the inspiration for your new work, On Looking?
B: In one of the chapters, you “look” as you see your dog does, more by smell than by vision. How were you able to get into a dog’s “nosescape”?
B: What did that tell you about a dog’s experience of the walk?
B: Did you observe other differences in the ways a dog perceives the landscape/environment? For example, in the time it took to do the walk?
B: Did your dog linger at landmarks, and if so, why do you think he did that?
B: Do you think we can refine our sense of smell by watching our dogs? Perhaps using our sense of smell differently, or doing more sniffing?
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