News: Guest Posts
Kansas City couple honors their dog’s memory by inviting strangers to dinner.
When Tricia and Mike Smith put their dog Molly to sleep earlier this year it left a big hole in their lives. They missed their Boston Terrier’s zest for life but weren’t ready to adopt a new pup. So they decided to pay tribute to Molly’s love for parties and socializing by entertaining—with a twist.
Tricia, a 35-year-old deputy in the office of the Platte County Recorder of Deeds, and Mike, a 40-year-old business analyst for a local telecommunications company, created Thursday Night Suppers, which is essentially an invitation to bon vivants in the Kansas City area to dine chez Smith. There is no fee.
Of course, a Thursday Night Suppers website (with a blog) outlines the details and how to make reservations, but the Smiths’ ambitions are not about building virtual connections. They’d like to be hosting sit-down suppers for six once a week.
Tricia Smith talked to The Bark about opening her heart and her house--and the dog who inspired it all.
How did Molly come into your life?
Why did you have to put her to sleep?
Why host dinners in Molly’s honor?
If you hope for a little grief-relief from your guests, what do you hope they will get out of the experience?
How many dinners have you hosted?
Are you ever worried about inviting strangers into your home?
What has been the biggest challenge?
What has been the biggest gift?
Is there another dog in your future?
Who’s the cook?
We’ll be right over.
News: Guest Posts
Q & A with Dawn Painter, who lets her fingers do the saving.
“The email that started us on this journey arrived in my in-box on December 23, with the subject line: Black Wednesday of Death in Harrodsburg, KY—Please, Help! … How could I ignore that plea?” writes Bark editor Claudia Kawczynska in her story about Kit and Holly—puppies she adopted from a Kentucky rescue last December.
For those of us who volunteer or work for or support shelters and rescues, this sort of e-missive is familiar. When we receive these dog-needs-home notices we become possible links in a chain that may connect a stray in Georgia with a loving home in Maine, or a puppy mill refugee in Kansas with a family in California. The email from “James Painter” that caught Claudia’s eye, actually came from his daughter, Dawn, who uses her parents’ email as part of her effort to help southern shelters and rescues find homes for homeless dogs often in far away locations.
We catch up with the Dawn Painter in the second part of our online series on the people behind animal transport—the grassroots network that moves dogs from shelters in the South or the Midwest to communities where they have a better chance of finding a good adoptive home. (In the first part, we talked to the founders of C.A.R.E., who transport homeless dogs and cats via van convoy from shelters in the Midwest to rescues in Colorado.)
Painter, 38, is a classic animal welfare advocate, making time to help in addition to a full-time job—in her case, in the planning department at UPS. She lives with four rescue cats in Shepherdsville, Kentucky. She has not website, and relies exclusively on email. As you might expect, we communicated with Painter via email and she responded in that efficient, spare text language that allows her to get more from each keystroke. (We have “translated” her answers into pre-texting English.)
TheBark.com: How did you get involved in this work?
Bark: Are you connected to any organization or are you simply a one-woman advocate?
Bark: As we understand it, you pull together and send out urgent calls for adoption or shelter help from around the country. Can you explain your role: How do you learn about dogs in need, and how you try to connect dogs in need with people who can help?
Any type of abuse cases, I have a contact who is a prosecutor. Of course, I have a cat group so a lot of my emails go to those no-kill sanctuaries. Shelters that are in dire need get forwarded to my animal welfare organizations (Best Friends, IDA, ASPCA, etc.). I also have a rehab and rescue group, and all the dogs that are good therapy dogs I send their information to them.
I love to get news clippings about how dog/cats help inmates or residents at nursing homes. I forward these to shelters in the hopes that they will contact their local facilities. I also have media-type contacts where I forward any emails regarding abuse, special events by animal organizations, puppy mills, etc.
Bark: Do you know what happens after you send out emails?
Bark: Do you worry that there will be too many email alerts going out and that people will start to tune you out?
News: Guest Posts
Q & A with the women behind C.A.R.E.
It’s a simple truth that a homeless dog in the South or the Midwest may have a better chance of finding a good adoptive home in the Northeast or cities in the West. For these dogs in overcrowded, under-funded shelters, transportation can mean the difference between life and death.
When Bark editor Claudia Kawczynska adopted Kit and Holly from a rescue in Kentucky over Christmas, she learned the shelter had a program for sending dogs to new homes in the North but not out West where she lives. A little more digging to find a ride for the puppies revealed a formal and informal network of individuals and organizations with planes, trucks and automobiles working together—supported by countless Internet posters and email blasters—to get dogs to places where their future is brighter.
Inspired and intrigued by this grassroots cooperative effort, TheBark.com will be talking to folks who are part of this underdog railroad. We begin with Linda Fox, transport coordinator, and Lisa Mendelsberg, program administrator, for Colorado Animal Rescue Express (C.A.R.E.), a 501c3 public charity.
At least once a week, C.A.R.E. drivers provide safe transport for homeless dogs and cats in the Midwest to Colorado, where rescue organizations have promised to find them new homes or where adoptive families are already waiting. Through Jake’s Fund, C.A.R.E. also provides help, when possible, with veterinary expenses and spay/neuter procedures. C.A.R.E also collects donations of food and supplies and delivers them to shelters and rescues. In the two years since C.A.R.E. began, Fox, Mendelsberg and an army of dedicated volunteers have logged more than 245,000 miles to bring 3,993 dogs and 345 cats to 96 rescues.
In May, we talked with Linda Fox, while she drove in a three-van convoy through a rainstorm more than 300 miles to Hays, Kansas. She was on the pick-up leg of what would be C.A.R.E.'s biggest transport to date—73 dogs from Arkansas, Missouri and Kansas. In early June, we caught up with Lisa Mendelsberg, who was working on grant requests to cover the costs of the transports. They talked to us about the logistics, challenges and joys of transport.
TheBark.com: How did you get started?
Bark: How do dogs get onto a transport?
Bark: Who pays for transportation?
The transports are expensive. We pay for rental vans in multiple cities, insurance, gasoline and we cover our drivers’ out-of-pocket expenses. This transport today to move the 73 dogs will be more than $1,300.
Bark: Where do the vans come from?
Bark: Who are your passengers?
Bark: What does it mean for the dogs in Colorado when you bring dogs in from out of state? Or put another way, why shouldn’t regions take care of their own dogs?
Fox: I do think there will always be the need to transport some animals to safety. In the second half of 2009, Lisa and I will be working with our strong Midwest contacts to help them utilize the existing resources in their own communities. We will work with them to educate their local citizens on the benefits of sterilizing their pets, thereby reducing the number of unwanted litters and animals that will be euthanized in shelters.
What does it mean for the dogs in Colorado? The rescues that I talk to say shelters in Colorado are doing a good job of getting the dogs adopted. In the rural and remote areas, options for rescue and adoption are not very easy. If some dogs need transport instate from a rural area to a metro area, C.A.R.E. will help cover the cost of transport. Sadly, there are still dogs being euthanized in Colorado and Midwest shelters.
Mendelsberg: Each dog that we transport has a rescue commitment. Our network has dedicated individuals and organizations in Kansas, Missouri and Arkansas that work diligently to save the homeless animals in their area. The purpose of C.A.R.E. is taking a dog from a place where they have virtually no chance of being adopted and moving them to areas where they will go into rescues and have visibility and be placed correctly and hopefully permanently. We are just fortunate to have the resources in Colorado to help our neighboring states with their pet overpopulation.
Bark: Do you ever feel overwhelmed by the fact that there is this constant supply of dogs needing new homes?
Mendelsberg: Absolutely, I feel that we’re making a difference for the dogs we are able to save through our C.A.R.E. transports and Jake’s Fund distributions. However, basically what we are doing is just a Band-Aid for the overpopulation dilemma. We have learned that people must be educated on the necessity for sterilization and we are hoping our new C.A.R.E. brochure on spay/neuter will have some impact. We also are raising the awareness that people should adopt from shelters and rescues instead of buying from the pet stores.
Bark: What other goals do you have for C.A.R.E.?
C.A.R.E. is always looking for volunteers to help with driving, fundraising, and educating the public on the necessity for spay/neuter.
To learn more about C.A.R.E., see photos of dogs saved through transport, and find out how you can support them, visit www.caretransport.org. Donations can be made online at or by mail to C.A.R.E., 5276 South Hanover Way, Englewood, CO 80111.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Question: Shiloh is a six-month-old terrier mix female from the rescue shelter that we brought home February 2. She is terrific and has taken well to our household including our five-year-old terrier mix male. My concern is that no matter when my husband enters a room she barks at him like she has never seen him before even though he talks to her using her name first. The barking is continuous, not just a short bark. He plays with her, even hand-feeds her at times, pets her and does all he can to help her bond with him and she seems willing to let him do this. She seems to be “easy” around females and shies away from most males. Shiloh bonded with me right away.
--Audrey Silberman, Durham, N.C.
Answer: Shiloh seems afraid. Often the scariest situation for dogs is the appearance or approach of a person with whom they are not yet comfortable. Many fearful dogs react more to men than to women, especially men who are tall, have deep voices, broad shoulders, a strong jaw, or facial hair.
To help Shiloh exhibit better behavior when your husband enters the room, it is essential to change the way she feels in that situation. Focus on changing her emotions so the behavior will stop rather than trying to stop the barking directly.
There are two ways your husband can help Shiloh overcome her fear so that she does not bark at him in this context. One technique is to present himself in the least threatening way possible. When he enters a room, he should turn slightly to the side, lean ever so slightly away from the dog, and squat.
The second technique is to teach Shiloh to associate the appearance of your husband with feeling good. The basic idea is to consistently pair up what Shiloh loves best with your husband entering the room. For most dogs, this means steak, chicken or freeze-dried liver (no dry biscuits!), but some dogs adore balls or squeaky toys. Instead of her thinking, in some canine sort of way, “Yikes! He’s here and he’s so imposing!” we want her to think, “Here he is again! Oh boy oh boy oh boy, where are those super treats (or toys)? I’m so happy he’s here with that magical stuff!”
To make the combination of these two techniques most effective, every time your husband enters the room, he should do so calmly, position himself in the non-imposing stance, and immediately (within a second) throw the treats or toys to her. Ideally, he will toss them to her before she reacts, but he should toss them anyway, even if she’s already starting barking. It’s better to toss them as opposed to handing them directly to her. That way, he does not have to approach her, which could set her off. Her special favorite item should be reserved for this situation only to make the pairing with your husband as tight as possible in her mind.
Hopefully, your husband will soon have a special place in Shiloh’s heart. Best wishes and paws crossed for all of you.
News: Guest Posts
Q&A with Meg Daley Olmert, author of Made for Each Other
Forget about feeling self-conscious over your relationship with your dog. According to author Meg Daley Olmert (in a Salon Q&A and podcast) this connection yields a boatload of physical and therapeutic benefits. It all comes down to the fact that companion animals can double the flow of oxytocin—the powerful social bonding and anti-stress hormone—in our bodies. According to Daley Olmert, a recent Japanese study found that mere eye contact with a dog (!) releases a healthful surge.
She explores many aspects of the animal-human bond including why dogs appear to be such great mind readers. Apparently, it’s not about tracking brain waves but body language. Dogs "read" the micro-movements that accompany our thoughts of W-A-L-K and T-R-E-A-T-S.
I’m fascinated but a little reluctant to wade into Daley Olmert’s take on the research. I love the central argument—that the attraction-attachment between humans and animals is real and good and true—but I do sort of worry about reducing my relationships with Renzo and Lulu to ideomotor actions and pituitary hormones.
We'll have to see what Sacha Zimmerman says in her review Of Made For Each Other: The Biology of the Human-Animal Bond in the upcoming issue of Bark (March/April 2009). In the meantime, now that you know dog love is essentially a biological imperative, why not tell us your wonderful love story.
Neil Abramson’s engaging debut novel has everyone talking. Narrated from the afterlife by Helena, a veterinarian who clings to the creatures she left behind—including her devastated widower David, her menagerie of heartbroken pets, her colleagues and friends—Unsaid places the lives and love of animals at the story’s center. As David struggles to restructure his personal life without his wife in the picture, he finds his professional life as an attorney pulling him into realms of Helena’s world that he didn’t even know existed. Stepping outside of his own grief, he is asked to take up the cause of Cindy—a chimpanzee Helena worked with whose intelligence promises to expand the frontiers of communication and consciousness and whose passion reorients the lives of every last person Abramson introduces. Abramson deftly draws characters whose interactions represent the real, current matters central to animal rights—dignity, quality of life and human accountability among them. As an animal lover, the husband of a veterinarian and an attorney himself whose pro bono work centers on the rights of animals, Abramson brings a deep appreciation for the subtleties of animal personality. He talked with us shortly following the release of Unsaid.
The Bark: When writing Unsaid, did you think about characterization for the animals in the same way as you did for the human characters?
Neil Abramson: Actually, because the central animals in the story were based on real life animals with whom I have been privileged to share my life, they came to the novel almost fully formed. The reality is that they are as complex in personality as the humans who love them (at least in my house).
Could you tell us a little bit about these animals and what made them special to you?
When I hear this question, my thoughts turn to Skippy. Skippy is one of the animals in the novel—a dog with a heart defect. But Skippy was a real dog—a small, black bundle of fur with a wise and handsome, fox-like face. Skippy had been born with a badly malformed heart. He showed up at my wife’s veterinary practice one day and she operated on Skippy, but she couldn’t fix him. She could only give him some additional time. We believed that Skippy likely would be dead within the year. No one wants a dog with that kind of life span, so he came home to us. That turned out to be a very good day.
We were blessed to have Skippy in our lives for three years. He used his time well—unafraid, present, loving, funny, loyal. He was a small dog, but he didn’t live a small life. Skippy died right in my arms. I depressed the syringe that released the pink fluid that finally put his heart at rest. I needed to do that for him. I wanted to spare my wife the burden of one more soul. When it was over, I was surprised at the depth of the loss I felt. The only way I can explain it is to tell you that something deep within me shifted. I realized I was so grateful for every minute with Skippy and wouldn’t have traded the time with him for anything in the world, even though that time ended too soon. Then I understood that this was Skippy’s last gift to me. By taking his life, I learned from him how important the act of living really is.
What’s your response to critics who claim our recognition of the emotional presence of dogs like Skippy, their sensitivity and sentience, are example of anthropomorphization on our part?
First, I tell them ‘so what.’ I think much of the fear of anthropomophism is BS. I am a human being, right? So is it any surprise that I will attribute human characteristics to those animals I value and share my life with? A chimpanzee is not a human—never was and will never evolve into one, but that doesn't mean that my feelings for him or her should be limited by that fact.
Second, I tell them they are wrong as a matter of science. I am not a scientist, but I did a great deal of research for the book and also had a wonderful science advisor. We have finally gotten to the point where the science has caught up with what we have always really known—the overwhelming majority of animals, and certainly the close primates, have many of the characteristics that we so jealously guard as ‘human.’ Of course there are differences, but do those differences justify the profound, destructive disparities in the way the law treats humans and animals? No way.
Let’s talk about those disparities. In legal terms today, are animals subject to animal testing still seen no differently than inanimate objects? Any developments on the horizon that might offer hope of change? What can concerned people do to help bring about change?
Lots of different questions here. The short answer is that in many areas, and particularly when it comes to the ability to be free from bodily injury, the law treats nonhuman testing subjects very much like inanimate objects. Those animals are just ‘things’ and have absolutely no personal rights of autonomy. The welfare of those animals may be regulated in many respects—cage size, clean and sufficient food and water—but that is a far cry from recognizing that those animals have rights as animals (not as ‘almost humans’) to be free from unnecessary injury and harm.
Is there hope for change? Yes, there is. There are a number of wonderful organizations that are working to change the law so that chimpanzees and bonobos, for example, will one day be recognized as having certain basic legal rights, like the right to be free from intentional harm. In addition to supporting those organizations, people can help by raising awareness of the issue through social media. The law will change when people insist that it is time for change.
How actor Ewan McGregor found his co-pilot dog
Bark editors sat down with the McGregor and Mills to talk about their new film, and dogs.
Bark: Ewan, we understand that after you finished filming, you got a dog. Was that something you’d been planning, or did the role create the desire for one?
Bark: Mike, as the writer/director, what inspired you to include a dog in the film?
Bark: Ewan, tell us about your dog Sid.
Bark: Do you takes trips with Sid just for fun?
Coaxing a Great Film Performance from Dogs
It’s a rare film that offers a realistic portrayal of the human-dog bond, but writer/director Mike Mills does just that in his new, very personal, movie, Beginners. Ewan McGregor stars as Oliver, who’s not only navigating his father’s final years (Hal, played by Christopher Plummer) but also a burgeoning love affair in the company of his father’s Jack Russell Terrier, Arthur — portrayed by the incredibly charming Cosmo. Oliver and Arthur’s relationship is just one aspect of this understated tale of self-discovery, love and loss, which — with the help of trainer Mathilde De Cagny and enhanced by McGregor and Cosmo’s natural chemistry — shines as an honest view of our lives with dogs.
Animal trainer De Cagny, the force behind Moose, the Jack Russell who found fame as Eddie in “Frasier,” has a soft spot for dogs, especially JRTs. Many of her dogs — including Cosmo — have come from shelters and rescue groups. Born and raised in Paris, France, she began her U.S. career as a volunteer with Birds and Animals Unlimited after moving to Los Angeles. On the eve of the film’s premier, Bark spoke with De Cagny about training dogs for film and working on Beginners.
Bark: What’s Cosmo’s story?
Cosmo is very different from Moose — always cuddly, even when I first went to pick him up, and I like that. He was lacking confidence, but that’s what I like to do: build up confidence by our relationship, by training, and by following [a dog’s] instincts and working with them. I had a feeling that he had good potential as a movie dog.
He is, indeed, very loving toward people and very playful, which we use a lot in the movie. And also, the nice thing about rescuing an animal — a dog — is that when I go to shelters and such, I have a sense of what the animal’s going to be like in general. That’s the advantage of getting a dog who’s older. You get to see that personality a little bit.
It was a tricky scene — the reunion, when Hal comes back from the hospital and hasn’t seen his dog in a while. The dog is supposed to be ecstatic — loving and kissing him. That’s usually easier if the person’s on a couch or sitting on the ground, but Cosmo was up in the air, in Christopher’s arms. I knew I didn’t have much time, so I said, “Hi, I’m Mathilde. I’m the dog trainer. And in order to do this scene fast and good, I’m just going to slap a bunch of bacon oil on your face.” I didn’t really give him a chance to say no. I did it, the dog kissed him and I said, “Well, okay, we can go now.” And boom!
When someone’s not too crazy about something, it’s better to work them fast, just like the dog. I don’t do a million repetitions. So, I worked with Christopher the way I would work with a dog who lacks confidence … you don’t give him too much time to think about it.
Bark: What other tools do you have in your training kit?
Bark: Did you know Cosmo had such a cuddly personality when you got him?
Culture: Stories & Lit
An interview with Byambasuren Davaa, director of "The Cave of the Yellow Dog"
Mongolian-born director Byambasuren Davaa’s films examine the lifeways of an older Mongolia, effortlessly blending natural and cultural themes. Travelling to Germany in 2000 to study at the Munich Academy of Television and Film, Davaa won international recognition when her student project, The Story of the Weeping Camel (2003), was nominated for an Oscar in 2005. Her new movie, The Cave of the Yellow Dog (which is part of her graduating thesis), has just been released in the U.S. This story focuses on a nomadic family and a stray dog who enters their lives.
You can read Edward Guthmann's review of The Cave of the Yellow Dog here.
Bark’s Cameron Woo recently had an opportunity to conduct a transoceanic conversation with Ms. Byambasuren.
Bark: Your film deals with cultural changes, traditional life versus modern life. Can you tell us about some of the changes that Mongolian people—particularly nomads—face?
Byambasuren Davaa: Like everyone else, they live in global times. There’s hardly a family who doesn’t own a television or other electronic device. As a result, instead of parents reading or telling their children stories during the long, lonely evenings, families are watching television or listening to CDs.
Bark: What is the meaning of the fable of the yellow dog?
Davaa: It’s about coming into the world and leaving it, essentially, about reincarnation.
Bark: Is there a spiritual relationship between dogs and humans in Mongolia?
Davaa: Mongolians believe in reincarnation, and that dogs are reborn as humans. That’s why there’s such a strong bond between people and dogs.
Bark: How much time did you spend with the Batchuluun family before you started shooting the film?
Davaa: I went to Mongolia in April 2004 and spent two weeks searching for a family for the film. When I found the Batchuluuns, we spent two days together, and it was clear to me that they were exactly the people I was looking for. Then I went back to Germany and returned with my crew in mid-June and spent another week with them prior to shooting.
Bark: Working from a script and filming a documentary seem to require two kinds of filmmaking techniques. In Cave of the Yellow Dog, what percentage of the scenes were scripted and what percentage were not?
Davaa: The ratio was about 50/50; we knew what sort of story we wanted to tell—basically, that of the dog and the children —but we didn’t know exactly how it would be executed. We started with an outline.
Bark: Did the family have to learn lines?
Davaa: No. The family is very traditional and it really wasn’t possible to tell them what to say.
Bark: Where did you find Zochor, the dog?
Davaa: She was a city dog, a mutt; we found her in Mongolia’s capital city, Ulaanbaatar. Dogs’ emotions show up in their eyes, so we needed a light-colored dog—dark fur on the face would make emotion harder to film. We also needed two identical dogs, in case something happened to one of them during filming. We found two three-month-old puppies who we were told had the same mother. One had a spot on its back, one didn’t. Worst-case scenario, we figured we could spray on a spot. As it turned out, one grew tall and the other grew long. Both dogs were given shots and cared for, but we used the same dog (the tall one) throughout the filming.
Bark: Did a professional trainer work with Zochor?
Davaa: No, no trainer. In the beginning, she was being fed by everyone; everyone was giving her little treats here and there. Then we realized that wasn’t such a good thing, and selected just one person to feed her and give her the daily attention she needed. She’s a very clever dog—it was sometimes a lot easier to work with her than with the kids.
Bark: Did the little girl, Nansal, have time to get to know Zochor? Was there time for them to develop a relationship before filming began?
Davaa: Nansal met Zochor for the first time when she found her in the cave as the movie was being filmed. We wanted to get the child’s natural reaction—would she like the puppy or would she be afraid of her? Actually, none of the family met Zochor until shooting was in progress.
Bark: Did Nansal and her family know that they were going to encounter a dog?
Davaa: Yes, they were told about it. But when Nansal went into the cave, I don’t believe she knew the dog was in there. Bark: What happened to Zochor when the film was completed?
Bark: What happened to Zochor when the film was completed?
Davaa: The family kept her; in fact, I spoke to them recently and learned that they are training Zochor to watch the sheep, which she’ll soon be doing on her own.
Bill Plympton draws upon a universal doggedness—the search for love.
Animator Bill Plympton earned his first Oscar nomination in 1987 with the short film Your Face, but it was his 2004 short Guard Dog (also Oscar-nominated) that gave him a character audiences wanted to see again and again. The Dog, a goofy-looking pooch always on the hunt for love, has gone on to star in three additional shorts, and inspired Plympton to launch Guard Dog Global Jam, inviting animators all over the world to remake two- to four-second segments of Guard Dog, creating one collaborative, multi-style film.
You can also see the Dog bounding throughout Plympton’s new book, Independently Animated: Bill Plympton. We talk to Plympton about his canine inspirations and why audiences empathize with the Dog.
In Guard Dog, we meet the Dog, who imagines that everything he encounters (a girl with a jump rope, a songbird, a flower) is a threat against his owner—with tragic results. What was the inspiration for this film?
There’s a couple of influences for that film. One is, when I was a kid, I used to go to baseball practice, I was like 10 years old or so then. And there was this dog on the road that wouldn’t let me pass. And I was on a country road, so there was no alternative route. And he used to chase me, barking at me all the time and I was frightened by it. I think psychologically, it kind of gave me this obsession with barking dogs. And then it was about six years ago, I was in the park right near where I live—it’s called Madison Square Park—and I saw this dog barking at a little bird. And I wondered, “Why is a dog so afraid of a cute little bird?” And then I went inside the dog’s brain and realized that he was afraid the bird would attack his master and he would lose his companion, his meal ticket, his master. So I thought, “Oh, that’s a funny idea.” And I immediately went home and started writing this storyboard about this dog who was so paranoid about these strange creatures that he imagined that they’re like these fictitious fantasy attacks on his master. And the film was a huge hit. Really, I was amazed how popular this dog was.
So often, we see animated dogs anthropomorphized, but here it seems like you did the opposite and really tried to get at what the Dog was thinking.
Yeah, I don’t like real cutesy talking dogs that take on human form. I like it when they’re actually real animals that you can identify with and it sort of feels like your own dog, like you really know this dog and it’s one of your own dogs. To me, that’s what gives a resonance to this character. That’s why people love him. It’s because they know he’s a real dog and not half-human.
In the later films Guide Dog and Hot Dog, we see the dog take on these more vocational roles—being a seeing-eye dog and a firehouse dog, respectively. Do you see some aspirational quality in dogs?
No, the basic idea for this dog is that he’s searching for love. Everybody’s looking for love and looking for companionship and someone to spend their life with, and that’s what he’s doing. So it’s part of his search to find a caretaker, a master. And he goes to the fire department and he wants to be adopted as a firehouse dog. And then when he’s a guide dog, he wants to help the blind people and he’s hoping a blind person will adopt him as their guide dog. And there’s actually a fourth one...and that is called Horn Dog, and that’s where he falls in love with another dog, a beautiful long-haired Afghan. And that obviously goes very badly, too. So, that’s his life, just getting rejected when he finds a companion, finds someone to take care of him.
So will the Dog ever find love?
No, that would be disaster. That would end the series. You know, he’s sort of become my Mickey Mouse, and he’s been identified with me quite strongly. So as long as I keep making the films, people want to see the dog. I like that, so I need to have him always in constant search for the love of his life.
Why do you think audiences connect so well with the Dog?
I think they empathize with him. They’ve been there. They know that oftentimes they make a fool of themselves trying to gain love or gain acceptance or gain approval and oftentimes it goes bad. And it’s funny. If people loved him, it wouldn’t be funny. It would be a romance. I prefer humor over romance. Well, that’s hard to say. I do other films for romance.
Are there any more Dog films in the works?
I do. I have another one that I’ll just tell you about briefly. It’s called Cop Dog, and this is where he works in an airport, sniffing for smugglers, drug-smugglers. And he finds a valise that’s full of drugs and he tears it open and the whole airport is filled with some sort of aphrodisiac. And everybody starts taking their clothes off and the airplanes start doing loop-de-loops and it’s total, total madness—a little mayhem. So I’ll probably have that one done over the summer.
The way you draw the Dog—his expressions, his walk—is so delightful. Do you spend a lot of time observing dogs?
The park where I first discovered the dog has a wonderful dog run, and so I do go over there occasionally and do sketches of dogs. They’re fun to draw.
My dog is a Pug, I think; the one I use for the model, I think was a Pug. I love drawing dogs and I’ve spent hours there sketching dogs and finding the right animal. I like the Pug. I think he’s a very handsome animal—very emotional, too. You know, the big tongue, the sloppy smile, that stuff.
And now you’re working on Guard Dog Global Jam.
Yes, we just finished it, actually, and we’re sending it out to festivals, and I think it’s going to have its world premier at the South By Southwest Film Festival.
It must be incredible to see that so many people want to reinterpret your work.
It was amazing. We had over 200 submissions and we only had space for about 70 artists. So we had to say no to a lot of people; it was very sad.
From what I’ve seen, the styles are so varied. Did you give people a lot of license?
We told everybody the same thing. We just said, “Reinterpret my artwork in your style.” And so the variety of styles is quite refreshing. I mean, we have one where it’s little bits of dog food, and then someone recommissioned 100 other people to do every frame of fill, which is just mind-blowing. It’s really beautiful. We have one that’s very theatrical; it’s almost puppets. .... It’s really interesting, the variety of different looks and styles. I like that. One’s a 10-year-old Chinese kid who did one, too. We had a Disney animator—a couple Disney animators and then a 10-year-old Chinese kid. So it’s a wide spectrum.
You’ve said that you don’t like anthropomorphized dogs in animation. Are there any animated dogs that are particular favorites?
I’ll tell you what I don’t like is the Hanna-Barbara stuff, like Scooby-Doo and Huckleberry Hound. They just don’t feel real to me, emotional to me. I don’t know; I’m trying to think. Goofy—I remember as a kid I loved Goofy. Pluto was not such a big favorite, but Goofy I liked a lot. I loved his sense of humor. He was an inspiration for a lot of my humor, the Goofy films.
I love how specific the movements in your animation are. Are you working in colored pencil?
Regular colored pencil. Regular, number two, Ticonderoga pencils that you use every day.
It adds so much texture. It’s so amazing to see when so many people are moving away from hand-drawn animation.
Well, that’s my specialty. It’s sort of my trademark. Whenever I say, “Oh a Bill Plympton film,” people always say, “Who’s Bill Plympton?” and I say, “Oh, the colored pencil guy.” And they say, “Oh! That guy!” Everybody knows who I am; they just don’t know what my name is. They know my style. They know my technique. They know my stories.
Why do you hold so firmly to hand-drawn animation?
A lot of reasons. One is hand-drawn is much faster. Computer animation is very slow. Also, it’s a lot cheaper. Computer animation is very expensive. For example, Toy Story 3 cost about $200 million to make, and it’s a beautiful film. I don’t deny it. It’s money well spent. Whereas my films cost about $200,000. So I could make a thousand Bill Plympton films for one Pixar film. That’s why I stay hand-drawn.
Is that true for 2D computer animation as well?
No, 2D is much cheaper, too. Especially with Flash, you can do it for a much cheaper price. But I still think it’s a little bit more—well, it depends on who the artist is. You know, a film like The Illusionist, which is hand-drawn, that was not cheap; that was about a $40 million film. So it depends who’s doing the art and how long the process is and what the market is—whether it’s TV or movie theaters.
It seems like you have a lot more control in hand-drawn animation as well.
I totally agree. There are so many things that you can do in hand-drawn animation. The only limit is really your imagination, and that’s why I love animation. I love drawing it and doing it. I did do a couple live-action films, and they were complete disasters because I couldn’t control the actors 100 percent. They didn’t allow me to sever their heads and have them start flying through the sky. They weren’t into that. So, with animation, I have no problems with that.
Take a peek at some samples from Guard Dog Global Jam:
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