Home
interviews
Culture: Stories & Lit
Stories from the Great Wheel of Life
An interview with Byambasuren Davaa, director of "The Cave of the Yellow Dog"
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.

Culture: DogPatch
To Clone or Not to Clone?
Dog Inc. author explains the high cost of canine cloning.

Canine cloning businesses like to tout their services as akin to resurrection—but the reality is much more complicated. In our video interview, John Woestendiek, author of the new book Dog Inc.: The Uncanny Inside Story of Cloning Man’s Best Friend, exposes the high cost of canine cloning—for both the people who invest their money and emotions in the procedure, and the laboratory animals used to create the clones.

Culture: DogPatch
Q&A with Animator Bill Plympton
Bill Plympton draws upon a universal doggedness—the search for love.
Art from "Guard Dog"

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:

 

 

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Victoria Stilwell Talks Training and Television
"It's Me or the Dog" star on training methods, her clients and her new pup.
Victoria Stilwell and her new pup

Victoria Stilwell’s show It’s Me or the Dog has returned to Animal Planet, and Stilwell talks to us about the new season, as well as her take on training methods—positive is the only approach—the difference between men and women as training clients, and her search for a new dog.

Not available yet. Check back soon!

Wellness: Healthy Living
More Advice for Graying Dogs
Dr. Nicholas Dodman on keeping your aging dog happy and healthy.

Couldn’t get enough of Dr. Nicholas Dodman’s senior dog tips in our last issue? We asked Dodman even more questions about his latest book, Good Old Dog, and what you can do to keep your aging dog as happy and healthy as ever.

Dog's Life: Humane
ABCs of Bites
Our dog law expert offers counsel on first bites, “free” bites, and laws with bite
Dog Law

Q: We recently moved to a wonderful new neighborhood and in honor of the occasion, our dog decided to nip our new neighbor—and her dog. My husband says not to worry since it “was the first time that’s ever happened and the first bite is free,” but I plan on entertaining a few worries anyway. Tonight’s guest list includes: Does the “one free bite” rule apply to a single bite or to a single incident? To bites to animals as well? Is it one per year, or one per location? Actually, come to think of it, is there such a thing as a “one free bite” rule and is it going to help us at all?

A: First, I’m with you in worrying in general. I believe for a responsible dog owner, a modest amount of anxiety is a much healthier response than blithe disdain. Part of dog ownership is to be aware that everything your dog does affects those around you, and to be conscientious therefore requires vigilance— and sometimes a little fretting. Second, your specific concerns have the added benefit of being well-founded.

Among its fellow urban legends, the belief that “every dog is entitled to one free bite” seems to be a gold standard— just ask anyone you know and you’ll hear that the first time your dog bites someone, you’re off the hook because you simply cannot be held legally responsible.

The truth is that the majority of state laws are to the contrary. Nearly every jurisdiction holds fast to the premise that known dangers cannot be ignored or excused. If a reasonable dog owner should have been aware that the dog was likely to bite, that owner is liable for even the first nip. The core rules revolve not around specific types of locations, types of animals or time periods, but around the general concept of “propensity”: the likely inclination of the dog to engage in any harmful act to anyone anywhere. While it is true that a dog’s history can sometimes be informative in that regard, the lack of a previous bite is not the only factor; if certain personality or behavioral aspects of a “never-having-bit-before” dog reveal the propensity to harm, then any harm that results is still actionable.

Note that the test is objective, not subjective—that is, the question is would a reasonable owner have known or been aware of that dog’s propensity, not would the dog’s actual owner have known or been aware. The law does not reward people for keeping themselves ignorant of potential risks, for irrationally discounting risks that others pay attention to, or for holding themselves to a special standard available only to them simply because they happen to know the dog better than others.

Unfortunately, I must actually add a little bit to your worry guest list. If carelessness can be shown in the manner in which the dog was being physically kept or controlled, the dog owner can sometimes be held responsible, even if the dog had no propensity at all. That means that if the way in which your dog was able to get to the neighbor in the first place was by virtue of a broken gate or fence, failure to use a leash when you were supposed to use one, or neglecting to keep an eye on where the dog was and what he was doing, then evidence of lack of propensity won’t affect the final outcome. The improper confinement or supervision exposes you to legal trouble anyway.

Finally, be aware that all of those principles apply to “damage” or “injuries,” not just to “bites” alone. Rules on liability do not particularly distinguish between different results of the dog’s misconduct; owners can be liable for a scrape to a person’s leg, a puncture in another dog’s ear, knocking a kid off a bicycle, or a break in a neighbor’s fence. The different measure and amount of damages in those varying situations, on the other hand, can be stark.

As Freud has pointed out much more poetically than I ever could, anxiety— though an initial source for positive action—can become harmful at the point that it paralyzes you from taking any action at all. If your spouse is no real help in allaying or addressing legal concerns, and if you have had enough of looking deeply into your dog’s eyes to try to decipher what he was really thinking when he did that, then perhaps you may wish to direct your worry-energy in a productive direction: toward chatting with a lawyer instead.

Wellness: Food & Nutrition
Career Change: From Human Resources to Holistic Hound
Profiling notable second acts: Heidi Hill
Heidi and Pearl

When Heidi Hill was growing up, she dreamed of becoming a veterinarian. As so often happens, that dream was put aside; instead of going to vet school, she earned a degree in accounting and embarked on a successful career in corporate finance and human resources.

Then one day, as she was casually leafing through a magazine, she read an article on homeopathy. Intrigued, she began to explore the topic, which eventually led her not only to formal study at San Francisco’s Pacific Academy of Homeopathy, but also permanently changed the way she viewed health, illness and life in general. Opening Holistic Hound—a “health food” store for dogs and cats—in Berkeley, Calif., in 2003 allowed her to combine her two passions, animals and holistic health care, and realize her earlier dream in a new form.

As a retailer, Hill has been on the front lines—the connection between the marketplace and the manufacturers. Recently, Bark quizzed her on what she observed during the spring 2007 recall and during the months that followed.

Bark:When the recall was in full swing, what did you notice as far as your customers were concerned?

Heidi Hill: I think that, for many reasons, people didn’t pay a lot of attention to pet food before the recall. Afterward, they certainly did. As the recall developed, people understandably became very nervous, and changed their animal’s food to higher-quality brands. Some started feeding raw foods, and others started cooking for their dogs.They also worked to educate themselves.Web sites made a great deal of information available.

B:What, if any, changes have you seen in the amount and type of information manufacturers are sharing now, as opposed to pre-recall?

HH: Many are disclosing more, though they still don’t disclose much (they didn’t disclose anything before).But for the most part, they still seem to be reluctant to identify their sources. From what I can gather, the reason they don’t is competition— for competitive advantage.

B: Are manufacturers now operating differently in any other ways?

HH: Yes, I think so. Some of them have very sophisticated and elaborate testing facilities in place, and in some cases, you can go to a manufacturer’s site and see what the food’s been tested for. On one of them, you can even look up your own batch. I wasn’t aware of anything like that before the recall.

B: What’s your take on the long-term consequences of the recall?

HH: For the companion animals whose health was affected, or who died, the results were obviously tragic; in that way, it was an awful situation. In other ways, it has had a positive outcome—the pet food industry will never be the same. Consumers are demanding more, and are more discriminating. They ask more questions and want to know that they can rely on what a company tells them. The recall definitely raised people’s consciousness, and they know they need to do their homework. I think it’s safe to say that we all want to do the right thing in terms of providing for our pets’ nutritional needs, and we now know that we can’t take marketing claims at face value.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Mobylizing
Q&A with musician Moby

For the past decade, multiplatinum-selling composer Moby has been showing his affinity for dogs, cats and other critters by partnering with HSUS to raise money and awareness for animal rights programs. Among these endeavors is mobygratis, a generous trove of instrumental film music he’s written “for anyone in need of free music for their independent, nonprofit film, video, or short.” The music on mobygratis remains gratis as long as it’s used in a noncommercial, nonprofit way; if it’s licensed for a commercial film, all money generated goes to HSUS.

Bark: Why mobygratis?

Moby: Friends who are into experimental filmmaking said that one of the most difficult things is licensing music for their work. So I set up mobygratis as a way of helping students and others making these types of independent films.

B: Tell us about the music—is it mostly extra tracks?

M: In some cases, they’re extra tracks, and others, they’re pieces that I wrote specifically for the site. There’s a pretty wide range of music up there.

B: How has the response been so far?

M: Good! I haven’t really publicized it, but the music has already been used in about 3,000 different films. A few features, but for the most part, they’ve been short pieces—five to ten minutes long.

B: Why did you select HSUS?

M: I’ve worked with them quite a lot over the years. One of the things that impresses me most about them is their diligence and their persistence. And also, because they’re such a big organization, they’re actually able to accomplish a lot on a legislative level.

B: On your site, to promote your new album, you made an animated video of yourself being interviewed by a dog. Why?

M: I don’t know how to draw cats!

B: Beyond companionship, what do you think dogs teach us?

M: I’m certainly not the first person to say this, but they teach the idea of loyalty, and the capacity to find joy in just the simplest things—to be uninhibited in our emotions.

Find out more at moby.com.

Culture: DogPatch
Alan Cumming
Interview with the actor, writer, and director.
Alan Cumming and Dog

Alan Cumming is best known for his appearances in movies such as X2: X-Men United, Son of the Mask and Nicholas Nickleby. This winter on the Sci Fi Channel, he stars alongside Richard Dreyfuss in Tin Man, a miniseries based on The Wizard of Oz.

In most of his films, Cumming takes the roles of creeps, geeks or crazies. “Subtlety’s not my forte,” he says. “I think you can be as big as you like as long as you mean it.” But in real life, he is a glamorous and charming figure. Even though he’s in his 40s, a boyish enthusiasm infects everything he does—and he does a lot. A native of Scotland, he now splits his time between Manhattan and upstate New York; in between acting jobs, he oversees his various other projects. His latest, Suffering Man’s Charity (which he directs and stars in), is making the rounds of the film festival circuit. He’s also a well-known campaigner in the fight against HIV and AIDS, and a novelist. His book, Tommy’s Tale, was published in 2003, and he’s currently at work on the screenplay.

All in all, perhaps, not the sort of celebrity who would have a lot of time for a dog, you might think. But in fact, Alan is crazy about canines, and it’s all thanks to his dog Honey. To find out more, Bark caught up with him on a recent visit to the UK to ask him a few questions about life with his beloved doggie companion.

Bark: Did you have any dogs before Honey?

Alan Cumming: As as child, I had two West Highland Terriers. They were my constant companions growing up. But no dogs as an adult, which seems crazy to me now. I can’t imagine life without one.

B: How did you come by Honey?

AC: A friend was working at Cause for Paws, a charity in New York that rescues dogs from dog pounds on the day they would have been put down. They foster them out, and Honey was fostered with my friend. The weirdest thing was, I had no intention of getting a dog. But Honey was so amazing, I had to have her.

B: What do you think her background was?

AC: I think it was pretty difficult. At first, Honey was quite freaked out—she had paint all down her side and she slept the whole time. She was scared of bin bags [garbage bags] and skips [Dumpsters] —and she loved homeless people! My theory is that she was thrown in a skip and homeless people looked after her.

B: What does having a dog bring to your life?

AC: Obviously a huge great amount of love. And also, there’s a new kind of responsibility. I really enjoy having to make time to walk her—it’s not only about me anymore. And when I’m on walks, I see parts of the city I never would have seen otherwise, and talk to different people. A new world of camaraderie has been unlocked that I just didn’t notice as a non-dog-owner. But I can find myself getting judgmental too: I’ll see someone being rough with their dog or something and think, There’s no need to talk to him like that!

B: Honey has been forging her own show biz career recently.Can you tell us about it?

AC: Well, she helped me with my makeup on X2—it took four hours every morning to get that blue face! (Cumming played the role of Nightcrawler). Honey had her own chair, although she hated sitting on it. Last year, she played herself in a film called Sweet Land, about rural Minnesota in the 1920s. I play a farmer, she plays my dog. I got her a part in another film but she was cut out of it, so I was determined that it wouldn’t happen in Sweet Land. I made sure she was in the film’s biggest scene, which happened to be everyone running towards the camera, so it suited her quite well.

Honey also has her own show on the Sundance Channel, Midnight Snack. She and her stepbrother Leon (Cumming married his boyfriend—Leon’s dad— last winter in London) review all the new DVD releases. Honey puts her paws up or down, depending whether she likes the film or not. Leon (he’s a Chihuahua) howls if the films meet his approval. To get Leon to sing, we had to record the sound of a fire engine. It’s so funny! When we press play, he starts looking interested in the tape player, then he just goes crazy.

B: What do Honey and Leon request backstage? I know some celebrities can be quite demanding.

AC: They have their own dressing rooms, with their own beds in them. They have their own rider: dog food. There are special rules too. For example, you can’t leave tape in Honey’s dressing room because she’ll eat it. And she doesn’t like noise either.

B: Does Honey travel with you when you are on location?

AC: Quite a lot. She has her own passport and chip and her own account with Virgin—you can get doggie air miles. At first she was frightened about traveling in the hold in a cage, but now she’s a seasoned traveler; she knows it’s going to end. Sometimes, if I’m working in Vancouver, I travel with her across the U.S. in my campervan. It’s a great way to see the country.

B: Describe a typical day in Honey’s life when she’s not on the set.

AC: She’s up late, forced out of bed by Dad. Then off to Tompkins Square dog run [in Manhattan] to see her friends. Leon goes to the little dog park—they’re quite strict; no dog over 23 pounds is allowed in the little dog park. So if I have both, I have to position myself where both dogs can see me.

Also, non-dog-owners are frowned upon, but a few come in just to look. I see Moby there sometimes and I think to myself, I’m sure you haven’t got a dog! At the weekend, everyone hangs over the fence to ogle the dogs. It’s great, it’s very sociable. I often see the same dogowners and we chat.

After the dog park, Honey takes a walk around the East Village. Then she goes into the office to hang out with my assistant and deal with her correspondence. Then she’ll probably take another walk before dinner.

B: What’s the most expensive thing you’ve bought for Honey?

AC: Swimming pool steps. I was so worried about her drowning that I installed these special steps she can climb up to get out. She goes swimming with me a lot; she’s quite trepidatious at first, but she gets into it.

B: What are Honey’s best traits?

AC: She’s aloof. She’s not a dog who seeks love from everyone—she doesn’t need affirmation all the time. But when she sees someone she knows, she just goes nuts.

B: Her worst?

AC: She’s a scavenger. She’ll make a dive for something even though I’m trying to pull her away from it.

B: If Honey was a person, who would she be?

AC: A posh English actress. She sits in the window with paws crossed looking out like a character in a Bergman film. We joke that when Leon tries to hump her, she looks as though she’s calling for her agent to come and deal with him.

B: What kind of dog would you be if you had to come back as one?

AC: A Scottie. Happy all the time, but also feisty.

B: If you could be a dog for a day, what would you do?

AC: I would be in my house in upstate New York. It’s become Honey’s place— it’s great for dogs. There was a deer standing there the other day and Honey was furious, as though she was saying, “Get away from my house!” I’d love to know what she saw and what she smelt and heard. It would be great.

 

Editor's Note: Unfortunately, Honey was diagnoised with cancer and passed away in 2014. Alan has adopted a new dog Lala and you can check out their adventures on his instagram page.

Culture: DogPatch
Q&A with Elizabeth George on Dogs and Mysteries
Elizabeth George

She’s been called a master of the English mystery, her books have been adapted by the BBC and, with the publication earlier this year of This Body of Death, she has 17 wildly popular “Inspector Lynley” novels to her credit. However, Elizabeth George is no British blueblood — rather, she’s an Ohio-born, California-raised former schoolteacher with a gift for crafting deliciously long and complex stories populated by strong, welldefined characters, some of whom are of the canine persuasion. Take, for example, Peach, a Longhaired Dachshund who lives with two of the series’ central characters, Simon and Deborah St. James: “Watch out for Peach … she’s wanting food. Fact, she’s always and only wanting food.” When it comes to the behavior of Dachshunds, George has her research subjects nearby — sometimes even underfoot. So, while everyone else was asking questions about her newest book, we thought we’d find out more about the dogs in Elizabeth George’s life.

Bark: In many British mysteries, the murder victim’s body is discovered by a dog. Why do you suppose that convention is so often used?
Elizabeth George: I think it’s due to the fact that an animal’s distress is often more touching to people watching it happen than is a human’s distress. Sounds terrible to put it that way, but if you think about it, our hearts tend to go out more to animals because they can’t express themselves, so we do the expressing for them.

B: In your observation, is British “dog culture” similar to or different from our own?
EG: I think it’s pretty similar, actually. But I say that as someone who lives in the Pacific Northwest, where everyone has a dog and dogs are welcome just about everywhere. The British have always been a dog culture. They walk ’em, love ’em, talk to ’em, and treat ’em like members of the family. I don’t see any difference here. There are places, of course, where the dogs are important work animals — as shepherds, mostly — but even these dogs are treasured. I’ve just come from Italy, however, where dogs are treated completely differently.

B: Tell us about the dog(s) who inspired the fictional Peach, and about Lucy, your current dog.
EG: Peach was inspired by my first Longhaired Dachshund, Brandy. Peach was Brandy’s nickname, so when I created the dog for the St. Jameses, Peach was a natural name to go with. Some people accidentally call her Peaches, but it’s Peach. Brandy was the first dog I ever was owned by. She lived to be 16 years, four months and nine days. I considered myself a successful dog mother to have had her for so many years. She was a snuggle bunny who loved to be held. I wrote eight novels with her sitting in my lap. I have two current dogs, both Dachshunds. Titch is 13 (he was depicted on two previous book covers), and Lucy is six. Titch is a male, full of piss and vinegar and inclined to disobedience. Lucy has recently learned she can kick Titch around, so she does so whenever she gets the chance. They love to be with me when I’m working, and in the evening they sit with me and my husband when we watch our one hour of Netflix.

B: It’s clear that Peach is an important part of the St. James household, and that both Simon and Deborah dote on her. What’s your take on dogs’ roles in our domestic lives?
EG: There is a reason that God is dog spelled backwards. Dogs give us unconditional love and acceptance. They contribute to our sense of tranquility. They lower our blood pressure and lift our spirits. There is no more important animal to a human than a dog.

B: In addition to Peach, you often incorporate dogs into the Lynley books. You not only give them wonderful names — Leo, Beans, Toast, Taboo, Frank, Tess — you also take time to develop them as characters (who fit their names perfectly!). How do you choose the names and, for that matter, the breed types? And what do you feel they add to the stories?
EG: I have to say that I choose the breed on the spur of the moment. I don’t really put a lot of thought into it other than to ask myself what sort of dog this particular character would probably have. I think they add a sense of realism to the stories, and I believe they heighten the humanity of the character to whom they’re attached.

B: In This Body of Death, we learn a lot about one of the characters (Gordon Jossie) through the ways he interacts with his dog. What lay behind your decision to use this device?
EG: Gosh, it just seemed to me that a man with the number of secrets he was carrying would have a dog. It also seemed to me that he would need one “person” in his life who loved him and accepted him, despite who he was in his past.

B: Can you imagine Lynley with a dog? Or is he perhaps more of a cat person?
EG: I’ve never actually thought of Lynley as a dog person or a cat person. Poor man has so much on his plate. But now that you mention it, I think I see an animal on his horizon…

B: We’ve read that you didn’t have pets as a child. When and how did you acquire your first, and was it a dog?
EG: My first pet that I got to choose was a cat, but it wasn’t well and didn’t live long. I was quite young and I don’t remember what it died of. My mom wasn’t a lover of animals, so it was very difficult to persuade her to allow that cat into our lives, and when it died, she was definitely against any other animals; it was years before she allowed another cat. She was afraid of dogs and unfortunately passed this fear on to me for a number of years.

B: Have you ever written anything for your dogs?
EG: Only love letters.

B: Has your dog ever accompanied you to a reading or book signing?
EG: Oh sure. Both dogs have been to book signings. I’d love to say they sit obediently. But then, they’re Dachshunds…

B: In Write Away, you mentioned that a photo of your dog is one of the items you keep on your desk as inspiration and to cheer you up. What do you think of, or feel, when you look at that photo?
EG: I have two pictures of Lucy as a puppy on my desk, one of me holding her and one of my husband holding her. She was an adorable puppy, as you can imagine, and whose heart wouldn’t be filled with love to look at that little face? Mostly, when I look at the pictures, I have to go find her and kiss her little cheekie.

Pages