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Culture: DogPatch
My Life with Dogs: JD SOUTHER
JD Souther with Doc and Jake

JD Souther is a card-carrying member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame, inducted in 2013. Instrumental in shaping the sound that became known as country-rock in the 1970s, he has also contributed to the American songbook by penning such classics as “Best of My Love” and “Heartache Tonight” (both for the Eagles) and “Faithless Love” recorded by Linda Ronstadt.

Never one to rest on his laurels, the singer-songwriter continues to compose memorable songs from his Nashville home. As a performer, he recently toured in support of a new album, Tenderness (Sony), and can be seen in the recurring role of producer Watty White on television’s Nashville.

Despite his busy schedule, there’s nothing Souther would rather do than hang out with his dogs. The Bark caught up recently with John David and talked … you guessed it … dogs.

What is it that you like about dogs?

I like everything about dogs. I love their society, their immediacy, their ability to make anything an adventure. Dogs don’t miss an opportunity to have fun, to find out, to live. I also love the way they feel and smell. If I have to go to a party at the house of someone I don’t know, I look for the dog, or dogs. That’s where you’ll find me: hanging out with the dogs. No dogs, and I usually leave early.

Tell us about your dogs.

I have two loonies we affectionately call the Bruise Brothers, named thus for their incredible rough-and-tumble play, though they are, in fact, 50-pound lap dogs and would abandon their
fields and pond for a human lap any time. They are brothers—Hound and Pit mix possibly—and all boy, noisy, joyous and curious about everything.

When we brought them home from the two angels who had found them by the roadside in terrible shape and nursed them back to health, I had a beautiful Irish wife and a six-year-old girl. We built this farmhouse so that the girls would want to be here and not someplace else. It worked very well, but that meant that as the Bruise Bros grew, they were gently coerced to suffer every whim of an imaginative young female community, including but not limited to: shoes, hats, tee shirts, ties, capes, dresses, jewelry, sunglasses and sometimes various combinations of halters and leads that were only necessary for the little girls’ rich imaginations of them as horses.

For all this girlish invasion of their masculine nature, the brothers were as delighted as could be for the attention, and ne’er a growl was ever heard.

It was announced that the Eagles are being honored by the Kennedy Center next year — as a major contributor to their songbook … congratulations. Were there any dogs hanging out with you folks in those early days of Southern California music making?  

The honor is well deserved, congratulations to the guys. They certainly have added considerable wealth to the repertoire. The fact is, we were all almost on the move all the time in those early days. The only dogs in our little gang of musicians I can recall with any clarity are two. One was a small white dog that Glenn (Frey) and Janie, his first wife, had named Teeny Turner. She sounded bigger and who could blame her.

Also, Linda (Ronstandt) had two magnificent Huskies or something like them, when she lived in Brentwood. I was fond of one named Molly who voiced her objections to Linda leaving town by eating the couches, a form of protest with which I was to become later familiar on my dogs Murphy and Babe’s first day alone in the house, where they reduced a couch, daybed and several expensive cushions to a carpet of feathers and fluff. I opened the door to a first floor of shredded bedding and found two black dogs resting comfortably, one with feathers still clinging to his snout looking as innocent as possible. Smiling.

Have you ever written dog-centered songs, or lyrics?

I’ve written three songs about dogs, one for each of the Hollywood Hills dogs and one for the Tennessee Brown Hounds. Their place in my musical process is the same as it is in my life: a reminder to (a) not take myself too seriously and (b) pay attention!

How about dog stories—have any good ones to share?

Here’s one that may give you a sense of the humor and boldness that I find irresistible in canines.

As we were building the Dog Ranch, I leased a beautiful Robert Byrd house on Hollywood Boulevard just west of Laurel Canyon so I could be on-site [in nearby Nichols Canyon] every day during construction. The back yard was small, so most days, the black dogs came to work with me. We were, after all, building our dream house.

On the few days when they were left behind and outside, escaping from the yard behind the Byrd house became a game, and a fairly regular source of amusement for Babe. I kept adding fencing and difficulty, including, finally, a spiky pile of lawn chairs at the only conceivable escape route. Alas, she seemed to rise to every challenge, which included (eventually): pulling the lawn chairs down and scattering them, pulling the fence over, scrambling up a near-vertical dirt hillside, jumping on to the second story of the house, down to the first-story roof, then down to the top of the carport, and finally onto the top of whichever vehicle was closest before landing on the lawn. 

I often came home to find Murphy, who was not quite tall enough to run the obstacle course, barking hysterically from behind the garden gate and Babe sitting serenely on the front porch, waiting for dinner. Smiling.

We hear that you’re a good friend to Best Friends Animal Society; how did you get involved?

I met Francis and Silva Battista in the late ’80s just as Babe was convincing me to slow down a bit and enjoy my lucky life. I loved what they were doing at Best Friends. Then I went up for a visit and met most of the founders and staff, wondrous folk who I am hoping will someday swap me a nifty little retirement perch in one of the most beautiful places on earth for considerable publishing interest and some
 “light housekeeping” (a phrase that another dear friend and animal-rescue champion uses to refer to mucking out the stalls on her ranch).

We’ve taken dogs to the Sanctuary together, I loaned them an SUV/ambulance one year in their early days, played a show recently for the donors at Discovery Weekend, give what I can, talk about them every chance I get
and will try to fit in a trip this year while the snow is on the ground in Angel Canyon.

They have been salvation for thousands of animals, a fair number of them human, and are methodically helping to create no-kill cities wherever possible. When we would lose one, we used to say (to console ourselves), “Well, maybe you can’t save them all.” Wrong! Now our logo proudly challenges everyone: “Save Them All!” The entire community at Best Friends Animal Society is a model of selfless stewardship and joy. Why wouldn’t 
it be? You know what animals do? They give. 

Do you think there’s a reason so many musicians have special connections with dogs?

Maybe musicians, painters, writers, all artists need more time away from conversation and the clanging immediacy of modern life. I think people need quite a bit of it for sanity. Dogs—in fact, most animals I have met—are content to simply live. Just be here. One of my most treasured animal friends is a horse I’ve known for 20 years, but don’t ride. We just … I don’t know. We just hang out.

Children? Animals? They’re our very best things, I think.

We are animals, after all, and when we discriminate against any one, we are diminished. 

What do you do these days when you hang out with dogs?

Nothing. Anything. Whatever they want to do usually turns out to be a good idea for all of us. Thanks for asking me to be in your wonderful magazine, which I own all the way back to your big format first issue!

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Carrie Fisher’s Dog Gary
French Bulldog steals the show

For many people this week marks the end of the holiday season. Others consider the past few weeks the beginning of the season of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which means that we are still in it. People in the latter category may have noticed that Carrie Fisher’s dog Gary is the darling of the Star Wars’ publicity blitz. Fisher has brought her best friend to many interviews, premieres and media events. Like his entertaining guardian, he does not disappoint. This interview with Carrie Fisher is a lot of fun, even if Gary does take a snooze in the middle of it.

Fisher is talented and funny, but what I like most about her is how much she loves her dog. She is clearly charmed by Gary and wants to spend a lot of her time with him. He is definitely relaxed during interviews, although not everything about the Star Wars world is as pleasing to him. For example, Fisher reports that he found the movie a bit too loud. Also, he is a bit unsure about BB-8, as you can see in the following clip, in which he barks and tongue flicks, but also offers what looks like a play bow.

Even if Gary does have to deal with the occasional droid, I think he is living the good life, thanks to Carrie Fisher!

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Does Santa Dislike the Smell of Dogs?
A new commercial puts forward this idea

A new commercial implies that being nice instead of naughty is not enough to entice Santa to give us gifts. In addition to being more angels than devils, we have to make sure that our homes smell pleasant so that Santa does not go right back up the chimney without delivering our presents.

This ad suggests that Santa finds the smell of dogs so disturbing that he cannot bear it. He can’t even handle it long enough to put Christmas gifts under the tree. This is nuts because we all know that in order to visit every household that celebrates this holiday in a single night, Santa can only allocate fractions of a second to each home. Surely, he can put up with air that has been infused with a canine scent for such a brief period of time. The alternative is to consider that Old Saint Nick isn’t as jolly and tolerant as his reputation would lead us to believe and that he finds canine odors truly disgusting. That’s really saying something, because this is a man who spends a great deal of time around reindeer, and they don’t exactly smell like roses.

I’m the first to admit that a certain “eau de dog” aroma can be a bit off-putting. I have had homes and cars that, due to the presence of dogs, did not compare favorably to the smell of, say, my family’s feet after a camping trip. Yet, I think that Santa is being unfairly accused of disliking the smell of dogs. I can’t help but believe that such a good and giving man who is used to being around animals loves dogs AND the way they smell. Still, I suppose it’s worth avoiding the risk of turning Santa away this year by cleaning and bathing our dogs—just in case. (And if Santa doesn’t appreciate it, perhaps your other houseguests will.)

News: Editors
A Boy and His Dog by Thomas Hart Benton
Auction of Classic Painting Benefits Dogs

The painting depicts a boy and his dog in a style that has become known as American Regionalism. It is signed “Benton” for Thomas Hart Benton, the movement’s greatest practitioner, best known for his murals embracing the populist idealism of pre-war America. On this painting’s reverse side is inscribed “For T.P.’s birthday/11 years old/From Dad.” The subjects are the artist’s son T.P. and Jake, the family dog.

Last evening (November 18) the painting was one of more than 500 works from the A. Alfred Taubman collection auctioned at Sotheby’s in New York. T.P. and Jake was painted in 1938 and was estimated to fetch between $1.5M and $2.5M. After a flurry of bidding, it sold for $3,130,000. It was accompanied by the following notes in the auction catalog that included touching words by the artist describing the deep bond shared by his young son and his dog. Appropriately, the sale of this painting benefited the Sam Simon Charitable Giving Foundation, dedicated to saving the lives of dogs.

The present work depicts the artist’s son T.P. Benton and his beloved dog, Jake. T.P. was eight years old when his mother, Rita, found Jake on a farm west of Kansas City, Missouri. The Bentons adopted him as their family pet and he became particularly devoted to T.P. When Jake died in 1946 Thomas Hart Benton wrote an obituary for the dog, which appeared in the Vineyard Gazette and The Kansas City Times. In one passage Benton recalls an event which illustrates Jake’s special affection for T.P.:

“After three years had passed Rita took T.P. to Italy to visit her mother. This was a sad time for Jake. Up to now he’s given me little attention. Rita fed him and T.P. played with him. Of what use I might be he had little need to consider. I was just there, good enough to shake hands with occasionally but not important. Now, however, he clung to me and I took him with me on a long roundabout tour of the South which ended, after seven weeks, at the docks in New York were we met the boat returning his real master and mistress.”

“There was a high rail fence between the passageway for debarking passengers and the people who had come to meet them. I stood by this fence trying to catch a glimpse of Rita and T.P. in the crowd of voyagers. But Jake beat me to it. The chain leash in my hand twisted suddenly and before I knew it Jake’s full grown seventy pounds of muscle and tawny hair was soaring over the fence.”

“No one who saw the meeting of the boy and dog could ever forget it. The travelers and those who met them stood aside to watch the play of Jake’s ecstasy. They forgot their own emotions in this more intense one of a devoted animal. His yaps of joy sailed up over the arching girders to the high roofs of the dock and came back to pierce your heart. This was the high point of life and those who saw recognized it.” (The Kansas City Times, p. vi).

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
A Dog Named Jimmy
The charming book you have to see

A man and his Bull Terrier, Jimmy Choo, became famous last year as a result of the art they created together. Rafael Mantesso is the brains behind the operation, Jimmy is the onscreen talent, and the results are captivating. These whimsical photographs are so appealing because the drawings around the dog so clearly take their inspiration from Mantesso’s best friend.

The art in this book records a highly advanced version of those games in which you have to make a drawing from a squiggle someone else makes for you. In this case, the squiggle is replaced by Jimmy Choo, and the man playing the game is as clever as he is talented.

Mantesso started this project on Instagram after his wife left him, leaving him the dog but little else. In his loneliness, the white walls and his dog became a muse to chase away the sadness. He began to draw around his sleeping dog and posted the pictures to Instagram. His following grew into the hundreds of thousands. Though Mantesso and Jimmy live in Brazil, people around the world have become interested in his work.

His book, A Dog Named Jimmy, contains 100 photographs of his work taken by a professional photographer, and they are exquisite. My favorite one shows Jimmy taking a shower, but everyone I know favors a different image. Is there one that you especially adore?

Culture: DogPatch
The Artful Life Of Maira Kalman
Beloved Dog

Maira Kalman’s new book, Beloved Dog (Penguin Press), illuminates her friendship with her first dog, Pete. Kalman, who movingly writes, “It is very true that the most tender, complicated, most generous part of our being blossoms without any effort when it comes to the love of a dog,” grew up being terrified of them.

Featuring her fanciful paintings and handwritten text, Beloved Dog details a life of love, loss and companionship. It also includes numerous examples of her work, including New Yorker covers and several of her Pete-inspired children’s books. As long-time fans of her delightful, quirky and just a bit offkilter work, we were particularly happy to snag some phone time with her recently. Following are highlights from our conversation.

 

Bark: Early in the book, you say that you are “besotted by dogs”—what a great term.

Maira Kalman: I used to be afraid of dogs, and that switch-over to realizing how important they are in my life and how completely besotted I am was a wonderful revelation and a great moment.

B: That discovery is pretty magical.

MK: It is, and it really does change the world. It opens things up in ways that were incomprehensible before. I don’t want to liken it to having children, but next to having children, it is that kind of relationship.

B: Tell us about Pete.

MK: I had always thought that if I got a dog, it would be a dog that jumped up— shpringeny—on all four legs, a scruffy kind of animated cartoon. And there he was. From the beginning, he was not only a beloved, beloved companion and an easer of sadness, but also a damn fine model.

B: Having a dog to guide you through the streets of New York must be a great entree into the world.

MK: Yeah, because when you have a purpose, which is “I am walking my dog,” you are already calmer and you have a companion. Of course, when you walk a dog, you have to add at least another half-hour to get to any destination because you meet people, the dog stops, you stop. You’re engaging in ways that you just didn’t do before. People who are walking their dogs usually are delighted to chat. It’s a friendlier world when you have a dog with you.

B: Can you talk about dogs as a subject matter for your paintings and books?

MK: Sometimes the dog is a human character and (of course) a stand-in for me, or a composite of me and other people. The dog is a conduit to emotions and humor, all those universal experiences. The other way that I work is to depict dogs as secondary characters, or digressions—my work is always about digression anyway. So, they populate the landscape the way people do, and contribute to the emotional quality of my paintings. They surprise me— they’re funny. The paintings are really observational journals of my life and the dogs who live in my world.

Culture: DogPatch
The Peanuts Movie
A new Peanuts movie reunites Snoopy and Charlie Brown in 3D

Being great fans of Charles Schultz’s work we were excited to learn that they made a full-length, 3D movie about Charlie Brown and all his pals, including, of course, Snoopy. As the trailer notes this is a movie about “an underdog and his dog.” We talked with Steve Martino, the movie’s director about this exciting project.

Who’s the brainchild behind The Peanuts movie?

Craig Schultz, the son of Charles Schultz, and his son, Brian, plus Brian’s writing partner, Cornelius Uliano. All three of them are the writers and producers on the film. I think was Craig's desire to keep his father's legacy alive. I think between Craig and Brian they began to craft an idea that they felt would be worthy of a feature film and not a short or a television special. We find today that, kids don't read the comic strips in a newspaper as I did when I was growing up. They meet these characters that they connect with through feature films often. 

This new movie is 3D, how was that transition made from a flat medium?

I thought that with the tools that we have in computer animation that it could enhance the emotion of the story. I also thought there was a wonderful opportunity to bring a character like Snoopy alive with all of his fun, crazy animation action, we could also create a rendering for him that had softness in his fur, it just brings a different emotional connection. 

What became critically important is that the characters always looked and felt and moved ...as I had always remembered them. So, we were very particular about the way we posed the characters, the way we move them, so that it always feel like Peanuts should feel.

With regard of the everyman quality of Charlie Brown, I think the same can be said of the dog, Snoopy. Everyone sees their dog in Snoopy.

It's so true. I think Charles Schultz always said that Charlie Brown may have been a little bit more who he was and Snoopy was who he always wanted to be. Snoopy’s a big character, he plays big. He's funny. What I love in our film though, is that we really spotlight and showcase that, a boy and his dog, in that kind of relationship.

The Peanuts Movie, opening November 6, 2015, it will be released by Twentieth Century Fox.

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Do You Have a Pup Francis?
Dressing dogs like the pope

A pope who shares his name with the patron saint of animals, St. Francis de Assisi, is unlikely to be offended by seeing dogs in papal wear. In fact, we can dare to hope that he would find it flattering to see dogs dressed in such costumes. Pope Francis, after all, has thrilled many members of the animal community by discussing an afterlife for many species, including dogs. He has also addressed the importance of kindness towards all living beings. Naturally, many people are dressing their dogs like him as a way to celebrate and honor the pontiff.

With hashtags such as #popedogs, #holyhound and #alldogsgotoheaven, social media has seen many dogs dressed as the pontiff. While claims that pictures of dogs dressed as the pope are taking over the internet are a bit overstated, there’s no denying that dogs in pope costumes are gaining in popularity. There have even been a number of names for these dogs such as Pup Francis, Puppy Pontiff and Pope John Paw II.

What do you think of the trend to dress dogs like Pope Francis?

Culture: DogPatch
Comics: Rover Red Charlie
Even the apocalypse can’t keep good dogs down.

You wouldn’t think dogs and post-apocalyptic horror comics would go together, but you’d be wrong. In Avatar Press’s six-issue series, Rover Red Charlie—now available in collected form—writer Garth Ennis and artist Michael DiPascale put our best friends in the worst of circumstances: at the end of the world. Well, the human world, anyway. Fortunately, these canines are more than up to the challenge. Rover Red Charlie offers an uncanny insight into dogs and what life must be like from their point of view.

The comic features three dogs—Rover, Red and Charlie—trying to survive in a world in which all the humans have gone crazy and become violent for unknown reasons. We’re immediately shown the terrible predicament of seeing-eye dog Charlie: his leash is wrapped tightly around his owner’s hands, and his owner is on fire. Charlie is rescued by Red and Rover, who chew through the leash.

Rover, a Bassett Hound from England, is the cynic of the bunch; this character allows Irish writer Ennis to utilize plenty of appropriate slang. Red (a Red Setter) is the dumb, sweet, brave one who is also obsessed with the smell of his butt. Charlie, a Collie, is ever-proud of his guide dog vest and, as the most trained of the three, least equipped for the chaotic new world. The three pooches band together to survive and explore this new environment, meeting a variety of dogs and other critters in a cross-county journey from (as the dogs put it) the big splash to the bigger splash.

In Bleeding Cool, Ennis—well-known for classic runs on Marvel’s The Punisher and creator-owned Preacher—explained that the story “was inspired by an old painting that used to hang on the wall of my grandparent’s kitchen and now hangs on the wall of my office. It’s just head shots of three dogs. I think it was called ‘Faithful Friends,’ and I guess I waited 40-odd years to send them on an adventure. The other inspiration was when I figured out what dogs were saying when they barked.”

Ennis decided that barking means, “I’m a dog! I’m a dog!” This refrain is used powerfully throughout the book, with a few humorous variations, such as puppies yapping “I’m a pup! I’m a pup!” and an oddball Dachshund proclaiming “I’m a fish!” For Ennis, doglish is English plus these dogs’ own distinctive vocabulary, in which people are feeders, cats are hisspots, a heart is a thumper, the ocean is the big splash, fire is the burn, chickens are bork-borkers and Chihuahuas are me-dogs (because they bark “What about me? What about me?”). I’d buy a companion glossary to this comic in a second.

Our three heroes have differing views on the feeders and this changed world. Red and Rover are more accepting of the new state of affairs; Rover expresses a thought all dogs might have if they could put together a sentence: “Any time I got near anything interesting, I hardly had time for a sniff before I heard—Rover! No!” Charlie, the service dog, has more trouble letting go. He doesn’t want freedom, even when the three dogs pretty much have it made on a farm. The saddest words in the book might be Charlie’s plea: “I just want to be told what to do again.”

DiPascale’s art is naturalistic, kinetic and humane. You can tell he’s spent a lot of time around dogs because he nails not just the specific breeds, but dogs’ distinctive body language. Whether  they’re feeling playful, confused, scared or defiant, DiPascale puts them in poses dog owners will recognize as true. There’s also a visual sense of humor to match Ennis’s wit: for example, the way he draws Rover running—flying folds of flapping flesh—is both true-to-life and funny. The real triumph of DiPascale’s beautiful painted art, however, is the faces, which are equally cartoony and realistic, expressing openness and honesty. Even if these dogs weren’t born charmers in terrible circumstances, you’d love them just for their mugs.

I asked Ennis by email why comics about dogs are so appealing, and he guessed anthropomorphism, adding, “…watching a dog sniffing around, frowning and shoving his nose in things, you can't help but attribute human motivation to him. Logically you know he's thinking—food, food, food, food, water, food, food, food—but your mind automatically comes up with thoughts that appear to match his expression and actions.”

A warning: This series isn’t going to work for squeamish readers. It is a horror story, and there is some gruesome violence, some of which happens to dogs. That’s usually a dealbreaker for me; I stopped watching the TV version of Fargo after a gratuitous dog death. But the violence in this comic is necessary for the horror genre, and without spoiling things too much, I can say the ending is far from a downer.

In fact, the ending is pretty damn inspiring: it makes you think that if we feeders were gone and the world literally went to the dogs, it wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

Culture: Reviews
Film Review: White God
An illuminating exploration of humanity through animals.

If your live in North America, it’s possible you’ve noticed a rising tide recently of news coverage and public dialog related to ethnic discrimination and racially motivated violence. The high visibility of #BlackLivesMatter, #ICantBreathe and other solidarity-based social media phenomena in recent months is just one manifestation of an uncomfortable, mounting social awareness among sheltered denizens of the U.S. and its surrounding territories that systematic oppression, abuse of power, and covert white supremacy are still alive and well. In Eastern Europe, many of these issues have become depressingly old-hat— particularly in Hungary, where nearly 50 years of Soviet occupation have recently given way to a resurgence of white nationalist cries for enforced ethnic purity.

Enter White God, a new film by acclaimed Hungarian director Kornél Mundruczó, which opened in the U.S. in March. The movie tells the story of a group of rowdy canines confined to an overcrowded public shelter in Budapest who break free of their chains and storm the streets of the city, waging bloody retaliation against their human oppressors. White God draws upon Eastern Europe’s painfully recent history of government tyranny and exploitation under Communism, as well as its subsequent slide into radical ultra-con- servatism, to construct a fast-paced, emotionally devastating parable about the fearsome power of a dehumanized underclass.

The film’s perspective shifts between that of the four-legged rebel leader, Hagen, and his adolescent human sympathizer, Lili. While Hagen endures starvation, abuse and confinement, Lili roams the streets searching for her lost pet, whose agonies are the result of a cruel, impulsive abandonment by Lilli’s embittered father. The real culprit, though, is a “mutt tax” levied against all non-purebreds, which is so ridiculously high that Lili’s father refuses to pay it.

“During the last eight years, Hungary has become more and more extreme,” Mundruczó laments. Indeed, the country’s third most popular political party, according to recent polls, is Jobbik, a rhetorically aggressive Hungarian nationalist group, which lists the permanent expulsion of Jews and Romanis from Eastern Europe among its highest priorities. “In my eyes, the economic crisis [has led to] a huge moral crisis,” Mundruczó says. “The society has become motivated by lots of fear, and those fears are not really very helpful for minorities, and refugees, and those elements. So racism and chauvinism are very much on the rise as we are facing those questions and problems.”

Proton Cinema

White God’s title is a nod to American director Sam Fuller’s similarly themed 1982 film White Dog—which Mundruczó saw after his own movie had already been completed, but whose philosophical underpinnings he enthusiastically embraced. Mundruczó’s greatest inspiration, though, comes from South African author J.M. Coetzee’s novel Disgrace, in which a shamed college professor retreats to the countryside and takes on a position at a small veterinary clinic, which he discovers exists primarily to euthanize unwanted street dogs. Like White God, Coetzee’s novel traces the subterranean networks that link the mass extermination of neglected South African strays, and the looming specters of ethnic cleansing and mounting political extremism that have plagued the region.

The film also draws parallels between social attitudes condoning the routine abuse and extermination of domesticated animals, and the embedded institutional prejudices which allow racism and other forms of structural inequality to persist. “That first time in the dog park,” Mundruczó recalls, “I said, ‘Such a shame!’ I just looked around, and I watched the dogs’ eyes behind the fences, and I said, ‘I really would like to talk about that … I don’t want to live in a world where dogs have no rights.’ So of course this is about human rights and animal rights.”

The “mutt tax” and subsequent confinement, starvation, abuse and ultimately, extermination of mixed-breed animals in White God, in one sense, is an obvious metaphor—socially marginalized people are often crassly compared to animals to justify their mistreatment, and the concept of ethnic “purity” is the bread and butter of any toxic nationalist movement.

More to the point, though, it was very nearly a reality in Hungary. Though it was ultimately struck down, a proposed law in Budapest, very similar to the one in the film, would have effectively consigned almost all of the city’s mixedbreed dogs to kill shelters. What White God leaves out is that a similar tax, though slightly less prohibitive, would have been applied to “foreign” purebreds as well. Basically, the only dogs not subject to taxation would have been purebred dogs of a breed historically traceable to Hungary, a bizarre and chilling stipulation considering Hungary’s recent groundswell of politi cized racial antipathy.

Naturally, the genocidal extermination of “impure” housepets, and actual, human genocide can’t be compared in terms of moral equivalency. What’s disturbing in this scenario is the deeper pathos it suggests—the extreme devaluation of individual lives for the sake of an abstract ideal. It’s hard to imagine a more poignant symbol of the human wreckage caused by the quest for ethnic purity than the execution of thousands of beloved pet dogs as an enforced gesture of national solidarity. There is a singularly grotesque vulgarity in extending such notions of national purity to creatures who aren’t even cap- able of having political consciousness.

Mundruczó sees these parallels in terms of treachery and moral failure. “Dogs are universal,” He says, “Dogs are ‘human.’ Dogs are part of the human family. That’s the way it was for thousands and thousands of years, and then we betrayed them. And then they have, of course, anger. So they symbolize that anger for any minority who is kicked out of our family.”

It’s hard to come away from such a film without fully considering the relationship between human and animal cruelty, even outside the context of blatantly sinister totalitarianism. Even in more progressive parts of the world, most people think nothing of euthanizing domesticated animals for the sake of population control, public health, etc., and an eerily similar rationale tends to pervade public dialog regarding violence against human citizens. “Protecting the public welfare” can become a justification for just about any form of large-scale civil abuse, so long as a public majority is scared or hostile enough to allow it.

Mundruczó’s goal is to strip away the particularities of these threads of suffering and unify them into a single narrative that anyone can immediately identify with. “[Dogs] love humans more than humans themselves,” he observes, “and of course in this way, you can follow a story much more easily.”

This article was originally published on Guff.com © 2015 by Devon Ashby, reprinted with permission.

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