Cameron Woo is The Bark's co-founder and publisher.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
February 27 2015
In some workplaces, lucky employees are offered a range of enticing benefits—juice bars, daycare, climbing gyms—but for us, those that top the charts open their doors and cubes to dogs. And for the firms who submitted entries to the second annual Bark’s Best Places to Work contest, having dogs on-site is also a matter of pride.
Across the country, companies large and small are proudly flying the dog flag, and that’s a good thing. Dogs in the workplace mean reduced employee stress, increased employee satisfaction and a positive work environment. Not to mention an option to lighten up with a little puppy love when things get harried.
Our sponsoring partner, Zuke’s, is pretty darned dog friendly itself. As Chris Meiering, director of innovation, says, “Our canine companions have an immeasurable impact on the culture of our company and the quality of our workplace. Without dogs under our desks, Zuke’s wouldn’t be the same.” The fine folks at Zuke’s will be sending each of the three winning firms a year’s supply of its wholesome treats. We can already hear the dogs cheering!WINNERS
Trupanion, Seattle, Wash.
No surprise here: Trupanion, a pet-insurance company, is owned and operated by people who love animals. Of the 227 dogs and cats who are approved to spend time on-site, about 150 show up each day—most of them of the canine persuasion. (When Darryl Rawlings founded Trupanion in 1999, he was the only employee, and his dog, Charlie, kept him company.)
The firm provides its employees with a plethora of pet-related benefits, including one free pet insurance policy with an enhancement that covers alternative therapies, a dog-walking service, baby gates and tethers at every cubicle, and a dedicated Pet Team made up of employees with veterinary, training and behavior expertise who provide guidance and review pet incidents. From intern to executive, everyone is expected to know and observe in-house protocols involving pet health and safety (and the prohibition on squeaky toys!).
And you know those emergency drills that require everyone to get out of the building and assemble in, say, the parking lot in an orderly way? Now, imagine that with the addition of dogs, cats, leashes and carriers. Trupanion took its commitment to its on-site companion animals into account when designing its fire safety plan, which was developed with the help of the local fire warden and experts in pet space.
On a business-review site, a Trupanion employee volunteered, “Never in my life have I ever loved a job as much.” It’s easy to understand why.
Etsy, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Connecting the crafty with their customers, Etsy prides itself on its casual and creative work environment. Some of that good vibe can be traced to the company’s canine operations team, manned—umm, dogged—by Sadie, Pierre, Hoover, Milo, Teddy, Starbuck, Tyson and Fish, to name just a few. (Employee experience manager Sarah Starpoli says even email looks rosy when Hoover comes over to say “hey.”)
Etsy’s dog-friendly policy, which has been in place from the e-commerce site’s beginning in 2005, allows employees’ dogs to wander at will through the company’s headquarters in Brooklyn’s Dumbo neighborhood, and their fans get email updates—“poop911s.”
Etsy gives employees time off to volunteer, which many use to lend a hand to humane and rescue groups; it also supports local adoption events. In fact, a number of the Etsy dogs are rescues—for example, Fish, whose full name is “Fish Dogg Hunt,” got his second chance from Etsy creative designer Randy Hunt.
Having dogs at work reinforces the company’s mission, which includes being a “mindful, transparent and humane business,” and making fun part of everything they do. (The “fun” was on display last Halloween, when the office swarmed with costumed kids and dogs enjoying a family-friendly party.)
As the company notes, “Through our dog-friendly policies, we’re living our values by crafting a happy, healthy workplace for our employees. … helping them better integrate their personal and professional lives, reduce stress and generally have more fun at work.”
archer>malmo, Memphis, Tenn.
Headquartered in Memphis’s historic Cotton Exchange Building, this advertising and marketing agency has been welcoming dogs to the office for the last 15 of its 60-plus years. The firm’s open (dog) door policy began in the late 1990s as part of “Bring Your Dog to Work” day; before long, dogs at work were the rule rather than the exception.
As CEO Russ Williams says, “Dogs bring joy to our hearts and lives at home, so why wouldn’t they do the same thing for us at work? There is no question in my mind that dogs in the office are accretive to the value of our work.” (Williams’ two dogs occasionally join him at the office.)
The company does pro bono projects for local humane and health charities, and individual employees do their bit for the rescue community as well. For example, one of the account managers is a long-time volunteer with Tails of Hope, assisting with adoption days and fundraisers, and fostering as needed.
Archer>malmo also makes pet insurance available to its employees, underwriting 10 percent of the premium. Until about a year ago, when a formal pet policy was put in place, company dogs roamed at will; there were, of course, occasional etiquette faux pas (who can forget the case of the purloined Pop Tarts?).
The firm counts companion-animal health businesses among its client base, so—in addition to adding to its feel-good quotient—archer>malmo’s dogs have been known to provide creative inspiration as well.
But Wait! There’s More!
Judging from the entries to this year’s Bark’s Best Places to Work contest, there’s no end to the ways dogs are incorporated into and provided for in the modern dog-friendly workplace. For example . . .
SUP ATX in Austin welcomes dogs to its company outings and socials, and office dogs take part in the company’s stand-up paddleboard classes.
Seattle-based Paula’s Choice considered canine requirements when choosing new office space, and in those offices, doggie gates and tethers are provided (plus, an unlimited supply of pickup bags); the company also offers subsidized pet insurance.
Ad agency Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners in Sausalito, Calif., includes office dogs in its emergency-response planning, and mid-morning group dog walks are a regular thing.
At Average Joes Entertainment, a Nashville alt-country record label, employees’ dogs are greeted with open arms and pockets full of dog biscuits.
NYC ad firm McGarryBowen offers comprehensive pet insurance as part of their benefit package.
Employees’ dogs at Eddie’s Wheels in Shelburne, Mass., help out with the company’s mobility-product R&D, and at Bomber Online in Silverthorne, Colo., they meet and greet visitors to the snowboard-binding operation.
In Seattle, online pet-sitter service Rover.com employees have a truly splendid pet-related benefit package, which includes a new-dog bonus, foster-home bonus, pet-bereavement time off, and sitter coverage when they take a well-earned vacation.
Portland, Ore., ad agency North, a small company with a big charitable footprint, supports its local dog-related organizations, including Dove Lewis Emergency Animal Hospital and the Oregon Humane Society. Dogs are everywhere in the agency offices: “on laps, under desks, in meetings.” And how sweet is this? They describe themselves as patient with all types of workplace dogs: “old dogs, rescue dogs, nervous dogs, dogs who have to wear gym shorts and cones after surgery …”
In addition to clean floors, Bissell Homecare, Inc., of Grand Rapids, Mich., is also seriously devoted to animal welfare. The Bissell Pet Foundation, founded by Cathy Bissell, focuses on adoption, spay/neuter, microchipping and foster care to reduce the number of animals in shelters.
Employees of Now What, a Brooklyn-based strategy and research firm, volunteer time and donate money to Badass Brooklyn Animal Rescue. And when they adopt a dog, they get a day of paid time off to help the newcomer settle in.
At distiller Tito’s Handmade Vodka in Austin, rescue dogs live on the premises, and the company actively supports several animal charities.
Pet retailer Kriser’s of Santa Monica, Calif., gives employees time off to volunteer with local humane groups.
Watering Bowl, a St. Louis, Mo., dog daycare and boarding business, reimburses its employees up to $125 for annual vet checks and covers new-dog adoption fees.
In Portland, Maine, web developer Page One Web Solutions gives employees who’ve lost a pet time off to grieve.
A small community of dogs (35, actually) lightens the 60-hour workweeks at security software firm Palantir, headquartered in Palo Alto, Calif.
At tech giant Google’s Mountain View, Calif., offices, freedom to bring their dogs to work is one of many enviable employee perks. The company provides a fenced play area and strategically placed treat stations.
In the Malibu, Calif., office of the Sam Simon Foundation, there are more dogs than people. The foundation, which trains assistance dogs, has a roster of 12 dogs and 8 employees.
Among other things, the 40 or so dogs who come to work with their people at the Radio Systems Corporation (DBA PetSafe), a pet product manufacturer based in Knoxville, Tenn., have their own dedicated dog park to frolic in, complete with agility equipment (lucky local dogs are also welcome to join the fun).
Bitly, a NYC-based digital marketing firm, has a casual but enthusiastic policy: “We love dogs!”
On the big-picture front, in Sri Lanka, Odel PLC, a clothing manufacturer, commits resources to programs that support rescue and adoption of its country’s street dogs.
And let us not forget the pioneers. The dogs-at-work protocol developed by San Francisco Bay Area design software firm Autodesk is quite possibly the granddaddy of them all. Dogs have been coming to work with their people here since 1982.
And in Greensboro, N.C., crystal, china, and silver retailer Replacements, Ltd., was chosen as the site of the first quantitative study on the benefits of dogs in the workplace, which was conducted in 2012 by researchers from Virginia Commonwealth University. It was a perfect match-up: Replacements has been dog friendly for 18 years (and counting).
Truth is, every company that entered makes winners of its employees and their dogs every single day. We congratulate and celebrate all of them.
Home is where the dogs are in new Coldwell Banker spot
February 20 2015
There are few things better than coming home and being greeted with the wagging tails and the unbridled joy our dogs exude. These moments are gloriously featured in a new commercial titled “Home’s Best Friend” the made its debut during ABC’s airing of The 87th Academy Awards on February 22.
The 30-second ad spot is produced by Coldwell Banker Real Estate and features 16 rescued dogs discovered on Adopt-a-Pet.com. To help more dogs find a forever home, Coldwell Banker is announcing the “Homes for Dogs Project.” By teaming up with Adopt-a-Pet.com, the largest nonprofit pet adoption website in North America, the campaign aims to find homes for 20,000 dogs in 2015.
“Our previous spots have showcased the joy of coming home, so this year it made sense to portray who’s on the other side of the door,” said Sean Blankenship, chief marketing officer for Coldwell Banker Real Estate LLC. “With more than 43 million U.S. households having dogs, there is no question that our pets go hand-in-hand with our love of home. The ‘Homes for Dogs Project’ takes this a step further, allowing our affiliated companies to join us in helping adoptable dogs find homes.”
It’s an admirable goal, and a good example of how some corporations are partnering with humane organizations to brand their values and philanthropy. “Dog love” also resonates with consumers, and this effective commercial captures the delight that many of us experience every time we walk through the door.
The annual Oscar airing has become a popular launching pad for commercials trying to capture a more sophisticated crowd as opposed to the populist viewership of the Super Bowl. Advertisers often choose to debut their more thoughtful and cinematic spots during the Oscar telecast. For Coldwell Banker, they are hoping that the most memorial clip you saw at Hollywood's big awards broadcast was be their new commercial.
February 11 2015
Ruth Silverman is a treasure. She combines a curator’s eye for fine photography with a lifelong passion for dogs. It has resulted in two seminal books The Dog: 100 Years of Classic Photography and The Dog Observed, numerous photo exhibits and a personal collection that rivals many museums. The Bark crossed paths with Ruth many years ago, and she has been an invaluable advisor to our efforts on many fronts, introducing us to a host of great photographers and art of all kinds that have graced our pages. Ruth is one of those people who seem to know everyone, after having been a curator for the International Center of Photography in New York, as well as a successful photojournalist. She takes delight in connecting creative parties, be it in art, writing or publishing—Ruth is a cultural matchmaker.
Visiting Ruth in her home in Berkeley is like a trip to gallery row. Every wall, shelf and corner is filled with fine prints, paintings and photographs … a framed André Kertész, a William Wegman Polaroid, a classic Nicholas Nixon. We were excited to hear that Ruth has donated a good portion of her collection to raise money to help the dogs she so dearly loves. Friends have organized a month-long online auction to benefit both the SPCA’s “Take Your Best Shot” program, which increases the adoption rate in high‐kill, low-income shelters by presenting quality, attractive portraits of available pets to potential adopters, and the HSUS’ “Pets for Life” program, which addresses the need for spay and neuter services in underserved communities.
The appropriately named “Good Dog Art Exhibition and Silent Auction” can be viewed online at http://tinyurl.com/GoodDogArt through February 26, 2015. It’s a wonderful opportunity to acquire first-rate photography and art while helping animals in need and the programs that serve them. And if you happen to be in the Bay Area this month, you can view the art in person at two venues—Wag Hotels and San Francisco SPCA. A special Good Dog Art Party is being held at Wag Hotels on the closing night of the auction, February 26. Tickets can be purchased at the URL above. We hope you’ll expand your art collection and help the dogs!
December 3 2014
Ever wonder how a professional athlete handles the pressure of competition and a grueling 6-month long schedule? For burgeoning NBA star Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors, it’s a walk in the park … the dog park. When Klay isn’t in the gym or on the road, he likes to take his dog Rocco, an English bulldog, to his local off-leash area at Cesar Chavez Park in nearby Berkeley (CA). We’ve seen him there, playing fetch and doing what dog people do … unwinding, taking in some fresh air. “With me, my friends or my family, I can’t help but talk about basketball, so this is my escape,” Thompson is quoted in a San Francisco Chronicle profile.
ESPN analyst and hall-of-fame player Charles Barkley calls the 6 ft 9 Thompson the best NBA player at his position—strong praise. Thompson’s team, the Golden State Warriors, apparently agrees, recently resigning their star shooting guard to a multi-year, $70 million contract. What was Thompson’s response at the post-signing press conference? “We were trying to get the contract signed, and all he wanted to do was go home to his dog,” mused Warrior general manager Bob Myers.
We know the joys firsthand of Cesar Chavez Park OLA, it’s where the idea for The Bark was born. In fact, the 17-acre OLA overlooking the San Francisco Bay was founded by Bark co-founder Claudia Kawczynska in 2000. One of the founding dogs was Claudia’s dog Nellie … named after former Warrior coach Don Nelson. A bit of history we think Klay Thompson would appreciate.
November 4 2014
The yearly Humane Award Winners presented by the ASPCA® is a way to bring attention and notoriety to a handful of deserving individuals—outstanding people and animals who have demonstrated extraordinary commitment to animal welfare. These individuals act as role models and sources of inspiration for the humane community and the world at large. The 2014 awards were just announced, and include two heroes that we are well familiar with … Jonny Justice has been named ASPCA Dog of the Year, and Lori Weise, co-founder of Downtown Dog Rescue (Los Angeles) was awarded the prestigious ASPCA Henry Bergh Award. We’ve covered both Jonny and Lori in lengthy features in The Bark, and congratulate them on this special, well-deserved honor.
ASPCA Dog of the Year
Jonny Justice was one of 49 dogs rescued from unimaginable cruelty as part of the 2007 Bad Newz Kennels dog fighting investigation, which resulted in the conviction of NFL quarterback Michael Vick and others. The ASPCA played a central role in the investigation, assisting with the recovery and analysis of forensic evidence from Vick’s property, and leading a team of certified applied animal behaviorists to evaluate the rescued dogs. A black and white pit bull, who had little or no positive interactions with people or other dogs, Jonny was given a second chance when he was adopted by his foster parents, Cris Cohen and Jennifer Long. As Jonny adjusted to life as a typical pet, it became clear that he loved interacting with children. In 2008 he found his true calling as a therapy dog, and these days spends much of his time offering love and support to terminally ill children receiving medical treatment (and their families). Jonny is also a champion for literacy, and has participated in programs, where children practice their language skills by reading aloud to him. The tale of Jonny’s inspirational comeback from the horrors of dog fighting to work as a therapy dog has traveled far and wide, even inspiring a line of plush toys that extend his ability to touch children across the country.
ASPCA® Henry Bergh Award
During her daily commute eighteen years ago to a furniture factory on the edge of Skid Row in Los Angeles, Lori Weise routinely saw stray dogs suffering from terrible abuse and horrific neglect. Inspired to act, Lori and her coworkers created Downtown Dog Rescue in the back of her furniture factory to rescue animals from dangerous situations and care for them. For many animals, it was the first time they ever experienced compassion. Known as “The Pit Bull Lady,” Lori has evolved Downtown Dog Rescue into a large volunteer-based animal charity that rescues dogs and assists underserved communities in South East Los Angeles, Watts and Compton. Lori and Downtown Dog Rescue created the South L.A. Shelter Intervention Program in 2013, providing pet owners resources to keep their pets rather than relinquish them to the South L.A. Animal Shelter. Downtown Dog Rescue now has its own kennel with room for 35 dogs, and has provided free spay/neuter surgeries for more than 10,000 dogs in the Los Angeles area. Lori has also helped almost 13,000 dogs and cats stay in their homes and avoid being placed in shelters. Lori’s selfless and nonjudgmental philosophy continues to break down obstacles and change the landscape for animal welfare in these Los Angeles communities.
For our original story click here.
October 20 2014
Today’s inbox brings us a special bit of eye-candy (also known as publicity pitches) that we think is worth sharing. It’s a video featuring NFL quarterback Tom Brady playing fetch with his dog Lua. This short contemplation on hard work, success and man’s best friend is a promotion for UGG, the Australian shoemaker who employs Brady as their official pitchman. We don’t know if it will make people run out and buy their shoes, but maybe a few will be inspired to adopt a Pit or Pit-mix ... like Tom.
Selling dog food with panache
September 18 2014
Dog Food for Thought: Pet Food Label Art, Wit & Wisdom (Insight Editions) showcases the colorful, bold packaging from the golden age of advertising— think Mad Men meets Lassie. This book by Warren Dotz and Masud Husain is a reminder that dogs are firmly embedded in pop culture imagery. We asked Dotz to expand on the topic.
The period from the early 1950s through the late ’70s was not only the apex of independently owned pet food companies and supermarkets; it was also a time when the creative flourish of modern aesthetics was incorporated into label design. And so, many of the pet food labels showcased in our book are among the best and boldest that commercial advertising of the time had to offer.
I love the bold logotypes, interesting fonts and old-school names. It was a time you might call your dog Rover or King, Lucky or Bingo. The names and illustrations have some wit and humor, too. Most importantly, I think they capture visually all the things we love about “man’s best friend.”
Things changed in the ’80s. As large corporations consolidated the pet food industry [Ed. note: and regulatory oversight increased], labels became more serious and downright boring. Basically, the fun illustrations were replaced by generic photographs of dogs. Many labels I found didn’t even bother to have a picture of a dog at all. Just a brand name. Our book has the originals in their “before-there-were-any-focusgroups” glory and naiveté.
Bark’s conversation with Warren Dotz continues …
What visual styling and cultural and historical influences characterize these dog food labels?
The first goal of any label is to catch the customer’s eye and a dog label is no different. The genesis of pet food labels really goes back to the orchards and farmlands of California. Fruits and vegetables were originally shipped in wooden crates and colorful lithographic labels were affixed to the ends of each crate to identify its contents and place of origin. As the produce market grew larger each season, immense competition at the local level took place. Since fruits and vegetables look alike from crate to crate—and the same could be said about dog food from can to can—illustrated labels were used to differentiate one brand from the next. The label art proved so successful that they appeared on canned legumes and sardines and even boxes of cigars.
In the 1950's however, almost overnight, the development of pre-printed cardboard boxes caused wooden crates with paper labels to be a thing of the past. Unused stocks of produce labels that remained undiscovered for years in old print shops and barns across the country eventually were collected by historians, collectors, and art lovers but the emphasis was on produce, not pets. The illustrators in print shops however had turned their eye to pet food and it was a growth industry. Our book is the first about dog food art.
Your book focuses on dog food labels of the 1950s, '60s and '70s. Did things change?
In the 1950’s, although some pet food brands continued the traditional fruit crate label style—often depicting real-life dogs—other illustrators began to be influenced by modern cartoons, comic books, Walt Disney and television. In particular, Saturday morning, cartoon television and the cereal box brands (and commercials) that sponsored them. Still present were the bold logo types but now there were illustrations of more modern-style, comic-strip dogs, mutts and puppies. These Kid-Vid and Mad Men era styled labels were some of our favorites and the book is filled with many of these.
What was the business and economic landscape like to produce so many different dog food products—what does that abundance say about America at that time?
Most meat-based canned dog food had a significant share of the market until a shortage of tin during World War II meant no more canned foods for dogs at that time. Dry kibble filled the breech. Canned dog food returned after the war along with the GI bill. That allowed unprecedented numbers of Americans to buy homes, furthering the economic boom. The move to the suburbs also replaced the corner grocery store with supermarkets teaming with processed foods. This massive increase in consumer demand resulted in vast quantities of agricultural scraps from slaughterhouses, grain mills, and processing plants. Meat and poultry companies saw the opportunity to use their animal by-products in a marketable way. Rather than waste these scraps on fertilizer, many new commercial pet food companies were formed with this unlimited countrywide opportunity. By the 1970s, there were more than 1,500 pet foods on the market with varieties of liver, beef, and chicken flavors.
During that same time, a major pet food company discovered a method for taking a hot liquid “soup” of meat, fat, and grain scraps and injecting them through another heat process that "popped" the fluid into light, kibbled dry food of any shape—just like kids cereal. These new types of kibble “chow” were sold in colorful boxes and bags and they too became part of our collection of advertising art.
Are there naming conventions or marketing terms that were popularized during the period?
Most food was either considered “moist canned” or “dry kibbled.” Gaines-Burgers, a brand of dog food introduced a hybrid category in 1961. The product consisted of individually wrapped patties of moisturized dog food which resembled a hamburger. Unlike hamburgers, the Gaines-Burgers could be stored at room temperature for long periods of time and not be canned. Interestingly, many of the product labels in the books point out that the cats would love the dog food too. That is not going to fly these days with the feline crowd.
Have any interesting anecdotes regarding tracking down these labels or good stories about these old dog food companies?
Well, I like to collect beautiful paper label art whether it be Indian matchboxes, packs of Chinese firecrackers or Mad Men era food products. I’ve written books about them all, in fact.
But by far—of all my collections—this collection of pet food label art was the most difficult to assemble. So my idea for this book sat dormant for a decade. Who would have thought to save them? Now and then a fruit crate label dealer would come upon a pet food label for me. Then one day I discovered and won a huge estate auction of labels, saved not by a collector, but a pet food executive from the Midwest. He actually wrote notes on the back of some labels regarding their product’s aroma and appearance. I guess one person’s corporate espionage became my treasure and the starting point and subsequently the backbone of the book. Even with all those labels I still needed to find more of the very best on Ebay and through ephemera dealers. When someone found a great vintage can of dog food in the back of an old kitchen cabinet or run-down garage, I was there—figuratively knocking on their door so-to-speak—to not only save the can’s label from the scrap heap but also to present it in its true graphic beauty.
Any pitfalls in writing a book about retro imagery in a modern digital world?
Masud, my co-author who is the graphic designer of this book, is a master of freshening the label imagery digitally so they look like the day they first appeared on the supermarket shelf. He is also an award-winning branding specialist so he knows his way around vintage label art and contemporary graphics. Although the images are “retro” we design our books in a modern style. Besides pet lovers, we also expect our books to be embraced by illustrators and graphic designers who find inspiration in the images. One illustrator recently wrote online that he is the artist for a video game and used our book to spark his creativity in producing faux 60s product art.
What about the fun quotations in the book?
It took three years to find the label art but adding the quotations, proverbs, and witty remarks took just as long. It is one of the most endearing parts of the book that ties everything together. People—especially famous people like comedians or literary figures—love their pets and have a lot to say about them. From Albert Einstein to Rodney Dangerfield, there were literally hundreds of quotations to discover and choose from. I wanted modern contemporary quotes from the famous and not-so-famous. Funny, insightful quotes and just interesting statements. All working seamlessly with the illustration art. All to capture the spirit, varied personalities and beautiful idiosyncrasies of our dogs.
Do you have a favorite quotation?
My favorite is from George Carlin that I used to describe a label depicting a bunch of breeds all gazing out at you, all in a row: “Life is a series of dogs.”
Volunteering can make a difference
June 30 2014
We often hear from people who are volunteering their time and talents helping animals. So many people are moved to action in the groundswell to help neglected and abused dogs—fostering rescues, transporting animals, quilting blankets, fundraising—the list goes on. It takes a village to meet the unfortunate demand, and too often, even that’s not enough. But it’s exciting when we’re contacted by somebody who has transformed their passion into action. A photographer named Brian Moss reached out to us recently, sharing some photos he took of dogs at a nearby animal shelter. The images are quite extraordinary. Brian has adopted strays, and is a longtime advocate for animal rescue. But in his words he “wasn’t walking the walk.” He’s part of a growing trend of professional photographers volunteering their considerable skills to shelters—capturing the heart and soul of adoptable animals for the world to see. These portraits can be lifesavers ... for the animals, and, in many ways, for the people who take them. See Brian’s photographs.
Blanton Museum of Art collects more than 160 works
June 25 2014
A rich and ambitious exploration of our ancient relationships with dogs and cats, a new exhibit at the Blanton Museum of Art collects more than 160 works by some of art’s landmark names— among them, Dürer, Fragonard, Blake, Goya, Gauguin, Hiroaki, Picasso, Cartier-Bresson, Hopper, Bourgeois and Wegman. “In the Company of Cats and Dogs” explores its subject across 33 centuries, drawing on insights from both science and the humanities to plumb the depths of this complex partnership.
Blanton Museum of Art
Q&A with the hit television show’s “girl-next-door”
June 23 2014
With its devoted cult following—including many devoted dog lovers—in tow, Wilfred will begin its final season on Wednesday, June 25 at 10 pm on its new home FXX. Exploring the surprising intersections of existentialism and dog culture, this dark comedy features Elijah Wood as Ryan, a miserable and apathetic ex-lawyer who maneuvers through life with the help of Wilfred (Jason Gann), a dog he sees as a brazen, cantankerous stoner in a grungy dog suit.
For the mutt’s owner Jenna, played wonderfully by Fiona Gubelmann, Wilfred is merely a playful canine. As the cheerful neighbor to Ryan, Gubelmann’s character has swung from sunny to dark over the first three seasons. In addition to focusing on Ryan’s mental panic, Wilfred also depicts Jenna grappling with her own difficulties. Fiona Gubelmann talked to The Bark about Jenna’s evolving storyline, her relationship with pets and her take on Wilfred’s philosophy.
The Bark: Do you have a dog, or did you have one growing up?
Fiona Gubelmann: My family sadly lost one of our dogs this year, but until recently we had two dogs. I personally don’t have a dog now at the moment, but I have three cats. I would love a dog and my husband wants to get foster dogs, but we aren’t home enough to do that now. I don’t have a neighbor to watch my dog!
Is your relationship with Wilfred much like the relationship a pet owner has with their pet?
Yes, definitely. When I first saw the script, I imagined Wilfred as my cat Dragon, a large Maine Coon. Dragon is gray, loving and yet quite moody—much like Wilfred. When I auditioned, I just thought, “How do I talk to Dragon?”
I imagine the set is a crazy one to work on with all the talent and wicked humor. Is it hard to keep a straight face?
Sometimes! We keep the tone of the show truthful and dark, so that helps us stay grounded. However, there are times when we have a couple of takes in the bag, and then they’ll say, “Jason, just be silly and go for it.” He’ll do just that, making it rather hard to keep a straight face. Jenna doesn’t see Wilfred as Ryan sees him, so I usually just wait until I watch the episode. Otherwise, I’d be laughing too much on set!
We’re fans of each character, but Jenna has especially evolved. Women are often written as comic foils for men, but Jenna is much more than that. Do you agree?
Jenna was initially an effervescent “girl next door.” A lot of shows may have kept her there, but we actually gave her a storyline that’s quite dark and almost tragic. We see her first as optimistic with everything going for her. But over the first three seasons, you see everything in her life fall apart. I get to have a range of emotions and explore different things. I’m very thankful for the opportunity.
Your work for Funny or Die is hilarious! Do you have any comedic heroes who you look up to?
For women, I definitely admire Sally Field, Goldie Hawn and Lucille Ball. They were always so committed to what they were doing. Soapdish is one of my favorite movies and I’ll never forget Goldie Hawn in Overboard — those performances are so funny and timeless. As for men, Bill Murray and Robin Williams have always been two of my favorites. I worked with Robin Williams in season two. That was one of my career high points.
Wilfred’s tone moves brilliantly between dark and light— how would you characterize the upcoming final season?
Although there is still humor in it, the last season has a more serious tone. They’re tying everything up and explaining why everything happened—who Wilfred is, delving into my relationship with Wilfred and answering all of the remaining questions.
Dog people are going to be your hardest critics, but we believe Wilfred has won them over. The show touches upon many corners of dog culture—agility, dog parks, phobias and other things only people who have dogs really know well. Have you noticed the world of dogs more since you started playing Jenna?
We call those dogisms—they’re fun for fans to relate to. I have many fans who are dog owners, who work in dog rescue or who are involved with dogs in some other capacity. They tweet me pictures of dogs and tell me dog-related stories. It’s so cool to see how they relate their relationships with their dogs to the show.
Wilfred has such strong views of the world that he constantly imparts to Ryan. How would you summarize Wilfred’s philosophy on life?
There’s one episode in which Wilfred says “Carne diem” instead of “Carpe diem.” He truly does want Ryan to live in the moment instead of living in fear. He’s pushing him to action. That would be Wilfred’s philosophy—to seize the day.
Also a special thanks to Sophie Cox who contributed to this interview.
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