Claudia Kawczynska is The Bark's co-founder and Editor-in-Chief.
Recent events in Northern Africa have turned the spotlight on Gene Sharp, PhD, a scholar and social scientist anointed by the Daily Beast as “the 83-year-old who toppled Egypt.” For decades, Sharp — through his manuals and books, including From Dictatorship to Democracy, The Politics of Nonviolent Action and 198 Methods of Nonviolent Action— has argued that nonviolent action is the best way to overcome repressive regimes.
Sharp has a PhD from Oxford University, taught at the University of Massachusetts and Harvard, and is now senior scholar at the Albert Einstein Institution, a nonprofit he founded in 1983. His office is on the ground floor of his East Boston home, where he lives and works in the company of Sally, a Golden Retriever mix; before Sally, he had a black Great Dane, Caesar, who was said to serve as Sharp’s chief confidant.
As we were trying to find information about Dr. Sharp’s relationship to the world of dogs, we were pleased to discover an article he wrote in the March 1976 issue of the magazine Fellowship. In this article, “Disregarded History: The Power of Nonviolent Action,” he offers empirical historical evidence for the power of active resistance, including the fact that “it wasn’t Gandhi who introduced fasting as a political weapon”; it was Thomas Jefferson, who, in 1765, urged colonists to fast in their struggle against Great Britain.
Sharp goes on to offer the observation that nonviolent actions of this kind can be seen in nature as well. He starts his argument by demonstrating the ways a recalcitrant child tries to win over a parent with “hunger strikes” and similar resistance, then continues to the canine side of the family:
“Many animals and pets do all these things. Haven’t you had dogs or cats act this way? They want to go with you in the car somewhere—when they know they are not supposed to—they go and jump right in. It’s a ‘sit-in.’ Or, they know very well what you’re saying to them and pretend they don’t, just like you’ve done yourself. Or you say ‘move,’ and they lie down, whimpering, and look up at you with the saddest possible look—like some demonstrators do to police. Sometimes they’re being ignored, particularly if there’s company coming and there’s a big fuss in the house and nobody’s paying attention to them when they’re trying to say, ‘Come and play with me.’ The dog then goes into the middle of the living room rug and does a ‘nonviolent intervention’—not biting anybody, not growling at anybody but getting attention! So we don’t have to change human nature—or even animal nature—in order to be nonviolent.”
Leave it to a visionary like Gene Sharp to incorporate lessons learned from our animal companions in the quest for human freedom.
A documentary about Gene Sharp, “How to Start a Revolution,” directed by Ruaridh Arrow, is expected to premiere in spring 2011. genesharpfilm.com
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
"It's Me or the Dog" star on training methods, her clients 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!
Harper, 336 pp., 2008; $23.95
I must admit that when a review copy of the novel The Art of Racing in the Rain arrived on my desk, I wasn’t optimistic.
Strike one, it is not only written in a dog’s voice, but the dog narrates the story in retrospect as he nears death. Other than in the hands of a master storyteller—Paul Auster in his compelling novel Timbuktu, or E.B.White in the enchanting Charlotte’s Web—such a species-overreaching device is prone to cloying pitfalls.
Strike two, the narrator-dog Enzo’s human companion, Denny, is a race car driver, so the racing theme—as suggested by the title—is not only an important metaphor, but also drives much of the book’s plot.Watching or reading about racing has never held any interest for me.
As it turns out, there was no strike three. In this third book by Garth Stein, a Seattle author, playwright and filmmaker, these seemingly disparate elements are so masterfully worked and blended that it didn’t take long to fully engage me, the very skeptical reader, in his dramatic story.
The book begins with the very old Enzo reflecting on the twists and turns of his life and that of his beloved human, Denny Swift.Adopted by Denny from a farmer who claimed that his female Lab had accidentally mated with a Poodle, the prescient and plucky Enzo contends that his father was a Terrier because, as he says,“Terriers are problem-solvers.” This lineage distinction plays out throughout the book.
Soon after getting Enzo, Denny falls in love with Eve. They marry and have a child, Zoë, who’s born the day Enzo turns two and Denny is away racing in Daytona. Except for the loneliness that Enzo feels because Denny is spending more time pursuing his racing career, everything goes well for the young family in their early years. Enzo occupies himself by spending an inordinate amount of time watching TV and videos of memorable races (something he learned to do as a pup sitting on the sofa alongside Denny), as well as composing koanlike aphorisms, making doggish observations and bemoaning his lack of opposable thumbs and his inability to speak.
But when they come, downturns happen in quick succession. Eve becomes very ill and moves in with her protective parents, taking the child with her. Then Eve dies, and a battle ensues between Denny and his in-laws for custody of little Zoë.Through the ensuing tumultuous time, it is Enzo who remains Denny’s steadfast friend, and an honest witness to wrongs perpetrated against Denny.He also fulfills his promise to Eve to protect Zoë and watch over Denny.
The storyline occasionally borders on the incredulous and melodramatic, and there were times I wanted to put the book down because I felt that the drama just went over the top—could anyone possibly have as much bad luck as this Denny? Yet there was something so appealing and inviting about the voice of the scrappy, likeable and, yes, very believable Enzo that I read on.
By the book’s end, Enzo is dying, but he firmly believes that his dog-time on earth only means that in his next life he will be reborn as a human—a feat dear to his tenacious Terrier heart. This reader came away not only with a newfound respect for race car drivers and the mettle it takes to master the “art of racing in the rain,” but for Garth Stein’s ability to spin a compelling, entertaining and transporting story.
Random House; $23
Intensely moving, without a hint of sentimentality, Let’s Take the Long Way Home — part memoir and part biography of a friendship — should be read and cherished by Bark readers. Gail Caldwell is a fiercely private, independent, talented writer (with a Pulitzer Prize for criticism) and a dog enthusiast. So, when a dog trainer commented that she reminded her of another Cambridge writer who also had a new puppy, and added that she should try to get together with her, Caldwell wisely heeded the advice. What followed was the making of a remarkable relationship with Caroline Knapp (author of Pack of Two), one based not only on personality similarities but on the trust each of them — both reserved women — placed in the other, allowing them to open up and choose to take the “long way home” together.
Be prepared for tears from the book’s opening, which starts with Knapp’s death and the observation that “grief is what tells you who you are alone,” to its end, which closes with the knowledge that “the universe insists that what is fixed is also finite.” But this isn’t a maudlin tale, nor is it overtly expository like many memoirs can be; rather, it is revelatory, joyous and inspiring. Caldwell expertly draws the reader into her story as a hard-driving feminist from Amarillo, Texas, who saw “drinking as an anesthetic for highstrung sensitivity and a lubricant for creativity,” then realized that surrendering her addiction was a “way to get back all your power.”
When Knapp enters her circle, Caldwell notes (reflecting on the first of their many long dog walks), “Even on that first afternoon we spent together — a four-hour walk through late-summer woods — I remember being moved by Caroline: It was a different response from simple affection or camaraderie. … I found it a weightless liberation to be with someone whose intensity seemed to match and sometimes surpass my own.” Both shared deep bonds with their dogs — Caldwell with Clementine, a Samoyed, Knapp with Lucille, a Shepherd mix — both had stopped drinking at age 33, and both had early health problems. They also traded sports passions — Caldwell’s for swimming and Knapp’s for rowing. But, “everything really started with the dogs.” The two women reveled in unlocking the mysteries of canine behavior and in the triumphs earned through polishing their training skills. Theirs was a tight, close friendship, the kind that calls to mind Polonius’s counsel to “grapple them [friends] to thy soul with hoops of steel.” Caldwell generously allows the reader into their most intimate moments, including when Knapp learned of the cancer diagnosis, her last months in the hospital, and the brief reprieve when Knapp married her long-time companion, Mark Morelli, with Lucille as their ring bearer and Caldwell as her “humble handler.”
On a personal note, I must share with you the jolt I felt when I read about Caroline in the hospital, telling Gail that the only assignment she hadn’t been able to finish was one I’d given her (“a dog lover’s magazine” in the book). Caroline was slated to contribute to our first anthology, Dog Is My Co-Pilot. I was thrilled when she offered to write an essay and eagerly awaited it; news of her death (which I learned of through a New York Times obituary) came the day her essay was due. As Caroline asks Gail, “What am I supposed to write about … the only thing worse than losing your dog is knowing that you won’t outlive her?”
As it is, with Caroline Knapp’s Pack of Two, and now with her best friend’s enthralling “pack of four” memoir, both their stories will endure, classics that outlive us all.
Dog books are getting better and smarter. This year’s bumper crop is testimony to the unflagging popularity and importance of canines in our lives. From stories of incredible courage and redemptive come-backs, to moving memoirs and spot-on training guides, these ten standouts, with a few memoirs also noted, are definitely worth your attention.Dog Walks Man by John Zeaman is a contemplative and humorous exploration of one of the simplest of pleasures: walking with a dog. The narrative’s strength comes from its quiet, meditative pacing. Whether he’s walking along suburban alleys with Pete, the Poodle, or exploring the phantasmagorical landscape of New Jersey’s Meadowlands, the author’s musings on life’s wildness are a pleasure and joy. Let’s Take the Long Way Home by Gail Caldwell focuses on her long friendship with Caroline Knapp (author of Pack of Two), inspired—one might even say authored—by their mutual love of dogs. Theirs was a remarkable relationship, one based not only on personality similarities but on the trust each of them placed in the other, allowing them to create a profound and lasting attachment that has transcended grief and transformed lives. The Lost Dogs: Michael Vick’s Dogs and Their Tale of Rescue and Redemption by Sports Illustrated’s Jim Gorant sheds light on a much-ignored facet of the Vick dog-fighting story. Gorant follows the journey of Vick’s Pit Bulls from their rescue through their rehabilitation, illuminating their remarkable capacity for forgiveness and the importance of treating abused dogs as victims in need of help and healing. The Love That Dog Training Program by Dawn Sylvia-Stasiewicz, a comprehensive, easy-to-follow guide to the power of positive reinforcement training from “First Dog” Bo’s trainer. Her approach underscores the need for daily training routines—it will pay dividends. A Modern Dog’s Life: Discover How to Do the Best for Your Dog by Paul McGreevy, PhD, an Australian veterinarian and behaviorist who urge modern dog owners to behave more like a “life coach” rather than an “alpha dog.” He draws upon recent scientific studies to help us better understand our dogs, their motivations, behavior and needs. This book is amusing, erudite and engrossing. One Dog at a Time: Saving the Strays of Afghanistan by Pen Farthing. In this inspiring memoir of compassion amid combat a British Royal marine sergeant, serving in Helmand, a remote Afghanistan province, calls upon the resources and courage of his fellow marines to save the lives of dogs amid firefights and mortar attacks. Photobooth Dogs by Cameron Woo is a charming gift book of vintage photographs celebrating the great fondness and fascination for dogs held by past generations—and delightfully captured in photobooth portraits. These endearing self-portraits are snapshots of friendship and timeless devotion. Scent of the Missing is a memoir by Susannah Charleson. Readers ride along with the author’s canine search-and-rescue partner-in-training, Puzzle, a rambunctious, delightful Golden Retriever, from the moment the pup enters her life through her long training. With wit, charm and a deep understanding of dogs, Charleson’s story of this fully collaborative partnership is unforgettable. A Small Furry Prayer: Dog Rescue and the Meaning of Life by Steven Kotler examines the “cult and culture” of dog rescue. He and his girlfriend run a sanctuary in New Mexico with few resources aside from an intense drive to save dogs. The narrative takes the reader to many places, to the dogs themselves and to an exploration of the meaning of “dog” in our lives—a mind-expanding trip. Good Old Dog by Nicholas Dodman, DVM, is sure to become the most important resource you can have to guide you through your dog’s senior years. The advice gathered from the leading experts at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University is presented by Dodman in a convivial and reassuring voice. This book will take the mystery out of caring for an aging dog. Also noted memoirs:
Ecco, 576 pp., 2008; $25.95
For a first novel, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle has already met with great success, rising high on bestseller lists and garnering critical acclaim. In this long, dense and gothic-tinged work, 10 years in the making, author David Wroblewski constructs a Hamletinspired story, with a soupçon of Stephen King thrown in for good measure. The cast of characters— including the mother, Trudy (Gertrude); the uncle, Claude (who, yes, marries his sister-in-law); and the vet, Papineau, a Polonius stand-in—is taken from the bard’s playbook.
The hero, however, is Edgar Sawtelle, a mute and mysterious boy.At the beginning of the book, he, his parents Gar and Trudy, and the lovely Almondine (his cherished companion and a dog who has been with the family since before Edgar’s birth) are living an idyllic life on a farm in northern Wisconsin. But true to the Hamlet trajectory, the story quickly darkens with Gar’s sudden death.
The family’s livelihood comes from the breeding and raising of “Sawtelle” dogs—not a breed, but an idealized über mix. Dogs Edgar’s grandfather, and then his father, found to be noble, honorable or emblematic of an essential, almost indefinable, quality were the progenitors of this new canine phenotype, one “excellent in temperament and structure but of unpedigreed stock.”Much detail about their (and to this reader, problematic) breeding operation is revealed when, at the behest of a familial ghost, Edgar investigates what he believes is his father’s murder, and looks through his grandfather’s voluminous breeding records and correspondences for clues to the crime.
An intriguing part of this endeavor is that in order to be sure the breeding program is achieving its desired outcome, the behavioral and temperamental aspects of each offspring are closely monitored. The dogs are raised by the Sawtelle family until they are two years old, and undergo a rigorous training program,with Trudy as the master trainer. She teaches her techniques (which, unfortunately, seem to be modeled on the Koehler approach) to young Edgar; even though he is mute, he is able to communicate well through hand signals and body movements. In yet another borrowing from Hamlet, Edgar schools his dogs in an elaborate relay game involving what he suspects is the murder weapon (a syringe) in order to “catch the conscience” of his uncle.
It is in the last third of the book, in the section titled “Chequamegon,” where Wroblewski’s storytelling talent really shines, rising above the turgidity of the gothic. After an incident a la Polonius, Edgar runs away from home,taking three dogs (the first litter for which he is solely responsible) with him. The little pack makes a dangerous journey through northern lakes and woods country. This turns out to be more like an ancient truth quest, where young men—and in this case, young dogs as well—test their mettle and resolve to make the leap into adulthood. True canine heirs to the Sawtelle name, the dogs are Edgar’s equal partners, mastering survival skills and expressing their own clear choices.
There is much to admire about this book. While I have reservations about the supernatural elements and the degree to which the Hamlet metaphor is employed, as well as being troubled about parts of the plot (especially those related to dog-rearing), nonetheless, Wroblewski possesses a daring and adventurous talent, and I look forward to seeing the heights he scales next.
Let’s Take the Long Way Home, A Small Furry Prayer and Dog Tags
Dogs play a prominent and meaningful part in three new “good read” books. Let’s Take the Long Way Home explores a friendship and a shared fascination with dogs; A Small Furry Prayer examines the culture of rescue and the meaning of life, and rounding it out, a crime novel, Dog Tags.
Let’s Take the Long Way Home: a Memoir of Friendship, is intensely moving, without a hint of sentimentality. It is part memoir and part biography of a friendship and it should be read and cherished by Bark readers. Gail Caldwell is a fiercely private, independent, talented writer (with a Pulitzer Prize for criticism) and a dog enthusiast. Her friendship with Caroline Knapp (author of a Bark “good read,” Pack of Two) was inspired, one might say authored, by their love of dogs. As this “pack of four”—Knapp with her mixed breed Lucille, Caldwell with her Samoyed Clementine—explored the woods of New England together, they created a profound and lasting attachment that has transcended grief and transformed lives. We highly recommend this book. See Gail Caldwell talk about her book and her friendship with Caroline.
A Small Furry Prayer: Dog Rescue and the Meaning of Life by Steven Kotler is part Hunter Thompson part Carlos Castaneda but mostly so original that it’s difficult to peg. Kotler examines the “cult and culture” of dog rescue, which he says is the largest “underground movement” in America, from the perspective of someone who definitely is living the life. A LA guy with a hankering for adventure who falls in love with a Joy, a dog-loving woman, they buy a small place in Chimayo, New Mexico, move there with eight dogs, all rescues, all “special” needs dogs. They start Rancho de Chihuahua, a sanctuary for these dogs (and many others who follow) with scant resources except an intense drive to save dogs. The narrative takes the reader to many places, to the dogs themselves (all richly drawn characters in their own right) to an exploration of the meaning of “dog” and of our long history of fascination with them. This is a delightful, rich read sure to take you to unexpected places and beyond. To catch Steven Kotler reading from his book, see schedule on the next page. See the video below:
Dog Tags, David Rosenfelt’s newest “Andy Carpenter” mystery, is a good weekender read. For those unfamiliar with the author’s previous books, his main character is Andy, an attorney with a passion for dogs, who is far happier walking his Golden Retriever, Tara, than working a courtroom. When he can be cajoled into practicing his profession, however, his often-unorthodox tactics usually carry the day. Aside from Tara, other members of the ensemble are also present and accounted for in Dog Tags, including Willie Miller, who oversees Andy’s Tara Foundation* rescue work; Laurie Collins, love of his life; and Pete Stanton, police lieutenant and sports-bar buddy. Dog Tags has all of the author’s trademark elements: a client, falsely accused; a dog in need of protection; and, of course, a murder—or in this case, several murders. The client is an ex-cop and Iraq war veteran who lost a leg and then his job on the force. The dog is his highly trained German Shepherd K9-unit partner, also released from duty. Toss in financial shenanigans, profiteering and a hard-core hit man, and all the elements for an engrossing story are in place.
* The Tara Foundation is a real organization, established by Rosenfelt and his wife; to date, they’ve rescued and rehomed about 4,000 dogs, many of them Goldens; the ones that can’t be placed stay with them.) See a video about the Tara Foundation on the next page.
News: Guest Posts
John Callahan, provocative cartoonist, dies at 59
John Callahan, the quadriplegic, provocative cartoonist who had the talent and wit to poke holes in just about everything and everybody, died at the age of 59 in Portland, Ore. Bark was lucky to showcase his work, and interviewed him in our Spring 2000 issue. We called him “the funniest men alive,” and Matt Groening, a fan and friend of Callahan, added that he was “rude, shocking, depraved and tasteless.” Callahan told us that he had a “perverse quality” because he “loved to watch people get upset,” and added that it was “fun to push buttons. Some people don’t have an appetite for it but I do.”He was paralyzed by an auto accident in 1972, and drew his cartoons by holding a pen in his right hand and steadying it with his left. He drew many comics with very funny observations of dogs and cats, and when we talked with him, sadly, his beloved Dachshund, Snickers had just died. Here is an excerpt from that interview, with a few samples of his work: Callahan: Snickers always hung around, she was like Velcro to me. I had quite a relationship, like a partner with this dog; she was a partner in the household, in antics. She was part of the daily rituals of the life around here. I’d wake up and the dog would be asleep on my ankles, she always slept with her little face across my legs. The wiener dog was so small, she looked like a little baguette with legs. Stanley [my giant orange cat] would slap her around a little. She was afraid of the cat but she was tough too. She could back Rottweilers out of the yard. She was very tough but she was afraid of a leaf that would blow by—she’d whimper and run away from a leaf! I, of course, spoiled the dog by feeding her little pieces of whatever I was eating. I can’t believe that people feed their dog kibble. It’s like granola or something. Bark: So Snickers ate well? Callahan: Yes … but there was always one ritual that she had—what we called the “first bark of the day.” She would climb up on the back of the sofa and look out the window into the main street and she would bark, bark at everybody who walked by. She’d take lunch breaks though. My dog was the only dog I’ve ever known who was into gratuitous barking. She’d bark more intensely when another dog walked by—especially a large dog. I never understood her logic. She was much bigger than—oh, something like an iguana. I’d think, “Why do you want to draw attention to the fact that you’re no bigger than rodent? To have a dog notice you and then maybe break through the window and kill you?” She would bark so hard that her feet would leave the couch. But if I was tired or ill or wanted to sleep in, she could curtail her barking so I could sleep. That’s pretty sensitive. Bark: She was obviously an inspiration for your work. Callahan: She really was. I drew many cartoons with wiener dogs—about those little things you have with a dog. Snickers would be walking around the house and I’d look up from my work. She’s look at me expectantly and I’d give her a little nod and she would sort of give a little nod back and walk by. I’d think to myself: I’m communicating with a dog!” You know, there’s a certain partnership. It’s amazing to me.
Author of Marcus of Umbria
We talk with Justine van der Leun about her new book Marcus of Umbria—a Bark Summer Reads pick. Deciding to leave the big city and a good magazine job, she packs it all in to live in a very small Italian village and a chance at love. What she finds instead, and where she finds it, makes for charming storytelling.
Bark: What compelled you to leave your NY city life and venture out to a (very) small village in Italy? And why that particular village?
Justine van der Leun: For love, of course! Or perhaps lust is more accurate. I had gone to Collelungo, on vacation, and while I was there, I fell helplessly for a local gardener named Emanuele. The stereotype of the seductive Italian exists for a reason. After just three weeks, I wanted to live with him in his tiny, rural town. I was working with a businessman on a memoir about Italian wine, so it was convenient for me to settle there. I returned to New York, sublet out my place, and booked a one-way ticket back.
B: What was the one thing that surprised you the most about the villagers’ attitudes towards animals? Had you expected that?
J: Collelungo was an ancient farming culture and the people had endured centuries of dire poverty. Though this generation is relatively comfortable, the people of Collelungo, like most farming cultures, have an old-world approach to animals. For them, animals are a means of survival. They raise everything by hand—the opposite of factory farming. Because of this, farm animals like sheep, cows, and pigs roam free on untouched land. On the other hand, horses were for casual sport, and the training techniques were, to say the least, not progressive; and cats were feral and expected to fend for themselves. Dogs were caged out back and used to hunt. The idea of having a dog inside disgusted people. In Collelungo, there was little concept of an animal’s emotional life; the mere idea was absurd to them. But even in that society, there were exceptions: People who adored their dogs; who spoiled their horses; who fed and coddled kittens.
B: Marcus is a English Pointer, a dog with an “intense” connection to everything around her, how did she redefine or refocus your own connection to nature?
J: Marcus changed everything. I’ve been watching her stalk and chase birds and bunnies and squirrels for four years now, and it never gets old. Before I met Marcus, I had no relationship with the outside world. I grew up in rural Connecticut, surrounded by natural beauty, but all I wanted was to read indoors and move to New York City. But once I found Marcus in Italy, I began to walk in the woods, to look at the trees, to climb hills and ride horses. At first, I did it to see her joy, but soon I was able to feel my own joy. Now, even though we’re back in the states, I am nearly unrecognizable to myself: I run with Marcus in the morning, hike with her through parks and forests, take long strolls down the beach. We just spent a day canoeing on the Delaware Water Gap. I see nature from her perspective, as something right and necessary.
B: Since you rehabilitated a dog who was kept (if you can call it that) just for sport and had little human contact outside of the hunt, what affect did this have on you? Did it change how you viewed the human/dog bond? Did it alter your view of different cultures and how they treated their animals?
J: I rehabilitated Marcus with the help of a very generous behavioral therapist named Nikki Wood, whom I called crying when I returned to the States. I was at a loss for how to live with Marcus, who, because she lacked socialization and had been mistreated, trembled and ran whenever she saw a stranger or heard a loud noise. Nikki sensed that Marcus and I had a special connection and agreed to work with us as long as I would put in the effort. Did I ever! Training Marcus for nearly two years, I got a crash course in dog-human interaction. We think we know about our dogs, but we’re really so uninformed. I read all of Patricia McConnell’s books and really delved into the brain and heart of the dog, which was fascinating. I still have much to learn, but my new, more intricate understanding of her has really bonded us. I’ve seen such tremendous improvement in Marcus, who has overcome most of her fears. She will never be that super-confident dog with a great puppyhood, but she can now accomplish nearly anything. She’s more resilient than I could have imagined.
B: You weren’t expecting to meet up with the dog-of-your-heart when you went to Italy. If Marcus hadn’t come along, how differently do you think your experience there would have been? Would you have come home sooner or later? Do you think you could have settled there permanently?
J: I would have been home in two months, and that would have been a shame. I was wildly lonely and unfocused at first, living in such a remote foreign place. My relationship with Emanuele wouldn’t have been strong enough to keep me there. But when I found Marcus, I couldn’t leave her. Her existence also made me wonder what other surprises lay in store for me—and there were many! Marcus acted as my unwitting anchor and my little spotted tour guide. Because of her, I had the most illuminating year of my life so far.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Being a bit of a science and tech wonk, when I heard that the Vue personal video network had scored a Popular Science 2009 “Best of What’s New” award, I was instantly impressed and interested in trying it out for keeping track of our two new pups, Holly and Kit. We have four dogs, two older ones come to the office with us all day, but pups Holly and Kit only “work” the after-lunch shift, so we were curious to know what they did with their A.M. time. What better way to remotely check up on them than by setting up Vue’s miniature cameras in choice spots in the house—and how lucky was I to get a system from the generous folks at Vue to test out? Turns out that we have really good pups, or extra sleepy ones—because most of the time they snoozed on the couch (which they are allowed to do), with a few breaks for a round of sister-on-sister sumo wrestling, then it’s back to naptime. But knowing this relieved me of the guilt of leaving them alone for 3 hours—then its me going home for lunch, letting all dogs outside, then packing them up for the short drive back to the office.
The set up of the system was easy. Its wireless base station plugs into the wall and into a wireless router. The out-of-the-box system comes with two Vue cameras—but you also buy additional ones—they all synchronize with the Vue gateway, and are easily mounted. The sync process involves bringing each camera within 12 inches of the gateway and just pressing the sync button, piece of cake! There is no need to go into intricate network settings and mess with them. But if you have trouble with the setup you can email Vue and ask for their support. Next you then set up an account online at my.vuezone.com, and then you are ready to start to see what’s happening on the cameras from just about anywhere. You can use a free iPhone application or a web-based interface called VueZone. The user online interface and the one on iPhone are simple to navigate. Both let you look at multiple (up to 50!) cameras at once—with a range of unobstructed line-of-sight 300 feet from the base station.
Do be aware that the service is routed through the VueZone.com web site, requiring a $20 annual fee for service after the first year—including sharing and recording features—but also exposing your in-home videos to possible snooping—so puppy-cam is a good idea, anything, let’s say, of the more personal nature, you might want to switch off the cameras! The cameras themselves are battery powered and should run for one year before needing new $2 cells. The cameras also default into a sleep mode when their feeds aren’t being viewed to save battery life. The system is mostly intended for short-time, status-check kinds of monitoring. Like pups on couch, pups playing, back to couch etc. The tech savvy reviewers who look into such things as colors and exposure note that these are fine, and the resolution “is around 320x240—saved as 478x358 for recordings, with a stated 15fps rate that actually looks like roughly 4fps.”
What’s really cool is that sharing can be done by sending others an invitation to view the clips or photos, though they are embedded on Vue’s website. Either can also be uploaded to an existing Flickr or YouTube account. Look for a Holly and Kit wrestling match soon!
—Claudia Kawczynska, Editor-in-chief
Copyright © 1997-2017 The Bark, Inc. Dog Is My Co-Pilot® is a registered trademark of The Bark, Inc