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Susan Tasaki

Susan Tasaki is a The Bark contributing editor.

Culture: DogPatch
Classic Doghouse: from Frank Lloyd Wright
A Frank Lloyd Wright design and the boy who “commissioned” it.
Jim Berger with the rebuilt doghouse dubbed “Eddie’s House”

The world’s only Frank Lloyd Wright–designed doghouse—a quirky footnote in the iconic architect’s seven-decade career— had a leaky roof and was snubbed by the dog it was intended to shelter. It does, however, have a charming origin story.

In the early 1950s, Robert Berger of San Anselmo, Calif., asked Wright to design a family home that was “expandable, inexpensive and easy for one person to build.” Wright agreed, drafting a set of plans for a prototype of what he came to call his Usonian homes.

In June 1956, Berger’s 12-yearold son, Jim, wrote to Wright with a similar request, this time for “a doghouse that would be easy to build, but would go with our house.” While the architect said he was too busy to take the commission (he was supervising construction of the Guggenheim Museum at the time), he suggested that the boy write again later in the year. Eventually, Wright sent Jim a full set of drawings for a small, triangular doghouse with an inconspicuous entrance and a low-pitched roof. It was 1963 before the Bergers got around to building the doghouse, and Eddie and his successors declined to use it; in 1973, it was dismantled and hauled off to the dump.

Years later, Jim Berger, by then a skilled cabinetmaker, used the plans to rebuild “Eddie’s House,” which he donated to Marin County. This year, as part of the 150th anniversary celebration of Wright’s birth, it was displayed inside the vast, blue-roofed Marin County Civic Center, the largest Wright-designed structure still in existence. A transcript of the letters exchanged between the boy and architect follows …

June 19, 1956

Dear Mr. Wright

I am a boy of twelve years. My name is Jim Berger. You designed a house for my father whose name is Bob Berger. I have a paper route which I make a little bit of money for the bank, and for expenses. I would appreciate it if you would design me a dog house, which would be easy to build, but would go with our house. My dog’s name is Edward, but we call him Eddie. He is four years old or in dog life 28 years. He is a Labrador retriever. He is two and a half feet high and three feet long. The reasons I would like this dog house is for the winters mainly. My dad said if you design the dog house he will help me build it. But if you design the dog house I will pay you for the plans and materials out of the money I get from my route.

Respectfully yours,
Jim Berger

Dear Jim:

A house for Eddie is an opportunity. Someday I shall design one but just now I am too busy to concentrate on it. You write me next November to Phoenix, Arizona and I may have something then.

Truly yours,
Frank Lloyd Wright
June 28th, 1956

 

Culture: Reviews
Hunting Hour and Collared
Recommended Reading

Though they’re set in places that couldn’t be more different— Colorado’s high country and urban New Jersey— Margaret Mizushima’s “Timber Creek K-9” and David Rosenfelt’s “Andy Carpenter” mystery series have much in common. Both reveal their authors’ deep love and appreciation for dogs, both set up and solve interesting puzzles, and both are cracking good reads.

In Hunting Hour, the third and most recent in her series featuring Deputy Maddie Cobb and her K-9 partner Robo, Mizushima runs parallel plotlines. One involves the mysterious death of a teenage girl and the abduction of second child, local vet Cole Walker’s eight-yearold daughter. The other concerns Cobb’s ongoing effort to come to terms with demons from her childhood. The information Mizushima deftly weaves in on the training and behavior of working dogs— dogs in general, actually, since several figure in the story—rings true, as do her descriptions of a rural vet’s daily life and work. Mizushima, who helps her veterinarian husband with his clinic, has long had a ringside seat on that world.

Though murders and other assorted mayhem also feature in David Rosenfelt’s series, his touch is somewhat lighter. Andy Carpenter, a defense attorney who actively avoids taking cases, is both self-deprecating and candid about his many foibles. He’s also a man who will leap into almost any situation that involves the welfare of a dog, as he’s demonstrated across the span of the series, which, with the release of Collared, now numbers sixteen. This time, the focus is on the mysterious reappearance of a dog that had been kidnapped, along with a child, more than two years earlier; the dog comes back, the child remains missing. Add the hijacking of a hightech data operation, a couple of mob bosses, a prison escape and a case against Andy’s client that looks like a slam-dunk victory for the prosecution and all the elements are in place for an engrossing puzzle, one that’s satisfyingly solved by the last page.

Dog's Life: Humane
Hurricane Harvey Call to Action

Disasters like those created by Hurricane Harvey in southeastern Texas have a way of bringing out the best in people: a desire to help, lend a hand, do something to make the lives of those living through them—both people and animals—a little less grim.

Here, we offer a few options to consider. Before making your donation decisions, visit the BBB and Wise Giving Alliance’s “Tips on Helping Texas” page, and check to see if your employer will match your gift.

•Charity Navigator, an independent watchdog agency that evaluates charitable organizations in the U.S., has a page devoted to Hurricane Harvey.

•NPR has a dedicated web page with ways to help both human- and animal-focused groups.

•Best Friends, whose emergency response team is on the ground in Texas, has compiled a list of shelters in need.

•At the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster’s Hurricane Harvey page,  you can find a list of Texas-specific groups of all types.

•To help make space in local shelters for animals rescued from the floodwaters, the Livermore, Calif., group Wings of Rescue is transporting adoptable animals from Texas to other geographic areas.

•The Houston Humane Society is doing their part in regional animal-related disaster rescue and relief efforts.  

•The San Antonio Humane Society is housing pets from families who were forced to evacuate as well as transferred shelter pets.

•The Animal Defense League of Texas makes it easy to lend a hand with its Amazon wishlist.

Dog's Life: Travel
Volunteering at Headrock Dogs Rescue, Thailand
International travel with a humane purpose.
Verity Cattanach Poole

Set amidst swaying coconut palms not far from the quiet beaches of Bang Saphan on the Gulf of Thailand, Headrock Dogs Rescue (HDR) is a small operation powered by the will and drive of Britishborn Verity Cattanach Poole and her husband, Suthep Samkuntod (Thep), a native of Thailand. The couple has dedicated their lives to sheltering, healing and rehoming the area’s abandoned dogs, which are, unfortunately, legion.

The number of dogs in HDR’s care varies, but rarely goes below 70, and many are puppies, who are regularly dumped at the shelter compound or at a nearby Buddhist temple (HDR also cares for the temple’s many dogs). HDR is an open shelter; while puppies are kept safe in pens, juvenile and adult dogs have space to run and sort themselves into groups. Each day is packed with tasks: The dogs need regular bathing and brushing, along with eye and skin treatments, medications, and feeding. Their sleeping areas, food bowls and the puppy pens need to be cleaned. Equally important, they need human kindness and attention, which are critical to their transformation from anxious and traumatized to frolicking and joyful.

To do this good work, Verity and Thep rely on the help of volunteers, many of whom are in the country on backpacking trips. Or professionals such as John Thai, a Belgian photographer who’s not afraid to get his hands dirty in the service of animals. Thai makes an annual donation of his time and skills to humane causes; in the past, he’s volunteered at the Iberian Wolf Recovery Centre in Portugal and the Elephant Nature Park sanctuary in Thailand.

“NOT ONLY WAS IT EXTREMELY AWARDING SEEING DOGS WHICH WERE SOMETIMES CLOSE TO DEATH BECOME PLAYFUL AND HAPPY, THE EXPERIENCE TEACHES YOU THAT ALL DOGS, WHEN TREATED WELL, CAN BECOME GOOD NATURED.”

—DEREK HALL, HEADROCK VOLUNTEER COMMUNICATIONS

Earlier this year, he spent a month at HDR, documenting their amazing work. As he says in his online journal at johnjourney.be, “As a dog photographer, I want people to remember their companions at their most vivid moments. Running freely with barks of joy, shaking off the excitement, wrestling with playmates, or just going for that one so-irresistible mud bath.”

His photographs of the Headrock dogs certainly capture those moments, as well as many that celebrate the caregivers’ gentleness, compassion and joy in their duties. The gratification they get from their work is clearly evident in Thai’s photos.

Dog's Life: Travel
Austin: Mighty Dog Friendly

Set in the green and rolling Texas hill country, Austin is known for its eclectic cultural events—think Austin City Limits and SXSW—Lady Bird Johnson's bluebonnets in the spring and the bats of the Congress Avenue Bridge. It's also a pretty dog-crazy place, as noted by Beth Bellanti Pander of Austin's own Tito's Handmade Vodka, where she's the company's Program Manger of Vodka for Dog People. Here are some of her hot spots...

PLAY

Ahh … the water, the trees, the squirrel sightings: Red Bud Isle and Emma Long Metropolitan Park’s Turkey Creek Trail are great places for a leash-free dog to unwind. Dogs can go also off-leash at Walnut Creek Metropolitan Park, 293 acres of trails (which, FYI, they share with cyclists), hills and creeks. For a more contained experience in the central city, give Norwood Dog Park a try; it’s fully fenced and has a large, shaded main section and a separate area for small dogs. For time on the water rather than in it, stop by Zilker Park Boat Rental, where your dog’s welcome to join you in a canoe (bring his life jacket, as the rental company doesn’t provide them for dogs). Finally, if you and the pooch are in the mood for a movie, look into Austin’s “Movies in the Park” series, which started in April and runs through November in parks across the city; the pup will need a leash, but you'll both enjoy being entertained under the beautiful Austin night sky.

STAY

Consider taking the HomeAway route; at press time, the online booking site had 157 pet-friendly listings in Austin—which, coincidentally, is its home base.

EAT/DRINK

Dog-friendly eateries are thick on the ground in Austin. Jo’s Coffee not only welcomes dogs, it also sponsors the annual Lyndon Lambert Easter Memorial & Pet Parade. Perla’s serves some of Austin’s tastiest seafood, which can be indulged in on the patio in the company of your dog. Likewise, Mozart’s Coffee Roasters has patio seating (in this case, fronting Lake Austin) as well as—you guessed it—fine coffee drinks and a decadent selection of desserts. Three venues go the extra mile when it comes to kicking back with canines. Banger’s Sausage House and Beer Garden not only provides a leash-free area, it also makes a sausage just for dogs. At Dog House Drinkery, dogs are welcome to congregate with their people in the bar area or run off some energy in one of the Drinkery’s fenced OLAs. Wet your whistle under a shady tree at the Yard Bar’s off-leash dog park while your dog goes nuts on the agility course; the bar’s full-meal menu includes two “Dog Food” entries: Bones and Co sliders and house-made ice cream.

Beth notes that on Amplify Austin day, Tito’s Handmade Vodka does its part to raise money for local charities by creating a special cocktail served at participating watering holes.

Culture: Reviews
Book Review: The Right Side
The Right Side by Spencer Quinn, Book Review

Let’s start with what this book is not: it is not a new entry in the author’s “Chet and Bernie” series; the main character is not an awkward but insightful male PI and the dog is not a roguishly charming (and easily distracted) narrator. Rather, the primary human, LeAnne Hogan, is an army sharpshooter badly injured during her tour in Afghanistan, and the dog— a large, black Rottweiler/ Malinois-type mix with huge paws and a blocky head, unreadable eyes, and an oddly chopped-off tail—is no one’s idea of a pet. In another departure, the dog’s a female who keeps her thoughts to herself.

Here are the similarities, and they’re why readers of Quinn’s earlier books will also be drawn to this one: Like the Chet and Bernie books, The Right Side pairs a person and a dog with distinctive qualities and sends them on a quest. It powers along at a rapid clip. The dialog is sharp and natural. And it has a dramatic resolution.

The book opens with LeAnne as a patient at Walter Reed military hospital, being treated for serious physical and psychological wounds. Her roommate Marci, who lost a leg in a bomb blast, dies suddenly, sending LeAnne into an even deeper emotional tailspin. Checking herself out of the hospital, she heads west on the first part of her quest: to outrun her current life. Her trip ends in Marci’s rural Washington hometown, where she learns that her dead friend’s daughter Mia is missing, and where she reluctantly acquires the dog she eventually names Goody. Then begins the second part of the quest: find Mia.

The story drives forward in a series of chronological jumps. As LeAnne’s past and present converge, unsettling examples of the long reach of military intelligence abound. The Right Side excels in conveying the cost of war paid by its on-the-ground participants. LeAnne Hogan is a defiant, principled and absolutely stand-up wounded warrior in all senses of the clichéd term, and Goody has her back. Read this book.

Dog's Life: Humane
Animal Care Sanctuary Celebrates 50 Years!
Pennsylvania animal haven celebrates its 50th anniversary.
Animal Care Sanctuary Gounds

What do you call an organization that for 50 years has addressed the medical, behavioral and emotional needs of homeless animals? You call it an inspiring success.

In 1967, Lesley Sinclair left her job as an interior designer in New York City, bought a five-acre chicken farm in New Jersey and turned it into a nonprofit, no-kill sanctuary for homeless dogs and cats. Fifty years later, the Animal Care Sanctuary (ACS)—which since 1980 has occupied more than 130 acres of Pennsylvania countryside in East Smithfield and, more recently, Wellsboro—is still in the caring business. Roughly 500 dogs and cats, all of whom are monitored, microchipped, vaccinated, and spayed or neutered by the sanctuary’s resident vet team, are usually in residence. It has a vigorous adoption program, placing 90 percent of the animals it takes in. For those who aren’t adopted, ACS provides a forever home.

ACS’s no-kill policy was practically unheard-of in the 1960s sheltering world, and Sinclair’s pioneering adherence to it is just one of reasons for the “inspiring” label. Another is its long engagement in out-of-the-box thinking as a way to address the challenges that routinely arise in this type of work. ACS stands out in its embrace of innovative approaches to facilitating animal well being.

One example can be found in its alternative-housing program, which pairs dogs most in need of behavioral help with college-level pre-vet or animal science interns in onsite housing. Within this carefully monitored environment, dogs undergo individually tailored behavior-modification training regimes. To date, the program has a 100 percent success rate, with 24 of its 24 dogs now in new homes.

The organization’s support of shelter medicine also exemplifies its innovative thinking. ACS draws from a deep academic pool, one that includes Cornell, Purdue, Michigan State and Emory Colleges of Veterinary Medicine.

The sanctuary has the benefit of students’ time and attention and the students get a hands-on perspective on shelter medicine, learning the intricacies and demands of caring for the group as opposed to caring for a single animal in private practice. Janet M. Scarlett, DVM, MPH, PhD, professor emerita of epidemiology and founder of Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program at Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine, has been instrumental in making recommendations and providing guidance as ACS develops its robust veterinary team and intern program. The sanctuary puts equal effort into community outreach: The two clinics it supports provide the only low-cost wellness and spay/ neuter services in their respective counties. It educates the public on humane issues. And it vigorously advocates for anti-cruelty laws. Fifty years in the no-kill arena is an enviable achievement, and Bark salutes the Animal Care Sanctuary for all the good it’s done, and continues to do, for the most vulnerable members of the companion-animal world as well as the cause of humane treatment of animals everywhere.

We spoke to Executive Director Joan Smith-Reese about the changes and stresses that have come about in the last 50 years.

Bark: Whom do we have to thank for the Animal Care Sanctuary (ACS)?

Joan Smith-Reese: Lesley Sinclair founded ACS in 1967 in Toms River, N.J. She was from England, came to the U.S. during the war, was an interior designer in NYC and had a home in Toms River, on the Jersey Shore. She discovered that when beach residents returned home at the end of the summer, they often left their pets behind. She began rescuing those dogs and cats, and the rest is history.

She quit her job, bought a five-acre chicken farm and began the nonprofit ACS. From day one—long before any of the national organizations were focusing on spay/neuter—every animal was altered.

In 1980, after years of fighting New Jersey zoning regulations, she purchased 132 acres in East Smithfield, Pa., which is our current home. We recently added 64 acres at our Wellsboro site, one hour west of East Smithfield. We are so fortunate today to have so much land.

B: Fifty years ago, no-kill was still a pretty novel concept among mainstream sheltering groups. Why was it adopted by ACS?

JSR: That was the marvel of our founder. She believed every life was precious, and while the hope is always for a forever home, if not, we are the animal’s family. This is one of the reasons quality of life is such an important issue at ACS.

B: What kind of stresses, if any, does no kill put on a shelter/sanctuary? How does ACS address them?

JSR: Because there are still so many high-kill shelters in America, people who want to surrender do seek us out. We try to find ways for people keep their dogs and cats. If the issues are behavioral, we offer our services to help put together a plan and work with the owners (although, often, that’s not an option). If economics are the reason, we have a program called Project Home, which provides food, medical care and security deposits if landlords will allow a dog or cat; funding for this program comes from the United Way. The waiting list for owner surrenders is always our first priority, but we also help pull dogs from high-kill shelters, or shelters that want to be no-kill and, with our help, are moving in that direction.

B: What kind of changes has ACS seen and implemented over the past 50 years?

JSR: One really important change has been the advancement of shelter medicine through standards developed by the American Association of Shelter Veterinarians in 2010. The pioneer in beginning this curriculum is Janet May Scarlett, DVM, Cornell professor emerita in epidemiology, who created and taught the first shelter medicine course in the country at Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine and serves on the ACS Professional Advisory Committee.

We are also fortunate to have a director of veterinary medicine on staff to coordinate and oversee the vet team that cares for both our sanctuary animals and our two subsidized community clinics.

Another change is the use of behaviorists. ACS is privileged to have two, and their contribution is enormous. Dogs undergo an initial assessment on admission, and then a care plan is developed and modified as needed. Dogs are assigned to the canine care team, and they work on any issues using only positive reinforcement. We do a great deal of enrichment, including animal reiki, music therapy, aromatherapy, long walks in the woods, play groups, swimming, puzzle toys and so forth.

A big change now in the works is the way the kennels are designed. In the 1980s, the center aisle layout—dogs across from and next to each other, divided by chain link fencing—was state of the art. Today, we are in the midst of a capital campaign to change all of that. Our plans are to gut and rebuild our existing kennel so the dogs don’t face one another and have solid walls between them, natural lighting and noise abatement, among other things. It’s a $2.8 million project.

B: ACS has some interesting programs. How did they come about? What’s the process for evaluating and putting a new program into action?

JSR: We are fortunate to have talented staff who think outside the box, so new ideas come quickly. In order to be methodical, we start by presenting a concept at our leadership team meetings. Then, we decide which experts to bring in to help us evaluate our ideas.

A good example is our alternative housing program. We have pre-vet students who live with us for a semester and in the summer, we have far more applicants than we can take, so we needed a way to both whittle down the list as well as help our dogs. So one of our screening tools is “Would you be agreeable to living with one of our behaviorally challenged dogs, understand and accept training from the behaviorist, work with the dog and also collect data, and provide weekly reports?” We met with our Professional Advisory Committee for input and structure, then implemented this program. The interns who participate provide us feedback on what works and what could be improved. We have adopted 24 out of 24 dogs in the program, and the interns were the key.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Trending: Dog-Friendly Housing Associations
Dogs are being written into residential master plans.
Building community: At Bay Meadows in San Mateo, Calif., a popular agility course, and Halloween social.

While the baby boomer and millennial generations don’t have a lot in common beyond sheer size, they do often intersect around dogs. For different reasons, both groups are more likely to have dogs than children in their daily lives, and tend to consider their dogs as members of the family whose needs are taken into account when choosing how and where to live.

As a result, residential planners, designers and developers are increasingly integrating dog-friendly amenities into their master plans, and programming activities for dog people of all ages.

Inside, elements that make living with dogs more convenient and comfortable are showing up in the form of built-ins that replace crates and provide aesthetically pleasing and convenient gear storage and feeding stations. Transition areas—space off a garage or utility room where dogs can be cleaned up before coming inside— are another popular feature.

In Bluffton, S.C., Hampton Lake’s Dogpaddle Park is a fenced, activity-rich setting.

Outside, enclosed dog parks are a big draw. Access to safe, roomy off-leash areas close to home and away from traffic are, shall we say, catnip to dog owners. Extras such as sand pits, “splash pads,” and weave poles and tunnels are yogurt icing on the dog-food cake. Wide sidewalks, dog-safe (and dogproof!) landscaping and traffic-calming measures are also popular.

Apartment buildings and condos are getting in on the action as well. Some property developers are incorporating space for dog-grooming facilities (either businesses or tiled rooms with a water source and drying platform where dog owners can do the work themselves), doggie day care or retail pet supply stores into their plans.

Many homeowners’ associations (HOAs) are also coming to see the value of accommodating those with dogs. HOAs that either have a high number of dog people in residence or want to attract them are adding everything from waste stations and pickup bags to dog runs.

Both single- and multi-family housing areas find that a sense of community can be fostered by something as simple as putting up bulletin boards on which referrals for pet services can be shared or found, or by organizing social hours, dog parades or dog-friendly hikes for their residents.

What’s good for dogs can also be good for people; incorporating dog-specific features into residential areas means that those who don’t have or don’t care for dogs can minimize contact if they wish to do so.

A participant in the annual Howloween event at Bay Meadows, San Mateo, Calif.

In the end, what we look for when we look for a place to live often depends on what matters to us: a pool, an indoor gym, covered parking? If we share our life with a dog, proximity to a safe and convenient place for the dog to get some exercise, particularly a place we can walk to, is very, very high on the list, as is a community with a welcoming attitude.

Community is, in fact, one of the driving forces behind all of these developments. Many of us seek it out, boomers and millennials perhaps more than most. Among their other qualities, dogs serve as social bridges, facilitators of personal connections, even friendships and romances. As this trend continues to gain traction, one day, the “no dogs allowed” sign may be a thing of the past.

Culture: Reviews
Dog Reads: 6 Books For Fall
Great Dog Books For Fall

Run, Spot, Run

By Jessica Pierce (U of Chicago Press)

Bioethicist Jessica Pierce, whose book The Last Walk thoughtfully and honestly explored end-of-life care, dying and euthanasia for companion animals through her experience with her own much-loved dog, now takes on another sensitive subject. As in that book, in her new one she also addresses questions we rarely think about—or want to think about. Foremost among them is the morally ambiguous practice of keeping pets in the first place. Writing clearly, and clearly from the heart, she avoids academic jargon and provides us with reasons to really think about what we’re doing when we take animals into our lives.

The Pit Bull Life

By Deirdre Franklin and Linda Lombardi (The Countrymen Press)

A colorfully illustrated and thoughtful consideration of a type of dog who was once considered quintessentially American. Today, however, the words “Pit Bull” have become shorthand for something to be feared. The authors trace that transition and, continuing Franklin’s long-standing advocacy, inject the facts about these cheerful, resilient dogs into the national discussion. In doing so, they also provide a primer for Pit Bull owners, and potential owners.

Just Life

By Neil Abramson (Center Street)

In this novel, the author considers the balance between fear and compassion, and the ways politically expedient solutions threaten everyone. The story centers on a sanctuary for unwanted, abused and abandoned dogs in New York City and the veterinarian who operates it. When a dangerous and unknown virus spreads though their neighborhood, the sanctuary’s dogs are presumed to be the carriers, putting them and the people who protect them in even greater jeopardy. The pace is intense and the characters well drawn.

The Secret Language of Dogs

By Victoria Stilwell (Ten Speed Press)

In her new book, trainer Victoria Stilwell wants to help us understand what our dogs are telling us via their expressions, vocalizations and behaviors. A proponent of positive reinforcement training, Stilwell not only describes these various methods of communication but also, provides tips on ways to respond to them.

Farm Dogs

By Janet Vorwald Dohner (Storey Publishing)

An in-depth and beautifully illustrated breed guide to a hard-working class of dogs, Farm Dogs is hard to resist even if you live in a city apartment only big enough for a Chihuahua. In addition to familiar breeds such as the Jack Russell, German Shepherd and Border Collie, Dohner also discusses a number of more exotic types, including the Berger Picard, Mudi and the wildly dreadlocked Puli. She also offers pointers on puppy selection, adult rescue, socialization and training.

Home Alone—And Happy!

By Kate Mallatratt (Hubble & Hattie)

This highly illustrated book from the UK provides lots of good advice for preventing canine separation anxiety, which is far more challenging to fix than to avoid. The author, compassionately considering the subject through a dog’s eyes, suggests that teaching a dog how to be emotionally stable is more important than teaching him how to sit or heel. In this book, she shows us how to do it.

Culture: DogPatch
Wounded Warrior Dogs From Sculptor James Mellick
James Mellick’s Wounded Warrior Dogs

War is hell, the saying goes, and not just for soldiers. The highly trained military dogs at their side pay an equally severe price. Sculptor James Mellick has memorialized these dogs— and through them, the soldiers with whom they served—in a series of seven life-sized works. The Doberman missing a foreleg, a German Shepherd with a prosthetic paw, a Belgian Malinois with a metal plate: as hard as they are to contemplate, these dogs seem undaunted, a testimony to Mellick’s sensitivity and dogs’ innate, in-the-moment nature. Carved from cherry, poplar, sycamore, walnut and cedar, the sculptures came to life through a long process of designing, laminating, carving and finishing. Fine details—the bone structure under the fur; the curve of a leg; expressions conveyed by the eyes, brows and ears—are informed by Mellick’s lifetime with dogs as well as his current canine housemates, a Weimaraner and a rescued Lab/Weimaraner mix.

In his sculptural work, he says, his intent is to “reach a unity of shape and content, so that the secondary forms and shapes within the body of the dog not only serve as symbols of the meaning, but are also important design elements in the composition.”

 

This isn’t Mellick’s first dog-related artistic foray; he’s been investigating and experimenting with dogs as metaphors for more than 30 years. His first was Stacking Dogs (1985), a 12-foot tower of dogs ranging from an Irish Wolfhound to a Chihuahua, a comment on human arrogance, he says. His Canine Allegory Series (1997) also reflects his belief in dogs as talismans. “I see the dog as a totem animal of humans, a parallel self, if you will, who has the goods on us. Think about the dog’s unconditional love, trust, vulnerability, and the therapy and healing they offer. Look into their eyes and they are either saying ‘I love you’ or ‘What the hell are you doing?’”

He displayed three of the dogs—two German Shepherds and a Malinois—at the 2015 Vietnam Dog Handler Association reunion in Nashville. The veteran dogmen were drawn to them, Mellick says. “The dogs were a big hit, with the guys taking selfies with them, and many, many conversations took place around them. Men were wiping tears away. They released many emotions that had been locked up.” Their reactions aren’t hard to understand. Military dog-team jobs have always been dangerous: detecting explosives, scouting the enemy and taking part in search-and-rescue missions. Many don’t survive, and those who do tend to be deeply affected by the experience.

Mellick feels strongly about our nation’s ambivalent response to the men and women who serve in the military. As he told an interviewer earlier this year, “It’s one thing to be against war, but things really go south when people turn against the soldiers who serve. Young people today put themselves in harm’s way not because they were drafted but because they’ve volunteered. And because there is no draft, many of us don’t see the cost and we don’t feel the pain.”

In Wounded Warrior Dogs, Mellick makes us look straight at things we’d probably prefer to avert our eyes from—he makes us feel the pain and see the cost, both to the war dogs and their battlefield partners.

Wounded Warrior Dogs:
Celebrating America’s K-9 Heroes
Canton Museum of Art Through July 17
cantonart.org

This exhibit has no connection to or association with the Wounded Warrior Project charity.

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