Modern master, Influential Teacher, Dog Lover
The dog lies on a rug in the center of the room, head on the floor, one leg stretched across the train of an elegant white dress worn by the painting’s subject, a young woman comfortably settled in a blue chair. The woman’s head is turned in conversation with the artist, who, from his seat nearby, leans forward, palette in hand. The 1880 painting by William Merritt Chase is entitled The Tenth Street Studio, and is one of the artist’s most celebrated works.
For Chase (1849–1916), this New York studio was the center of his artistic life. In addition to painting there, it was where he held court, welcoming collectors, journalists, students and fellow artists to his ornately decorated and lavishly furnished space. His much-loved dogs were frequent observers of the rarefied mix of theater and ideas that characterized Chase’s gatherings.
The Gerson sisters, Virginia, Alice and Minnie, with
A dog at rest also appears in The Open Air Breakfast (above) (c. 1888), another well-known piece. The garden dog is fast asleep on her side, as though exhausted after a morning of socializing and play. The scene’s casual air is arresting, and provides a snapshot of life in turn-of-the-century American society.
Chase, a prominent member of the international avantgarde, was an inf luential artist and teacher who counted painters John Singer Sergeant, James McNeill Whistler and Winslow Homer among his circle of friends. As a young man, he had studied in Europe, reveling in the rigor of a classical art education. During his six years in Munich, he focused on the masters of European art, and developed a deep appreciation for Spanish, Dutch and French painting. He also became acquainted with a new style of painting that came to be labeled Impressionism.
Upon his return to America, he accepted a teaching position at the Art Students League in New York City, which he embraced with vigor. During his 36-year tenure, he instructed thousands of students—including Edward Hopper, Georgia O’Keeffe and Joseph Stella, who would go on to break new artistic ground themselves—as well as championed American art and contributed to internationalizing its stature. Through his art, his teaching and his advocacy, Chase helped usher in a generation of American modernism.
By all accounts, he was an exuberant and generous teacher who introduced a fresh approach to his subject matter and a vibrant use of color and brushstroke. His own landscapes depicting city parks and Long Island beaches are considered to be among the finest examples of American Impressionism.
Photographs of Chase show him as a dapper bon vivant with a well-coiffed beard and an upturned mustache, often dressed in a dark three-piece suit complete with a carnation in the buttonhole. In her book, The Life and Art of William Merritt Chase (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1917), Katherine Metcalf Roof described Chase “in his famous hat, accompanied by his almost equally famous Russian Greyhound, which, if not the first Russian Greyhound to be seen in New York, was at least the first one to become a marked character of the boulevards. Indeed, in those days of his bachelorhood there seems always to have been a dog in Chase’s life, usually an English or Russian hound.”
“Before returning to America Chase purchased the beautiful white Russian hound Katti which he used in several pictures, notably the pastel of one of his sisters shown in the sale exhibition in May, 1917. The dog, a fastidious and aristocratic person, spent the following summer with Chase’s parents, where he was the most considered member of the family. They found him rather a trying guest as he refused to eat anything but beefsteak, and they were in constant fear of losing him. He survived, however, to be painted by Chase and caricatured by Church and Blum for several summers.”
—The Life and Art of William Merritt Chase by Katherine Metcalf Roof, 1917
No poor, starving artist, Chase lived well; portrait commissions and teaching provided him with opportunities for travel as well as a comfortable life in New York and summers in the Hamptons. The natural light and rural vistas of eastern Long Island were popular draws for artists of the region, including Chase. In 1891, he helped establish the Shinnecock Hills Summer School of Art, the first school in America devoted to plein-air (outdoor) painting, near the western edge of Southampton Village.
His life and work during this period are well documented in the holdings of the Parrish Art Museum, on Long Island’s East End. The museum holds the largest public collection of William Merritt Chase art (more than 40 paintings and works on paper) and an extensive archive, including a thousand- plus photographs relating to his life and work, in particular, family photographs of summers spent on the island. Tintypes and blue collotypes (the photographic prints of the day) show the artist in his studio and relaxing at his summer residence. His beloved dogs are ever present; a large, white Borzoi and a dark-colored Greyhound are shown lounging with family members and wandering the countryside and seashore. A white, longhaired Wolfhound named Katti appears in several of Chase’s portraits, often with children. Katti can be seen in commissioned works, such as Portrait of James Rapelje Howell (1886), and in his paintings of family members—Good Friends (1888) and Alice with Russian Wolfhound: Friends (1903).
From the Chase family album:
Virginia Gerson, sister of Mrs. William Merritt
William Merritt Chase with pet dog, Florence,
This fall, a major exhibition of Chase’s work opens at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, after a much-lauded showing at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. In early 2017, the show will travel abroad to the Ca’ Pesaro International Gallery of Modern Art in Venice.
In the catalog that accompanies the exhibition, Erica E. Hirshler, Croll Senior Curator of American Paintings at MFA Boston, sums up the artist’s impact on American art: “Chase is a major figure in late 19th-century American art both for his own work and the attention he brought to the potential of American art during that period.” The breadth of his painting, from striking portraits to evocative still lifes and glorious landscapes, is on full display in the retrospective, which commemorates the centennial of the artist’s death, and is evidence of his important place in the history of American art.
Dog's Life: Travel
Camping in style
RUSTIC + LUXE + DOGS
Glamping is for those who prefer to take their outdoor experiences with a side of luxury. Like the name—a mash-up of glamour and camping— suggests, it’s a world of tricked-out cabins, yurts, trailers and treehouses that offer appealing creature comforts, including hot water, an indoor bathroom and protection from the elements. Recently, Glampinghub.com, a leading purveyor of rustic-luxury accommodations, introduced a special service for dog-friendly destinations, both here and abroad. Prices range from $138 per night for a yurt in upstate New York to just under $1,700 per night for four tented cabins on a Montana ranch. It’s a new way to experience the call of the wild.
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:
This exhibit has no connection to or association with the Wounded Warrior Project charity.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
The nation’s first dog café, modeled after very successful kitty versions, opened recently in L.A. The café’s mission is to “provide a second chance for shelter dogs that are often overlooked,” according to founder Sarah Wolfgang. “The Dog Cafe is going to put a spin on the way people adopt by totally reinventing the way we connect with homeless dogs.”
In compliance with L.A. Health Department regulations, the cafe is split into two areas, the drink service counter and the “dog zone,” and food service is restricted. Because the animals stay overnight, the Dog Cafe is located in an industrial zone, but this one is in trendy Silver Lake. Customers can grab a cuppa, then move over to the dog lounge, where they can spend time with and, ideally, meet “the one” of their dreams. Out-of-town visitors who miss their dogs are also welcome to stop in and give a shelter dog some quality one-on-one time and donate to a really good cause.
The café is open Tuesday through Sunday from 11 am to 7 pm. Admission is $10 per person for a 55-minute block of time (reservations are suggested). A full list of dogs available for adoption can be found on the café’s website.
Learn more about the The Dog Cafe LA.
There’s so much “funny” out there
We are taking care of a puppy whose tag has contact information on one side and says “Have your people call my people” on the other. It so accurately reflects the way many dog lovers view their position in the world—as the dogs’ people.
That tag is not the only amusing dog phrase to catch my attention in recent weeks. While traveling in Sri Lanka this past summer, I saw a bumper sticker proclaiming, “I like big mutts and I cannot lie.” Some of the windows of the vehicle were smeared all over with what I’ve come to learn is called “nose art”. The dog was no Picasso, but he was very productive, having created more art than most dogs ever will.
Most recently, I found myself chuckling over a dog-related saying at a client’s house. She had a prominently displayed wooden sign that read, “You’re not really drinking alone if your dog is home.” Though I myself lack any “wine-appreciation” genes, I knew right away that I would enjoy working with this woman.
Is your home, car or dog adorned with a canine-themed phrase that makes you laugh?
Ever wonder how your dog feels about your musical tastes? To celebrate National Dog Day (Friday, August 26), Deezer, the on-demand digital music streaming service has assembled a couple of playlists that should be enjoyed by the entire pack. Deezer worked with animal behaviorist Dr. David Sands to study how dogs hear and react to different kinds of music based on beats per minute. The results are two playlists that they claim are scientifically proven to help energize or calm your pup. Unlike previous studies of the impact of music on dogs and recommend the classical genre … there’s no Brahms or Mozart in sight. Instead there’s a selection of more contemporary musical styles including Shutdown by Skepta; Sit Still, Look Pretty by Daya plus favorites Hey Ya! by OutKast and Stayin’ Alive by the Bee Gees for the “happy” playlist. For the “chill” side, Justin Bieber’s Love Yourself; Adele’s Someone Like You and Bob Marley & The Wailers’ Could You Be Loved top the list for a calming vibe.
Not only is it important for dogs to be healthy and happy, but it’s equally important for their people to be as well. When canine guardians are calm and in good spirits, they project the same feeling of happiness onto their dogs. The normal resting heart rate of an average adult is between 60 to 100 beats per minute, but listening to favorite music tracks can raise the heart rate to match the increased heart rate pups experience from the exact same tunes.
“Your overall health and happiness has a huge effect on your canine counterpart,” emphasizes Dr. Sands. “Both humans and dogs are stimulated by the frequency range, pattern and volume of the beats in music. This is why turning on your favorite tunes cannot only positively affect you, but also your dog.” So, take off the headphones and share the music …!
Here are the complete Deezer’s playlists …
Songs to Make Your Pooch Happy
Songs to Chill Your Canine
I began doing sketchbooks in a little 3.5 x 5 inch journal about six years ago. I was already doing to-do lists to keep track of all my nutty daily tasks, and I decided to try to do a painting next to my lists every day if possible. As an art director, turned illustrator, turned art director, I missed painting and knew I’d need to get back in the habit by doing it regularly. I would often start painting with no idea what it was going to be. Buster & Babe, my adopted dogs/children are always by my side in the studio, and are featured often in my drawings and task lists. Buster’s a Jack Russell/Dachshund mix and Babe’s a Wheaton Terrier mix. I enjoy drawing dogs, especially Fox Terriers, Poodles, Bulldogs, and the occasional German Wire-haired Griffon.
Culture: Stories & Lit
When the action kicks in real life, being a movie buff pays dividends
My Boxer puppy is allergic to bees.
I found out as I barreled home from work on I-580 East toward the Richmond–San Rafael Bridge one recent afternoon.
Cali—short for “California”— goes to work with me every day. One moment, she was a spry, energetic, sporty Boxer; the next, vomit everywhere, bile and diarrhea all over the passenger seat. I accelerated, crossed two lanes of traffic and pulled onto a wide shoulder just off the exit to the bridge.
Within seconds, my door was open and I was crunching through gravel to the passenger side, driven by adrenalinesoaked instinct: “Dog is sick,” “Have to protect dog,” “Dog comes before you.” I got her out of the car and put her down, watching helplessly as she just kept throwing up thick, yellow bile. She ran toward the bushes and fell on her face, grinding to a halt in dirt and gravel. Out of answers, I picked her up, inadvertently coating my Sevens and Sperry Top-Siders with dog poop. Fashion goes out the window when you’re looking at your best friend dying. I might as well have been wearing a ratty, hand-me-down pair of sweatpants and slippers.
Instinct, that quiet genius that whispers the right answers in your ear in moments of trauma, kicked in again. I called 9-1-1. Who the hell are you supposed to call? There’s no protocol or schematic. Puppy-care books don’t have a section on “What to do when you’re emotionally stranded on the edge of a highway with a dying, breathless puppy.”
One ring, and a female operator picked up.
“9-1-1, how can I help you?”
“Ma’am, my dog is dying!”
Cars piled up at the nearby intersection and pale, worried faces turned toward a man holding a limp puppy and screaming helplessly into his phone.
Turns out, the woman who picked up the call was an angel. She was exactly the right person at exactly the right time—a serendipitous turn of events that allowed her to know exactly what I needed.
“Sir, there’s an emergency vet clinic in San Rafael. I’m putting you through now.”
The phone rang once, and a man picked up. He told me the address. With shaky, uncertain, too-large-to-be-effective-onan- iPhone-keypad fingers, I punched it into the phone’s maps app. Cali’s tongue was hanging out of the side of her mouth.
And this is where the story became all too familiar. The surreal events that were unfolding in front of me were uncannily similar to the scene in Pulp Fiction in which Vincent Vega (John Travolta) races across Los Angeles with his mob boss’s wife overdosing in the passenger seat. Because I’d watched the scene at least 20 times, I knew what I needed to do. When the action kicks in in real life, being a movie buff pays dividends. I went into attack mode. This story would have a happy ending.
I screeched through a red light to get back on the highway, and drove to the vet clinic. Cali was Mia Wallace—eyes rolled back in her head, froth around her mouth and nostrils— and I was Vincent Vega, driving at breakneck speed in his candy-apple red Chevy Malibu (or in my case, an unassuming black Toyota Prius). I weaved through traffic. Horns blared.
In the passenger seat, Cali continued throwing up. Weak and exhausted, she rested her head on my outstretched arm, her bloodshot eyes rolling lazily around in their sockets.
All I could think to do was talk to her.
“Cali, you can’t die. You’re so important to me. I know it’s ridiculous, but you literally are my best friend. You can’t die. The six months you’ve been alive—we’ve spent every moment together.”
The robotic female map narrator told me to take the next exit.
As Cali continued to slip away, I sped off the exit, right into a wall of traffic and nearly into the rear end of another car.
“Cali, Cali, Cali …”
Looking over at her, I thought she had died. Her eyes weren’t registering; they were glazed over and the inner eyelid covered most of her pupil. I stuck my face next to her muzzle and could feel only the faintest whisper of breath.
Back into adrenaline mode. This dog would not die if I had anything to say about it. The Pulp Fiction fanatic in me recalled John Travolta speeding through the empty LA streets—“Don’t f---ing die on me, Mia!”—as I whipped around the corner and through the next two red lights. Traffic began to pull into the intersection, but I could tell that Cali wouldn’t have a whole lot of time left unless I got to the clinic.
The robot woman told me the destination was on my right. In a move similar to Vincent’s when he drove through the front window of his heroin dealer’s house to get Mia the adrenaline shot, I pulled into the parking lot, angling the car haphazardly across three spaces. I left the car running, picked up Cali and ran inside.
A vet tech met me halfway across the lobby and grabbed Cali, taxiing her back to the examination rooms, past a door locked with a key code. The last image I had was Cali hanging from the vet tech’s arms, her too-long-for-her-body legs swinging awkwardly back and forth.
And then I broke down. Adrenaline only goes so far, to the point at which you can finally take a breath and process what has happened. I cried like I haven’t cried in a long time. I’m the last person to throw a self-pity party, but confronting the reality of a dying dog when you’re driving home from work on an otherwise-ordinary Friday shocks you right down to the bones.
That’s where the picture-perfect similarity with the scene from Pulp Fiction came to a close. I spoke with the lead veterinarian, who gave me a rundown of the procedures and measures they’d need to take. Cali had gone into anaphylactic shock from a bee sting, which can be fatal. The cost of the treatment would run between $900 and $1,200. “Here’s my Visa. Keep it.”
I went out to the lobby to get some coffee to shock myself back to life before saying good-bye to Cali. I both thanked and apologized to the people working the front desk. They led me to the examination room to see Cali, and all I could do was fold down to her and sob. I needed comforting from her; isn’t that what dogs usually do? Our roles had been traumatically reversed. She shivered from the fluids they were pumping into her, and looked around in confusion at her surroundings. The vet, the technician and I comforted her. As she lay on the examination table, we went over the diagnosis and logistics.
This experience convinced me of three things:
One, even though I’m conditioned to be angry and resentful about speeding tickets and the CHP, I think it’s true that, for the most part, people working in law enforcement want to help. A hysterical man calls an emergency line about his dying dog, and the operator deftly handles the situation, pointing the man toward the best solution to the terrifying problem. It was the help I needed when I needed it.
Two, veterinarians and people working in animal health are amazing. A grown man bursts into the vet clinic with a wild look in his eyes, breaks down completely and they take over with both precision and grace. Within minutes, the dog is hooked up to the right concoction of medicine and fluids and slowly comes back to life.
Three, when a loved one is dying, all the mundane, ridiculous things we worry about go out the window. All the bills I have to pay and all the obligations I have to fulfill dissipate on the wind when I’m faced with a genuine existential crisis: my best friend is about to leave my life forever. For the first time in a long time, I was humbled, reminded of what really matters in life.
At the end of “Vincent Vega and Marcellus Wallace’s Wife,” as a kind of favor for saving her life, Mia Wallace tells Vincent the stupid joke she had refused to tell him at the beginning of the sequence: “Three tomatoes are walkin’ down the street. Papa Tomato, Mama Tomato and Baby Tomato. Baby Tomato starts lagging behind, and Papa Tomato gets really angry. Goes back and squishes him and says: ‘Ketchup.’”
Depleted by shock, Vincent only manages a crooked smile and a half-hearted laugh. After Mia turns away, he blows her a good-bye kiss.
Later that evening, I got a call from the vet saying that Cali was going to be all right. Within a half-hour, I was picking her up. And although this joke had a dark and ominous quality, I have to look back at what happened that day and do my best to laugh, even if it’s only an uninspired chuckle.
I know, I could probably ease up on the saccharine. But that day, I gained a better understanding of how precious life is. Since then, I’ve followed Vincent’s lead and blown my loved ones a kiss whenever I leave home—a tribute to Vincent Vega and Marcellus Wallace’s wife.
The painting depicts a boy and his dog in a style that has become known as American Regionalism. It is signed “Benton” for Thomas Hart Benton, the movement’s greatest practitioner, best known for his murals embracing the populist idealism of pre-WWII America. On this painting’s reverse side is inscribed “For T.P.’s birthday/11 years old/From Dad.” The painting depicts the artist’s son, T.P. Benton, and his beloved dog, Jake.
Last November, the painting was one of more than 500 works from the A. Alfred Taubman collection auctioned at Sotheby’s in New York. T.P. and Jake was painted in 1938 and was estimated to fetch between $1.5 and $2.5 million. After a flurry of bidding, it sold for $3,130,000. Appropriately, the sale of the painting benefited the Sam Simon Charitable Giving Foundation, dedicated to saving the lives of dogs.
T.P. was eight years old when his mother, Rita, found Jake on a farm west of Kansas City, MO. The Bentons adopted him as their family pet and he became particularly devoted to the young boy. When Jake died in 1946, Thomas Hart Benton wrote Jake’s obituary/biography and dropped it off at the offices of the Vineyard Gazette in Martha’s Vineyard, where the Benton family had summered for decades. It also ran in their hometown newspaper, the Kansas City Times. We’re pleased to reprint it here.
He was with us for 11 years before he died.
Rita found him on a farm west of Kansas City. She was learning to ride a horse there and he followed her about. He was friendly, and Rita took to him. The farmer who owned him saw this and said, “If you’ll give that dog a good home you can have him.” So he was brought to our house.
T.P., our boy, who was then eight years old, was delighted. So was the dog, but because he had never been in a house he was a little gawky and clumsy, and slid on the rugs. He was named Jake because he was a country dog, a country jake who hadn’t learned city ways.
Jake had a laughing face. His mouth was so set that, active or in repose, he had to smile. Even when he was sad, as when he was not permitted to go with us in the car, this smile persisted. His mournful moments had thus the appearance of an act. There was also something humorous about him which made you say, “Jake, you old faker,” and which also too frequently made you yield to him and take him along whether you wanted to or not. Jake became a very adept actor. He calculated his effects and in the course of years became master of most of the family situations that concerned him.
Jake was a traveler. He sat with T.P. in the back seat of our car on the long trips from Kansas City to the summers on Martha’s Vineyard. He was fascinated by the speeding world out of the window. He would sit upright on his haunches, his tongue rolling out of his laughter, his ears erect and with the spit of well-tasted pleasure dripping off his lips. When he got tired he’d lie down on the seat and he and T.P. would battle for room. They loved each other.
On Menemsha Pond T.P. had a rowboat with a small centerboard. He rigged this up with a homemade mast and a three-cornered sail and called it the Red Jacket. It was supposed to be a pirate ship. Every afternoon T.P. and Jake would board this vessel and sail the pond. Sometimes Jake would sit in the stern with T.P. and sometimes by himself in the bow. He would bark at the gulls. If he got tired of this he’d jump overboard and swim to land, sometimes nearly half a mile. Then he’d bark at T.P. from the shore, running up and down, full of a tense glory of life.
In the winter, back in Kansas City, Jake went along when his pardner was taken to school. He learned the way, and A Dog Named Jake The painting depicts a boy and his dog in a style that has become known as American Regionalism. It is signed “Benton” for Thomas Hart Benton, the movement’s greatest practitioner, best known for his murals embracing the populist idealism of pre-WWII America. On this painting’s reverse side is inscribed “For T.P.’s birthday/11 years old/From Dad.” The painting depicts the artist’s son, T.P. Benton, and his beloved dog, Jake. Last November, the painting was one of more than 500 works from the A. Alfred Taubman collection auctioned at Sotheby’s in New York. T.P. and Jake was painted in 1938 and was estimated to fetch between $1.5 and $2.5 million. After a flurry of bidding, it sold for $3,130,000. Appropriately, the sale of the painting benefited the Sam Simon Charitable Giving Foundation, dedicated to saving the lives of dogs. T.P. was eight years old when his mother, Rita, found Jake on a farm west of Kansas City, MO. The Bentons adopted him as their family pet and he became particularly devoted to the young boy. When Jake died in 1946, Thomas Hart Benton wrote Jake’s obituary/biography and dropped it off at the offices of the Vineyard Gazette in Martha’s Vineyard, where the Benton family had summered for decades. It also ran in their hometown newspaper, the Kansas City Times. We’re pleased to reprint it here. Masterwork 60 Bark Spring 2016 sometimes when the long wait for the return trip was too tedious, he’d slip away and run the two miles or more to the schoolhouse and wait outside until closing time. Then he’d play with T.P. and the other boys until Rita arrived. He went coasting and skiing and participated in all the games that eight- and ten-year-olders devise.
After three years had passed, Rita took T.P. to Italy to visit her mother. This was a sad time for Jake. Up to now he’d given me little attention. Rita fed him and T.P. played with him. Of what use I might be he had little need to consider. I was just there, good enough to shake hands with occasionally but not important. Now, however, he clung to me, and I took him on a long roundabout tour of the South, which ended, after seven weeks, at the docks in New York where we met the boat returning his real master and mistress.
There was a high rail fence between the passageway for debarking passengers and the people who had come to meet them. I stood by this fence trying to catch a glimpse of Rita and T.P. in the crowd of voyagers. But Jake beat me to it. The chain leash in my hand twisted suddenly and before I knew it Jake’s full-grown 70 pounds of muscle and tawny hair was soaring over the fence.
No one who saw that meeting of boy and dog could ever forget it. The travelers and those who met them stood aside to watch the play of Jake’s ecstasy. They forgot their own emotions in the more intense one of a delighted animal. This was a high point of life and those who saw, recognized it.
Jake and T.P. grew older. They continued sailing in summers each year, now in a larger boat. Jake didn’t much like the later boats. They went over in the wind too much and he jumped overboard oftener. But he could accustom himself to changes. He accepted things.
When T.P. started playing the flute, over long practice periods he lay quietly at his feet, though he would have preferred to be out and doing. When we had musical evenings he took his place by T.P.’s music stand and after things got started he’d wander about among the guests to be petted. Sometimes he’d nibble on the back of one of our cats. Jake loved cats.
When Jessie was born into our family, Jake was opposed to her. He would turn his head disdainfully away as she was brought into the room. But after a while, and as T.P.’s older concerns failed to provide him a proper share, he relented and took her into his life and played with her and helped her grow up.
The war days came for T.P. and took him away. Jake then went fully over to Jessie, though for many weeks, and especially when Jessie was in bed, he’d sit up with his ears cocked, listening and listening. We knew he was on the alert for a sound of T.P. He’d moan in his sleep and sometimes wake up with a bark and go upstairs and sniff around T.P.’s old room. Then he’d go back to listening.
Half shepherd and half collie, with the shepherd blood predominant, Jake had always liked to go out and wander at night, especially on moonlit nights. He generally fought on these expeditions, for there were wild and half-wild dogs living in the woody sections of the parks surrounding us in Kansas City. Jake was always full of cuts and scars but he took them laughing.
One morning last autumn he came home in a bad fix. His ears were slit and his legs torn. A big slash was over his eye and the front teeth between his fangs were broken off. This was his last nocturnal spree.
After this he’d go out on the porch, cock his ears up, and stand with one leg lifted and curved in a dainty sort of way and listen to the wild dogs baying. His ruff would bristle and he’d bark, but he let his urges go at that and in a little while scratch at the door until one of us let him in. He slept a great deal on the stair landing, moaning and talking more and more in his dreams. We often wondered what kinds of images were built up in this interior life of his sleep.
Jessie’s return from school always snapped Jake into life, though, and he’d romp and play with her as if he were still a pup. He rode east this summer, taking his old place in the car, laughing the miles by. For three years, due to the war, he’d been traveling unhappily on trains and he seemed now to be revivified by this return to old and familiar ways of going places
June and July were gay. T.P. was in far-off Tokyo, gone out of Jake’s life, but Rita was here to see that he got his food, and Jessie, now seven years old, was a pretty good substitute for his lost master. She made daisy chains for his neck and watched him chase the wild bunnies, which he never caught, which he never tried very hard to catch, and which certainly he would never have killed if he had done so. Jake was not a hunter. He had no instinct for the kill. Cats were to be chased, all right, but merely to be nibbled on when caught. Other animals were the same.
Dogs, of course, had to be fought, but with Jake this seemed a sort of ritual, a ceremony by which status was maintained, particularly status on his home grounds. No strange dog would be suffered in his own house or even too near the door.
But outside of this hangover of suspicion and violent appeal, coming down from the savage centuries of his blood’s past, Jake was gentle. He was polite. He bowed, front feet stretched out, tail wagging in the air. Sitting close by a steak in preparation for the grill, he’d waggle his ears and drool mightily but never touch it. With his red tongue, his smiling mouth, and gentle eyes, with his tawny ruff and his pointed ears, he was immensely pretty and appealing in such moments of polite restraint. But he was always pretty.
Last week Jake returned to sleeping a great deal. When he was awake he was subdued and given to listening again. With ears up and head cocked sideways, he strained as if for something very far away and faint. Was he listening once more for T.P., for his voice or the sound of his flute? Certainly he was trying to hear something. Trying very hard.
Maybe, though, it was not toward anything he’d heard before that he reached. Maybe he was listening for something which would tell him the meaning of the change he could feel was coming to him. Maybe, because Jake knew something strange was near.
I like to believe, however, that a part of him was pointed back to the early times with T.P., back beyond the days of the flute-playing to those of the little boat with the red sail, where he sat with his devoted partner and sailed Menemsha Pond and barked and laughed in the fullness of young vitality and joyous companionship. Those were Jake’s ultimate days, the days of his high success, and surely they were not lost to his old dog’s memory.
On August 2 Jake played with Jessie as usual. In the evening after supper he went out. He had a green ribbon gaily knotted around his neck. Jessie liked to dress him up. Returning from a visit about 10 o’clock, I was surprised to find him greeting me as I put the car in the garage. It was a late hour for Jake to be out. He jumped up and I petted him and we went into the house. He had taken to sleeping under a couch in the living room and as soon as we were in he crawled under, thumping his tail on the floor in a sign of satisfaction.
About three in the morning Rita and I were both awakened by a strange, prolonged wail. It was high-pitched and mournful, so utterly mournful that it made a creeping in the flesh. It was wild and without definite locality, like something coming out of far spaces or distant times. We were startled, sharply so, but hearing a panting of breath we said to ourselves, “It’s just old Jake, dreaming again,” and went back to sleep.
When we got up we found Jake dead. His head was lifted a little, his ears were erect, his eyes were open, and his smile was still with him. Jessie’s green ribbon slanted jauntily across his neck. He looked as pretty in death as he had in life. His face was happy. We wondered how this could be in view of the utter sadness of his death cry.
Jake is buried beneath a young pine tree in front of our house.
A young sculptress, who has a dog of her own and knows what it means, is carving his name on a stone. The stone comes off the beach at Menemsha Pond over whose waters and about whose shores Jake tasted most of the sweetness of his life.
Culture: Stories & Lit
Nick was my husband’s dog. But, come June, he tagged along every time I ventured out to the garden with my picking bucket. Like me, the big yellow Lab knew that nothing in the world tastes as good as a strawberry plucked hot from the vine on a summer day. I think of him now, with this year’s bumper crop of berries, as I lean over to snap the stem of each scarlet jewel between my thumbnail and index finger.
Years ago, a friend gave me these plants, an ever-bearing variety that yields fruit almost until the first frost. Strawberry plants usually produce for just two years and then must be replaced using the offspring or “suckers” from the original plant, and most people grow them in regimented rows with ample space between the rows for the pickers to navigate. But mine have been allowed to roam—much to the dismay of my straight-line, engineer husband—wandering aimlessly around the front of our vegetable garden, replanting themselves among the flowers, rhubarb and herbs with which they share the space.
Picking berries in my patch presents a challenge even for the average two-footed being, but this Retriever’s four club-sized paws bouncing atop my bumpy red-and-green crazy quilt spelled disaster for the tender fruit. So, Nick soon came to understand that his place was on the perimeter. There he would wait, brow wrinkled, nose twitching, ears pricked forward until I called, “Hey Nick ... Wanna berry?”
One for Nick, one for the bucket, one for me: that was how my picking often went.
Nick left us at age 14 and a half—a good long life for a big dog but not nearly enough for me. I miss him every day. He was the only fruit-loving dog I’ve ever known, dancing on his hind legs to pick green apples from the gnarled Red Delicious over by the pasture as soon as they grew to size in August or September. “Where’s Nick?” somebody would wonder, and we’d go hunting to find him under the old tree, sucking the remains of an apple core.
He had a taste for cantaloupe and watermelon as well, though he didn’t participate in the kids’ seed-spitting contests. He ate bananas, and even developed a foolproof way of picking raspberries, sauntering between the rows of canes, lifting that droopy upper lip and positioning his teeth just so to roll each purple pillow from its thorny stem into his soft Retriever’s mouth. Still, his favorite was strawberries.
This dog’s taste for strawberries allowed him a kind of symbiosis with the birds. Birds are strawberry lovers, too, and they can do a lot of damage. It should come as no surprise that a robin, for example, will bypass all the piddling undersized berries and pick the biggest, shiniest globe in the garden to sample first thing in the morning. These juicy morsels with a slice out of the side will spoil the rest of the berries in your bucket and so have to be thrown away unless you have a hungry Lab waiting nearby.
In my experience, strawberries hide as a matter of practice. Under their big clover-shaped leaves, they conceal their ripeness. Not wanting to be picked, they lurk in the shadows of sunflowers that have come up voluntarily next to the compost bin. As I reach into the waxy leaves of sweet marjoram that has surprisingly returned to my Pennsylvania garden, my fingers find the most luscious berry, hot in the sun, effervescing a delightful scent with hints of oregano—a perfect specimen, save for one ignominious gash on its crimson shoulder.
Hey, Nicky ... How about a berry? I call silently, closing my eyes, expecting to see my golden boy there next to Grandma Graham’s peony bush, doing his happy dance, bouncing first on one oafish front paw and then the other, ears cocked, mouth open, pearly whites just waiting for the toss.
Finding only a disappointing empty place in the sun, I bite off the good half, ruby juice rolling down my chin. And I savor the sweetness, knowing that even in dog heaven there can be nothing better than a strawberry, fresh from the patch on a summer’s day.
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