Culture: Science & History
Is Your Dog Waiting For You?
New study reveals that our dogs are affected by how long we're gone.

With dogs in the house, returning home—from a day at work or a trip to the mailbox—is cause for celebration, a wagging tail, the gift of a ball at your feet or even a little dance. You’re home! You’re home! But have you ever wondered why some parties are bigger than others? 


Recently, two Swedish researchers discovered that how long we’re gone makes a difference. In their study (published in Applied Animal Behaviour Science in January 2011), Therese Rehn and Linda J. Keeling videotaped individuals’ family dogs on three different occasions while they were at home alone for periods of a half-hour, two hours and four hours.


In each case, the dogs spent nearly all their time alone lying down. (Other studies have shown that in households with more than one dog, there’s less lying about when the humans are gone; there’s an approximately 12 percent difference in activity levels.) The key difference in behavior in this study came during the reunion: After the two- and four-hour separations, the dogs welcomed their humans with greater exuberance than after a half-hour absence— exhibiting more frequent lip-licking, body-shaking and tail-wagging.


According to Rehn and Keeling, the more intense greeting behavior may indicate a desire to reinstate the relationship and/or may be the animals shaking off stress. In any case, the important takeaway is that dogs are affected by the duration of their solo time. The study doesn’t reveal whether they are actually missing their humans, but it does suggest that dogs feel the time— and that has welfare implications we can’t ignore.

Culture: DogPatch
Collecting Antique Dog Tags
Small treasures

In 1888, a stray Terrier mix named Owney was informally adopted by the U.S. Railway Mail Service. Owney’s travels began in Albany, New York; riding on mail sacks, he journeyed all over the U.S. As he traveled, employees of the Railway Mail Service would attach tokens and dog licenses to his custom-made harness and jacket. After his death in 1897, his body was preserved, along with his special harness and numerous dog tags, and is still proudly displayed at the National Postal Museum in Washington, D.C.

Because of his history of “collecting” tags, Owney is also the unofficial mascot of the International Society of Animal License Collecting, a small but fiercely devoted club dedicated to preserving the history of dog tags and generating interest in this unique hobby.

Though they were originally made to be disposable, vintage dog license tags are lovely little artifacts that exhibit a touching amount of care in their design and craftsmanship. It is easy to see why they were so often kept by families for sentimental or ornamental reasons, and why they still appeal to collectors. Finding a century-old tag is an extraordinary experience, especially if it is still attached to an old leather or metal collar. Keeping them as they were found honors these sentimental keepsakes, and also preserves the historical evidence that allows more accurate dating of the items.

Dog licenses and the practice of taxing tags have a long and international history. Dog licenses were documented in Utrecht, Holland, as early as 1446, and there is evidence that dogs were taxed in Germany by 1598. One of the oldest known surviving dog licenses dates from 1775 and is from Rostock, Germany. The oldest known American dog license tag is an 1853 Corporation of Fredericksburg (Virginia) medallion.

With the rise of middle-class pet ownership in the nineteenth century, the bureaucracy involved with dog licensing expanded and the appearance and design of the tags and licenses themselves became more involved. The earliest form was paper dog licenses. They came in a variety of colors, with details of the dog being licensed on the front; sometimes a printed image of a dog appeared as well. Paper licenses (from Massachusetts) were issued as early as the late 1840s. An 1899 Southborough, Mass., paper license fee was a whopping two dollars for one dog—a very high price for that era, and evidence of the value people placed on their pets.

The next step, toward the end of the 19th century, was metal license tags, those familiar collar accessories that so often announce a dog’s presence with a cheery clink. At least 16 countries are known to have issued metal tags before 1900, but these are extremely rare; the most commonly found tags date from the 1940s on. Brass, copper, tin and aluminum were popular for tags, and many old metal tags have acquired handsome, well-worn patinas. Humorous, quaint, elegant or naïve, these metal miniatures are incredibly varied.

It’s intriguing to imagine the process by which these strictly functional items, indicating payment of a tax, came to be designed. Some are simple round or oval disks, but popular shapes also include acorns and bells, as well as thematic forms like doghouses, dog bones and dog-head silhouettes. More unusual forms can also be found: six-pointed stars, three-leaf clovers, locks, keystones and butterflies. Some U.S. states used the shape of their capitol building and, in 1896, the city of Chicago issued an unusual and ornate beehive-shaped license.

Foreign tags often incorporated a coat of arms, an embossed dog or particular breed on their tags, sometimes in amazingly fine detail. Austria used highly ornate images of dogs on their brass and copper pre-1900 tags. It’s interesting to see how history, in the larger sense, has had an impact on the small history of dog tags. For example, during WWII, compressed fiber and plastic tags were created in order to spare the metal that was needed by the military. In 1976, many states issued Liberty Bell-shaped tags to honor America’s bicentennial; they were either red, white and blue or a single-color anodized aluminum.

Enthusiasts find these jingling tidbits of nostalgia at estate (and “tag”!) sales, on eBay, in dusty corners or simply while walking their dogs. They are often assisted by metal-detecting hobbyists (another passion with its own active clubs and newsletters) who pass on “dug” tags that they have come across when trolling for coins or jewelry.

History buffs, dog lovers, token collectors and regional specialists all take an interest in this hobby. Dog licenses are small, durable and lightweight; they are easy to collect and store; and there’s an almost never-ending variety from which to choose. This fascinating and immeasurably satisfying hobby appeals to canine enthusiasts everywhere.

Culture: DogPatch
Zuke’s—Living What They Believe
Finding a balance of work and play

Zuke’s began over a decade ago, when Patrick Meiering was hiking in the Colorado Mountains with his energetic dog, Zuke. Noticing that Zuke had become exhausted, Patrick broke off a piece of his energy bar and tossed it to him—Zuke perked right up. The idea that pets need healthy, all-natural treats was born at that moment. Today, Zuke’s offers a host of treats that are formulated with only natural ingredients providing the specific nutrients needed by dog and cats. The company embraces a healthy lifestyle of work and play, including a dog-friendly workplace—making them the perfect partner to sponsor The Bark’s Best Places to Work contest in 2013.

Tell us about Zuke’s office environment and an average day on the job …
Zuke’s offices went to the dogs a long time ago. In fact, they have really always belonged to the dogs. Zuke, a chocolate Lab who had the honor of being the company’s inspiration, namesake and mascot, was the first employee, setting the stage for over a decade of canine-inhabited cubicles and offices furnished with as many dog beds as chairs. Now, on any given day there are as many dogs as humans at work. They are welcome everywhere by everyone. During work hours, they are our taste testers, quality control experts, de-stressing specialists and relaxation authorities. On their breaks, which are frequent throughout the day, there is a beautiful creek that runs through the property with trees, grass and toys for the pups to enjoy. They are an integral part of our team, the reason we come to work each day and our reminder that life with dogs is the only way to live.

Is there an official dog policy in place?
Although there is no official policy in place, there is wide latitude given to all of Zuke’s canine employees. They can come to work whenever they want to, their humans can take a break at any time to feed, walk, play or care for them, and they are permitted to sleep on the job.

What is ownership/management’s view of allowing dogs in the workplace?
Living our lives with our dogs in tow is the Zuke’s lifestyle. From the top down, Zuke’s is guided by our passion for pets and our desire to show them our devotion. The management at Zuke’s honors this passion and upholds the values that make us a unique company. While having your loyal companion at your heels all day, everyday may be overwhelming to some, for us it’s a way to give back some of the unconditional love our dogs show us.

Can you give some specific examples of how the dogs add to the work environment in a positive way ....
Whether we are putting in long hours of overtime to develop the newest treat recipe or debating the best name for a new product line, our dogs help to diffuse the stress, lighten the mood, increase collaboration and restore our energy. Although, some of us go running with our dogs or play in the backyard during break times, it is really more about having a dog stroll through a meeting and rest his head on your lap for a quick pet or curl up under your desk as a sleepy sidekick. Their quiet (and sometimes not so quiet) presence is ingrained in the culture at Zuke’s and a great reminder of why we do what we do.

What are some of the tips and pointers you can offer a company who is looking to start a dog-friendly work policy?
We believe a dog-friendly workplace works best if it is embraced and promoted by management and human resources. Rules should be put in place to ensure the safety of the people and pets in the office and there must be a high level of respect and patience shown to the pets, their owners, and the non-pet-owners in the office. There will be the occasional accident and barking will become part of the background noise, but as long as all of the dogs are well-trained, confident, dog-friendly canines, it will be a fun place to work.

Though we are a pet products company and are thus unfairly biased, we believe that the positives outweigh the negatives for workplaces considering dogs. Aside from having a ready and willing taste test team on hand at all times, our management and employees universally believe that there are huge benefits to having canine coworkers.    

Culture: DogPatch
Newborn Puppies
Bichon Frise/Chihuahua/Pekinese Mix, 12 days old

Traer Scott, photographer of Shelter Dogs and Street Dogs, has now turned her lens on some of the sweetest creatures on earth: puppies in their first 21 days of life. Her recently released book, Newborn Puppies, captures these vulnerable, wobbly, utterly adorable beings about to embark, as she says, “on the great adventure of growing up.” More than just a collection of pretty faces, the book also considers puppy mills and the need for humane education.

During much of the time that I was working on Newborn Puppies, I, like my subjects, was adjusting to life as a new mom. Because of this serendipitous parallel, I found myself in a unique position to observe firsthand how many of our most fundamental experiences of motherhood are also shared by dogs. I felt particularly simpatico with the mother dogs, who, despite being initially grateful for a break from their demanding litters and a chance to romp outside, became unbearably anxious after about 20 minutes. They would burst through the door, trampling anyone in their way to get to the whelping box. In a frenzy of licking, nuzzling and sniffing, they ensured that every pup was clean and safe and then, figuratively exhaling, settled down to nurse. I felt the same ebb and flow of relief and anticipation every time I left for work. Being briefly separated from my daughter was restorative, but after a few hours, I ached to hold her again.
Newborn Puppies: Dogs in Their First Three Weeks
Hardcover, 128 pages, 75 color and black & white photos
Published by Chronicle Books

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Down on the Farm
At Memphis’s Shelby Farms, it’s all about size

My five-year-old daughter and I go regularly to Shelby Farms Park to run and ramble with our pup, Lambchop. While people and their pets repeat rituals like these every day at off-leash parks around the country, this park has a unique characteristic, the stuff of dog-lovers’ dreams: size.

Bigger than NYC’s Central Park and SF’s Golden Gate Park combined, Shelby Farms ranks as one of the largest urban parks in the U.S. And within its 4,500 acres, a whopping 150 acres are officially off-leash. Golden fields undulate as far as the eye can see, and to the south, there’s a large pond, smooth mud beaches and a wooded trail. This bucolic spot might just be the nation’s largest municipal off-leash park as well. Moreover, it’s a public park without entrance fees.

The multilayered history of Shelby Farms Park is as varied as its users. Originally Chickasaw tribal lands, between 1825 and 1828, Frances Wright’s Nashoba, one of America’s most well-known communes, was in operation here, with the goal of educating and liberating slaves. During the first half of the 20th century, it was a penal colony, with a truck farm and Jersey dairy herd. In the 1970s, as the use of prison labor for farming declined, the first 270 acres were opened to the public.

In December 2006, the Shelby County commission approved a 50-year conservation easement that will protect all of Shelby Farms for “natural, scenic and recreational” purposes. Next on the agenda is a management partnership between local government and a private nonprofit, possibly the Shelby Farms Park Alliance. Finally, a park master plan is slated for 2008. If done right, it will solidly plant the park in a special place within the hearts of area residents—the most permanent of protections. For Lambchop and the other dogs at yappy hour, that’s already happened.

Culture: DogPatch
Lily Tomlin Talks
The legendary comedian stands up for animals

When we think of Lily Tomlin, what comes to mind first isn’t her star turns in films like ShortCuts and 9to5 or on television’s The West Wing—or even Ernestine, the snorty, sassy, snood-sporting operator she played with such aplomb. Rather, we think of Edith Ann and her loyal dog Buster. A precocious tot, squirmy but serious Edith Ann often discussed the adventures she shared with Buster, from ice skating and bath time to making him a sandwich that included mustard, pickles, oatmeal, cheese, pretzels, tuna fish, peanut butter, salami, raisins and one black olive. He didn’t care for it, so Edith Ann decided to order pizza: “Buster likes pepperoni with double cheese and so do I. And that’s the truth!”

Underlying this comedy routine is another truth: Tomlin’s love of dogs, which comes through even when she speaks in the charming, halting voice of a five and- a-half-year-old girl explaining how she made a sandwich so unappetizing that it even went bust with Buster.

Tomlin—who, upon seeing a stray running by the roadside, has been known to pull her car over and attempt to lure the frightened pup off the busy street by means of a fast-food sandwich— has lived with animals all her life. Recently, she headlined “Stand Up for the Animals,” a comedy-and-causes benefit at the Comedy Store in West Hollywood devoted to bringing attention to the work of Voice for the Animals.

We hopped on the phone to chat with her about her work to improve the lot of Los Angeles Zoo’s Billy the elephant and other animal-related topics, and she also shared a few stories of the dogs she has known. As it turns out, Lily has lived with and loved beasties of all stripes throughout her life. She speaks movingly of Chi Chi, the dog she had as a teen; a Corgi-mix named Princess she doted on for years; and her current critters, cats Murphy (who came into her life when she joined the cast of Murphy Brown, natch) and Roddy McDowell, so named because, Tomlin says,“he’s elegant…and sensitive.”

She has vivid and emotional memories of her pets, including the death of one of her beloved dogs. “I knew she wasn’t well. I went out in the yard with her, and we lay on the grass for a long time, looking into each other’s eyes. She died later that evening.” We both paused to consider the moment, and then she continued.“ They’re our creatures, they’re just everything.”

Although Tomlin has lived with a number of dogs, she hasn’t worked with all that many, except for a comical elevator scene from Big Business, in which a dog she’s walking gets on an elevator and the doors shut. I asked about the connection between Hollywood and hounds beyond the larger topic of animal actors, and if there were any lessons humans working in showbiz could take from dogs in general.

She spoke about the authenticity of pups—“They have an innocence and a goodness because they’re not ambitious …”—and what performers can learn from that. Summing it up perfectly, Tomlin observed that “dogs want to love their people, and actors need to love their audience. Dogs have all the empathetic qualities that a good actor should have.” Dogs seem to inspire just about every calling, it seems.

Including conflict resolution. Remembering a time when she had a lot of animals in the house—including a goat named Bucky that she would take on outings with her dogs (“You’d have to walk behind him with a little lobby dustpan and a broom, sweeping up his pellets.”)— Tomlin recalled how one of her dogs would take on the role of mediator. “We had two cats in the house; the cats loved to torment Diva [a Doberman] because she was so easily cowed. One day, the cats were at the bottom of the stairs and Diva was at the top: They were at an impasse. Tessie [a Terrier], who was a little bossy thing, ran through Diva’s legs and stood there, barking at the cats and Diva too, as if to break it up.”

While tales of Bucky and Diva were not told during the “Stand Up for the Animals” night, Edith Ann did make an appearance, to much applause. Later, I learned more about Voice for the Animals from executive director Melya Kaplan.

Kaplan’s approach to animal assistance could be described as multi-dimensional. Among her organization’s projects are Billy the elephant’s well being, an animal assistance hotline, a senior-animal rescue program, and efforts to help the huge population of dogs and cats living on the streets in Greece. She’s also assisting families facing foreclosure with keeping their pets. And she isn’t shy about sending praise to one of her most front-and-center advocates. “Lily is absolutely phenomenal,” says Kaplan. “She’s been the celebrity who took the lead, just saying it like it is.”

Hearing about Tomlin’s work with this group, and her animated tales of Tessie and Diva and Chi Chi, it’s not surprising that she’s a friend of the furry. Now, whenever we catch a clip of Edith Ann bragging about Buster, we’ll think of all the real Busters Lily’s loved along the way, and her willingness to extend that love to dogs and cats (and elephants) today.

Culture: DogPatch
Dog Tattoos
Canine co-pilots inspire a range of tattoo tributes

At a waterpark last summer, I counted a dozen suburban moms with tattoos dotting their ankles, necks and lower backs. It was, for me, a watershed tally. What I’d been reading in trend stories for years finally sank in: Tattooing is mainstream.

According to tattoo artists I’ve talked to since, average Joes and Janes have been going under the needle for decades, but popular TV reality shows such as Miami Ink have revved the phenomena like a Harley engine. Some estimates put the number of tattooed Americans at one in seven. A Pew Research Center poll released last year revealed that four in 10 Gen Xers sport at least one tatt and 36 percent of all Gen Nexters (the oldest of whom just turned 26) have begun blazing a body-art trail that should put them on track to eclipse their elders.

So, when a nearly photographic likeness of a Pug permanently inked into DeAnna Miller’s arm arrived in my inbox—apropos of nothing and shortly after my waterpark revelation—it seemed natural to wonder: Where exactly are our dogs in all of this?

A few strategically sent emails to tattoo-savvy associates revealed a simple truth: Roll up the pant leg or draw back the sleeve of a tattoo-loving dog person and you’re likely to discover everything from Kanji-script dog names to painterly canine portraits.

“It’s relatively new,” says C.W. (Chuck) Eldridge, a tattooist who researches and documents tattoo history and is the owner of the Tattoo Archive in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. “Dog portraits in the past weren’t really popular. Now it’s actually quite common. Not just dogs, but cats, snakes and birds. You name it. You know how people love their pets.”

Kelly McGuire was a tattoo-free zone (a “virgin” in parlor parlance), when she entered a Topeka tattoo shop seven years ago, soon after the unexpected death of Geisha, her five-year-old Pug. Geisha was the first dog of McGuire’s to die, and the loss was devastating. “It killed me. I cried every day,” she says. With her husband’s encouragement, McGuire got a tattoo of Geisha’s face on her arm. “All of a sudden, it felt like a weight was lifted off me. I felt so much better.”

Though McGuire tells me that she thinks her story sounds weird, she’s neither weird nor unique. Several people, including a woman who added a smidge of her late dogs’ ashes to her tattoo ink, described tremendous grief relief after getting a memorial tattoo.

The mere idea of her dog’s mortality drove Janet Beeby, a canine massage practitioner and avid agility competitor, to a tattoo shop. “As she was getting older, I was starting to get very panicked,” Beeby says about her 10-year-old Kerry Blue Terrier, Gabby. “She’s been an amazing partner to me.”

Gabby—the first Kerry Blue to earn a master’s agility champion title—inspired a rock star design. In the tattoo, she leaps through a bright red collar (her signature “jewelry”) on Beeby’s thigh. “The idea was, I’ll have Gabby on my lap for the rest of my life,” Beeby says. It’s a portrait, but in a bold, illustration-style. “My non-doggy friends are like, ‘I guess you’re the only one with that tattoo,’” Beeby says. “My doggy friends are like, ‘that’s hot!’”

DeAnna Miller, whose Pugsley Ann portrait inspired my tattoo odyssey, says, “Believe it or not, there are quite a few people who want to pet my arm.”

Probably the best-known dog in American tattoo history is the United States Marine Corps bulldog. When World War I German fighters referred to the Marines as “Devil Dogs,” a smart flack at the Corps created a recruiting poster featuring an English Bulldog running down an Iron Cross–wearing Dachshund. Just as actual Bulldogs were adopted as mascots, jowly Devil Dogs in helmets turned up on Marine biceps everywhere.

“That’s probably the most famous dog in tattooing. Snoopy might be next,” Eldridge says. “All the cartoon dogs, the comic dogs are quite common.”
On the darker side, in shops across the country, flash sheets (sample tattoo art) feature growling, salivating Pit Bulls in spiked collars with messages like “Only the Strong Survive.” At their best, these urban tattoos are a bid for street cred. At their worst, they reflect the criminal underworld of dog fighting.

Often inspired by Native American stories, wolves, coyotes and wild dogs are also on the list of standard icons. “The wolf howling at the moon in silhouette is a classic tattoo design,” Eldridge says. A wolf is wrapped in the roots of a tree of life in Melissa Lynch’s tattoo. “The wolf for me isn’t necessarily the wolf. It represents all dogs,” says Lynch, a private dog trainer. “Wolves are very family oriented—loyal and strong. My roots wrap around that.”

With long blond dreadlocks, Lynch isn’t afraid of attracting attention, and she put the striking black-and-gray tattoo between her shoulder blades for a reason. “I wanted everybody to see it,” she says. “So they ask me about it, and then I can talk to them about rescue and shelter and adoption and training.”
Tamara Sellers works at Shaggy Pines Dog Park in Michigan, and is also equally happy to display her calf tattoo when she wears shorts. The cartoon-style portraits of her Vizsla, Labrador and Weimaraner dotted with green and purple paw prints—Shaggy Pines’ colors—runs from her ankle almost to her knee. The tattoo cost $300 and took a Grand Rapids tattooist five hours. That’s a good deal; $100 per hour plus tip was the average cost for most of the folks I interviewed. But five hours is a long time for a single sitting.

“It hurts, but it’s not painful where you think you’re going to die,” Sellers says. “The day after was worse. I felt like I had a huge road-rash down my leg.” But she’s thrilled to have a memento of her dogs while they are alive and someday, after they are gone. “When I look at the tattoo when they’re gone, I can remember when I still had them. It was a good time in my life.”

An image of a particular dog isn’t for everyone. “I was afraid to get a portrait,” says Karen Mountain, owner of Bark Natural Pet Care. “I’m afraid [the tattoo artist] won’t capture what I see.” The names of her dogs, Boone and Bubba, are framed by the outlines of bones on her ankles. To mark Boone’s death, she added a tipped halo over one end of the bone. She hasn’t decided what more she’ll do for Bubba, her Staffordshire Terrier mix who sleeps in the storefront window most days. She only knows that she’ll need some sort of tattoo within the first week after he’s gone.

Of the nearly 15 dog-inspired tattoos I tracked down and the dozens more I saw in artists’ galleries, only one included a person with the dog. “I drew it with a Sharpie on a piece of paper and took it into a tattoo parlor,” says Ali Johnson, describing her first—and right now, only—tattoo. The 30-minute, $30 ankle art is as simple as it sounds—a stick figure person with a ponytail running with a stick figure dog.

Johnson decided she wanted a tattoo to celebrate running three half-marathons, all of which she trained for with an Australian Shepherd named Osa. “She ran the 13-mile training run, came home and dropped a ball at my feet like, ‘What’s up with you?’” says Johnson, who quit graduate studies in biochemistry at Duke University to become a dog trainer and now owns Kinship Dog Training.

“The tattoo stands for a lot of the things I care about—that I partner with my dogs and that I care about my health and theirs,” Johnson says. “I didn’t put a leash in it because I wanted to show that we chose to be together.”


Culture: DogPatch
British Invasion Redux

Blame it on the London Olympics, Harry Potter, Downton Abbey or fascination with the royals, but Brit-speak seems to be all the rage these days. Oft-heard terms such as cheers, brilliant, posh, loo, toff, mate, queue and even crikey are creeping into our everyday conversation. So, let’s bring these dog-related expressions across the pond as well.

Dog’s bollocks: Something really fantastic. (Not to be confused with “bollocks,” which is rubbish, er, nonsense.) Often shortened to “the dog’s.” Perhaps derived from dogs’ fascination with and time spent investigating their “down-unders.”

Mutt’s nuts: Something fantastic or excellent. Often shortened to “the mutt’s,” which is another way of saying, yup, the “dog’s bollocks.”

Puppy’s privates: The best; yet another, slightly more refined, take on the previous two.

Dog’s breakfast: A real mess. (Ed. note: I guess they don’t do gourmet pet food over there.)

Dog’s dinner: To be overdressed, or ostentatiously decked out.

Dog ride: Tagging along with someone doing an errand, or simply out and about.

Dog collar: A type of collar worn by the clergy. Also, the oversize head on a pint of Guinness.

Dog-end: A corruption of “docked-end”— a cigarette butt.

Dogsbody: A go-fer, or someone doing menial or boring work.

Dog-eye: Keep a look out.

Doggy: Stylish, of smart appearance.

Dogs are barking: Feet are tired and aching. For example, “Do you mind if I sit? My dogs are barking!”

Dog’s wages : Working just for food as payment for one’s services (Scots slang).

Give a dog a bad name: Someone with a bad reputation who’s blamed for everything.

And, lest we forget, there’s Cockney rhyming slang:
Dog and bone: Telephone.
Dog and pup: Cup.
Dog and duck: Ruck (a fight).
Dog’s tooth: Truth.

To all of which we say, “Dog save the Queen!” Given her devotion to her Corgis, that’s not much of a stretch.

Culture: DogPatch
Roadside Giants
Jim Heimann discusses roadside vernacular architecture

They’re part of the great American road trip—curious artifacts that startle the eye along the highway: giant oranges, artichokes, cows or coffee pots whose shape is meant to suggest what they sell. Or sometimes the shape tells a story, like “What fun it would be to spend the night in a teepee!” or “Let’s visit Santa in the summertime!” Mostly they’re relics of a time when food-gas-lodging signs were not standard interstate equipment, and nationwide chains had not yet homogenized the roadside landscape. In the first few decades of the 20th century, the dawn of the automobile age, motoring was an adventure into a countryside full of regional flavors and anarchic architectural impulses.

In his new book, California Crazy and Beyond (Chronicle Books, 2001), designer/historian Jim Heimann catalogues hundreds of sightings, photographs and archival images of roadside vernacular architecture. While this sort of building can be traced to historical prototypes—cerebral 18th-century French architects designed things like spherical cottages and barns in the shape of giant cows—essentially, California Crazy is a true American folk architecture, enthusiastically improvised out of equal parts crass commerce, naïve charm and wacky poetry. We asked Heimann to shed some light on this fascinating subject.

Bark: The Pup Cafe in Culver City, California, graces the cover of California Crazy—do you think giant dogs have a particular significance in the world of wacky roadside architectural images? I counted a couple of elephants and several pigs, fish and chickens, but no cats. Do dogs appear more often than any other animal? Or at least more than any other non-edible animal?

Jim Heimann: I’m not sure they have a specific significance, but I think their popularity was bolstered by the fact that dogs had more of a media presence in the ’20s and ’30s. There were cartoon dogs like Bonzo and Betty Boop’s dog [Bimbo], as well as Little Orphan Annie’s pooch [Sandy]. There was Pete the Pup from the Little Rascals, the RCA dog [Nipper], and Buster Brown’s dog [Tige]. So dogs were pretty well ingrained in pop culture and the public’s visual awareness. Of course, the relationship of dogs to hot dogs can’t be dismissed. I think people in general related to dogs as a familiar and comforting image. As far as I know, dogs beat out other animals. The cat thing is interesting. I have never run across a cat building, but there are some great cat images from the first half of the century that would have made great buildings. Go figure.

B: Can you talk a little bit about the dog-inspired architecture in the book—the physical structures, the owners and builders, the history of these businesses?

JH: Unfortunately, most of the owners and contractors were long gone before I was able to interview anyone. As far as their construction goes, the view of the Chili Bowl in the front of the book gives a good indication of how they were constructed: very simply, with two-by-fours, chicken wire, tarpaper and stucco. Most were built by the owners themselves or a local contractor. Codes were simple or non-existent, so you could get away with lots of things. When the Petersen Auto Museum in Los Angeles reconstructed the Dog Cafe for its permanent exhibit, they had to do much more for earthquake and structural construction. The plans for these buildings were usually done by the owner or a relative or friend, and a sketch was handed over for the builder to figure out. Remember, lots of L.A. contractors did movie set work, so some had a background in constructing things with strange shapes.

B: I recall a time when many people thought of roadside oddities—giant hot dogs, doughnuts and the now-beloved Doggie Diner heads—as “hideous.” Do you still encounter any negative response to California Crazy–style buildings?

JH: Every once in a while some idiot won’t get it, but for the most part [the current book and its first edition, published in 1980] made it clear this was just another aspect of architecture. There are certain camps in the architecture profession that dismiss this stuff, but there are just as many defenders. Certainly, the passage of time has made us look differently at this disappearing architecture; we can better appreciate its place in history.

B: So many of these wonderful buildings were designed for the moment and are often falling into disrepair; what percentage of them still stand?

JH: Most are gone. There are no guidelines, and they keep disappearing despite preservation efforts. Two months ago, a 50-year-old giant Santa Claus in Carpenteria, California, was destroyed after intense lobbying by preservationists. The developer won out because of money and his own wish to make the roadside stop more like an East Coast Cape Cod village. This was one guy who thought this architecture was hideous and, like many developers, was looking out for his own personal interest and financial gain rather than preserving a part of the past. If they can destroy a landmark Richard Neutra house in Palm Springs [California], there certainly is little hope for these roadside buildings.

B: So what are these buildings? The meeting of architecture and marketing? The first conceptual architecture? Pure kitsch?

JH: They were really a product of their times—a response to the loosening up of social mores, the burgeoning roadside culture. How do you get people to notice your business going down the road at 35 miles an hour, versus walking down a main street where customers have the time and eye level to peruse a product? Southern California has the most concentration of these structures, because there was a lot of cheap affordable land and small suburbs connected by roads and highways. But it was also a national phenomenon. These were buildings as signs; they were whimsical and innocent and very definitely American-built by people who were unaware of the snooty architects and architectural critics.

Culture: DogPatch
The New Trust
Family Dog: Touring band’s pups.
The New Trust - Band

Things we learned:
La Quinta has no pet fee + no limit to number of dogs.
The best dog park in the US is in Minneapolis.
The first time a dog sees snow is hilarious.

Our band, The New Trust (Josh Staples, bass, vocals; Sara Sanger, guitar, vocals; Julia Lancer, drums) just returned from a five-week, nationwide tour, accompanied by our canine entourage: Josh and Sara’s Border Collie Murray and Julia’s Border Collie/Heeler mix Stella. We were in a new city every day, and we always started with a visit to the local dog park, where we’d chat with other dog owners. The friendliness we found at the dog parks offset the tour’s hard moments, lack of comfort and too much time spent in gas stations and diners.

We had a good night at Rubber Gloves, a great live-music venue in Denton, Texas; the dogs were allowed in after the show was over, and they had their very own mosh pit. In Chicago, they hung out in the Electrical Audio studios while we recorded our new album, Keep Dreaming (Josh wrote the dogs into the lyrics of the title track).