Q&A with the hit television show’s “girl-next-door”
With its devoted cult following—including many devoted dog lovers—in tow, Wilfred will begin its final season on Wednesday, June 25 at 10 pm on its new home FXX. Exploring the surprising intersections of existentialism and dog culture, this dark comedy features Elijah Wood as Ryan, a miserable and apathetic ex-lawyer who maneuvers through life with the help of Wilfred (Jason Gann), a dog he sees as a brazen, cantankerous stoner in a grungy dog suit.
For the mutt’s owner Jenna, played wonderfully by Fiona Gubelmann, Wilfred is merely a playful canine. As the cheerful neighbor to Ryan, Gubelmann’s character has swung from sunny to dark over the first three seasons. In addition to focusing on Ryan’s mental panic, Wilfred also depicts Jenna grappling with her own difficulties. Fiona Gubelmann talked to The Bark about Jenna’s evolving storyline, her relationship with pets and her take on Wilfred’s philosophy.
The Bark: Do you have a dog, or did you have one growing up?
Fiona Gubelmann: My family sadly lost one of our dogs this year, but until recently we had two dogs. I personally don’t have a dog now at the moment, but I have three cats. I would love a dog and my husband wants to get foster dogs, but we aren’t home enough to do that now. I don’t have a neighbor to watch my dog!
Is your relationship with Wilfred much like the relationship a pet owner has with their pet?
Yes, definitely. When I first saw the script, I imagined Wilfred as my cat Dragon, a large Maine Coon. Dragon is gray, loving and yet quite moody—much like Wilfred. When I auditioned, I just thought, “How do I talk to Dragon?”
I imagine the set is a crazy one to work on with all the talent and wicked humor. Is it hard to keep a straight face?
Sometimes! We keep the tone of the show truthful and dark, so that helps us stay grounded. However, there are times when we have a couple of takes in the bag, and then they’ll say, “Jason, just be silly and go for it.” He’ll do just that, making it rather hard to keep a straight face. Jenna doesn’t see Wilfred as Ryan sees him, so I usually just wait until I watch the episode. Otherwise, I’d be laughing too much on set!
We’re fans of each character, but Jenna has especially evolved. Women are often written as comic foils for men, but Jenna is much more than that. Do you agree?
Jenna was initially an effervescent “girl next door.” A lot of shows may have kept her there, but we actually gave her a storyline that’s quite dark and almost tragic. We see her first as optimistic with everything going for her. But over the first three seasons, you see everything in her life fall apart. I get to have a range of emotions and explore different things. I’m very thankful for the opportunity.
Your work for Funny or Die is hilarious! Do you have any comedic heroes who you look up to?
For women, I definitely admire Sally Field, Goldie Hawn and Lucille Ball. They were always so committed to what they were doing. Soapdish is one of my favorite movies and I’ll never forget Goldie Hawn in Overboard — those performances are so funny and timeless. As for men, Bill Murray and Robin Williams have always been two of my favorites. I worked with Robin Williams in season two. That was one of my career high points.
Wilfred’s tone moves brilliantly between dark and light— how would you characterize the upcoming final season?
Although there is still humor in it, the last season has a more serious tone. They’re tying everything up and explaining why everything happened—who Wilfred is, delving into my relationship with Wilfred and answering all of the remaining questions.
Dog people are going to be your hardest critics, but we believe Wilfred has won them over. The show touches upon many corners of dog culture—agility, dog parks, phobias and other things only people who have dogs really know well. Have you noticed the world of dogs more since you started playing Jenna?
We call those dogisms—they’re fun for fans to relate to. I have many fans who are dog owners, who work in dog rescue or who are involved with dogs in some other capacity. They tweet me pictures of dogs and tell me dog-related stories. It’s so cool to see how they relate their relationships with their dogs to the show.
Wilfred has such strong views of the world that he constantly imparts to Ryan. How would you summarize Wilfred’s philosophy on life?
There’s one episode in which Wilfred says “Carne diem” instead of “Carpe diem.” He truly does want Ryan to live in the moment instead of living in fear. He’s pushing him to action. That would be Wilfred’s philosophy—to seize the day.
Also a special thanks to Sophie Cox who contributed to this interview.
Interview with the venerable New Yorker cartoonist
Charles Barsotti has been staff cartoonist at The New Yorker since 1970, and for more than three decades, has been entertaining us with his distinctive rounded pups (one of whom
he’s dubbed Buster). Rendered in deceptively simple lines, his cartoon dogs engage in utterly human tasks, and their fans are legion—one of them, Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz, told him in a letter that he hoped someone would collect all of Barsotti’s “little dog cartoons” in a book one day. And now, with the release of They Moved My Bowl, they have. We were pleased that Mr. Barsotti agreed to be interviewed—like his cartoon punch lines, his answers to our questions were short, witty and to the point.
Bark: What makes a good dog cartoon?
B: What is it about dogs going about human tasks that’s so funny?
B: We see that you dedicated your new book, They Moved My Bowl, to the memory of Jiggs, “the world’s greatest dog.” Can you tell us about Jiggs?
B: Tell us about your two dogs, Chloe and Buster.
B: Can you talk about your drawing style? It’s so simple but perfect.
B: Your cartoons are sweet and smart but never syrupy or corny—no mean feat when it comes to dog cartoons. How do you manage that?
B: Tell us about your idea of dog heaven.
See Charles Barsotti's obit published on June 20, 2014
Charles Barsotti, a cartoonist whose drawings were a staple of The New Yorker magazine for decades, died on June 16 at the age of 80. While his name may not be familiar to some, most readers will recognize his cartoons—simply drawn with uncommon wit—nearly fourteen hundred of them appeared in that magazine over the years. Many featured his trademark round-nosed dogs—lying on a psychiatrist couch, gathered around conference tables, appearing before judges in court. One shows a dog dressed in standard issue spy garb confessing “They rubbed my tummy, chief—I told them everything.” Barsotti’s cartoons were poignant and sweet, delivering a good deal more than laughs. The best had a short story quality about them.
The Bark interviewed Barsotti in 2007 upon the publication of a collection of his dog cartoons entitled, They Moved My Bowl, the conversation, like his art, was spare and humorous. We asked him about the book’s dedication “to the memory of Jiggs, the world’s greatest dog.” The cartoonist replied, “Any kid who doesn’t think his dog is the world’s greatest dog is weird. Jiggs was part Dachshund, part mystery meatloaf. Jiggs was run over and killed when I was 10. In my book, there’s a cartoon with St. Peter and a dog named Rex who is a stand-in for Jiggs.” It dawned on us that one of our favorite Barsotti cartoons was autobiographical. We ended our interview by asking him his idea of dog heaven … he replied “I’ll ask Jiggs when I get there and send word back.”
Read the full interview here.
Weyerbacher Brewing Company shows its canine love, one IPA at a time
When fans of craft beer hear the name Weyerbacher—a small-batch brewery headquartered in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley—their thoughts often turn to the company’s high-alcoholvolume, “huge taste” beers, famous for their often outrageous flavors. And thanks to the canine-loving husband-and-wife team who founded the brewery in 1995, dog lovers now have an extra reason to raise a pint.
Weyerbacher’s aptly named Last Chance IPA is that reason; 5 percent of the proceeds from the sale of the beer, on draft or in bottles, is donated to regional animal rescue operations. Within just two years, this charitable beer-for-dogs program has raised more than $43,000. As co-owner Dan Weirback explains, Lehigh Valley’s severe stray-dog problem, which filled one of the region’s largest no-kill shelters to full capacity in 2012, was the main inspiration for the hop-heavy India Pale Ale. “We wanted to do something to help these needy, loving animals,” says Weirback, who has three dogs of his own, two of them rescues. “Tying it to our IPA is a good way to get the word out and get the public involved.”
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
This summer, Laura Diaz, Yappy Treats Cart founder, CEO and maître d’cart, can again be found under her colorful cart’s big umbrella selling Dogfroyo, her all-natural frozen yogurt treats, to New York City’s dogs at Riverside and Central Parks. These much-in-demand delights— inspired by her ice-cream-loving dog Sisu—are handcrafted in small batches using human-grade ingredients and Greek yogurt. Dogs happily lap them up (they’re great for pup parties too). See where to find Laura and her cart, or a local retail outlet at yappytreatscart.com.
The Bark had a chance to speak with Ken Ramirez about his experience with clicker training and what the future holds for him in his new role as Executive Vice President and Chief Training Officer for KPCT.
The Bark: Why is it important that people successfully train their companion dogs?
Ken Ramirez: There are so many reasons that training is important. It is a critical part of good animal care, just like veterinary care, nutrition and a safe environment. You cannot give animals all they need unless it includes a training program. Good training helps teach animals how to live successfully in our world, and helps to build a strong lasting relationship between people and their pets.
Bark: Tell us about your professional experience with operant conditioning or clicker training.
Ramirez: I began my training career working with guide dogs in a very traditional training environment. However, right out of college I had the opportunity to work with a variety of marine mammals, birds, and big cats in several zoological facilities. That is where I was introduced to the world of positive reinforcement and marker-based training. That experience changed my life as I experienced how powerful this type of training is. Not only is it force-free and fun for the animals, but it assists in developing strong relationships with each animal partner. I went back and re-read all my animal behavior text books, made contact with my professors, and began trying to understand why this type of training was not more wide-spread, except perhaps in the world of marine mammal training. My quest for knowledge exposed me to Karen Pryor and some of her early works. I read every positive reinforcement training article I could find, sought out conferences and training organizations that could forward my knowledge and understanding of effective positive reinforcement training. I had the good fortune to travel to many corners of the world and work with a wide variety of species of animals, and discovered just how universal this technology really is. In 1989 I was hired by the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago to oversee the development of their animal training program. Since joining Shedd, I have had the good fortune to oversee the care and training of more than 32,000 animals representing over 1500 species. I continued to consult with many zoo and aquarium programs worldwide. Then, in 1997, Western Illinois University asked me to develop a graduate course on animal training, which I still teach today. In 1998, I returned to dog training as a consultant to several search and rescue dog teams, which led to my involvement in many other working dog programs including service dogs, law enforcement, and a return to guide dog work. When Karen Pryor decided to start ClickerExpo, she chose Chicago as her inaugural location. She invited me to that Expo as a guest speaker, which led to an invitation to join the faculty the following year, and I have been on the faculty ever since.
Bark: What has been the biggest revelation about this method of training animals?
Ramirez: The biggest revelation for me every time I train an animal is how much they enjoy the process and how it assists in relationship building. Additionally, as someone who began my career more than 35 years ago using more traditional training methods, I always marvel at how well positive reinforcement works and how much stronger and precise behavior is trained in a fun force-free environment.
Bark: Is it your experience that most animals enjoy learning and training exercises?
Ramirez: Absolutely. That’s what makes positive reinforcement so effective—the animal is a willing partner in the process and it is so much fun for them.
Bark: What has you most excited about working with Karen Pryor's clicker training programs?
Ramirez: I am excited about everything that Karen Pryor Clicker Training represents. Karen was an inspiration to me personally as I was seeking good information about the use of positive reinforcement training during the early stages of my career. I am passionate about educating people about the power of positive reinforcement and the beneficial impacts it has on the welfare of the animals in our lives. Each program, whether it be the ClickerExpos, the Karen Pryor Academy, or the production of positive reinforcement books and training tools furthers the education of the public about marker-based positive reinforcement training. I am excited about helping to continue and further the amazing body of work that Karen has produced over the years.
Bark: Do you currently have a dog, cat or other pet?
Ramirez: I have had dogs my entire life. Sadly, my 12-year-old Spaniel that I adopted from a shelter after my first Clicker Expo 11 years ago, recently passed away. I will probably look for my next dog at one of the local Chicago shelters sometime later in the year. However, I established a dog training program with dogs adopted from local shelters at the Shedd Aquarium several years ago, and I consider the four dogs in that program close companions and training partners. These four dogs include a Pit Bull, an Airedale, a Shepherd, and a Lab.
Ken Ramirez is a regular consultant for zoos, oceanariums, and parks around the world. He has held top leadership positions in most of the profession’s associations, including as past president of IMATA (International Marine Animal Trainer’s Association). As part of his leadership, Ken has been involved in the creation of a certification process for animal trainers in zoological settings. He has been featured on television and in the media numerous times, including as host of a popular Australian television series Talk to the Animals. Ken has been on the faculty of KPCT’s ClickerExpo conference since 2005; he also teaches graduate-level courses at Western Illinois University.
Ken began his training career working with guide dogs for the visually impaired and has maintained a close connection to dog training ever since. At the Shedd Aquarium, Ken spearheaded the development of a program to rescue dogs from animal shelters and to train and care for them in order to show the public the transformative power of marker-based positive-reinforcement training. Outside of Shedd, Ken’s canine work includes training for search and rescue, guide and service work, scent detection, animal husbandry, and more.
A winsome Pit Bull lands a role on the Great White Way
When actors James Franco, Chris O’Dowd, Leighton Meester and Jim Norton take the stage in the Broadway adaptation of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men at the Longacre Theater, they share it with a geriatric—though spirited—co-star. Resting comfortably on a quilted pillow for much of the show is Violet, a deaf, 14-year-old Pit Bull.
Because Violet, who plays ranch hand Candy’s (Jim Norton’s) dog, has a wandering eye and has become fast friends with fellow cast members, she is banned from the green room. Instead, she shares a dressing room with Lydia DesRoche, an NYC dog trainer—and the first female dog trainer on Broadway—who has successfully taught her when to walk onstage and where to sit for the seven minutes she appears during each performance.
“Violet’s task is to connect with Jim (Candy),” DesRoche says. Based on his dapper looks, DesRoche’s own 15-year-old Pit Bull, Blue, whom she rescued as a puppy from a junkyard in Harlem, was originally cast in the part. He was replaced by Violet, his understudy, one week later, when he repeatedly missed his cue to get up from the makeshift Depression-era pillow he was parked on for the show. (Offstage, Blue, now the understudy, and Violet occupy the same, large, pillowy bed. Even though there are two, they prefer to share.)
In the play, Candy’s dog is unnamed, but both he and his dog have outlived their usefulness on the ranch. “The other ranch hands lack sensitivity towards animals; the dog has no purpose and therefore, they want to shoot her,” says Norton, an Olivier and Tony award–winning Irish actor and dog lover who has raised his own Boxers in Ireland.
“Because Violet’s deaf, she always looks at you very intensely. Her deafness enhances her ability to concentrate, to pay attention,” he says. “We’ve done 23 shows, and as it comes to the moment when Joel [one of the ranch hands] takes her away from me, each time she looks at me more intensely. Dogs are so perceptive. They have qualities we don’t know about.”
A veteran stage actor, Norton admits to being more calm and “very relaxed when on [stage] with Violet. They [dogs] live in the moment. It’s interesting to observe how content they are to sit.”
Although Norton was raised with dogs in Dublin, he had never before acted with one. “Star quality is the ability to displace air,” he says. “Babies and animals are not aware of how attractive they are. They don’t try to get attention, so everybody’s drawn to them. Actors can learn a lot from Violet. She takes the spotlight because of her stillness. Everybody’s looking at her.”
Violet was given up by her owners to Brooklyn Animal Care and Control, one of the city’s kill shelters, in 2011. Then, her name was Cheyenne and she was about 10 years old. She was also emaciated, had an abscess on her neck (most likely the result of a dog bite) and her ears had been unevenly cropped close to her head. Despite that, she was sweet-tempered and became a favorite with the shelter staff.
“She had the most pleading eyes,” says Christy Allen, who had owned a Pit Bull before she adopted Violet. Allen, with her 10-pound Miniature Pinscher, Bella, in tow, took the subway from their home in Central Park West to the shelter in East New York. The next day, she brought Violet home. Allen and DesRoche are neighbors, and when Allen needed help with dog training, she called DesRoche.
I work as a vet in city shelters, and can testify that Violet’s adoption was nothing short of miraculous. Geriatric dogs in general are harder to place than younger, healthy ones, and dogs of any age surrendered by their owners do not require the same mandatory five-day hold in the shelter as strays. They can be euthanized to make space. However, dogs are kept longer if they endear themselves to the staff and are healthy. Violet’s flirtatious “eye,” sweet demeanor and sheer luck saved her life.
There is also, of course, the stigma that Pit Bulls carry. Nationwide, approximately 75 percent of all Pit Bulls and Pit Bull mixes who wind up in shelters are killed. Some cities and countries have Breed Specific Laws (BSL) that ban outright the ownership of Pit Bulls. Denver, Colo., is one of them; Ireland, Jim Norton’s home, is another. “They’re so gentle and so sweet,” he says. “It’s awful the way they’ve been abused and used as aggressive guard dogs. It’s a problem of our making.”
At every show, DesRoche is stage left. Violet’s deafness spares her the loud gunshot in each performance, but it also deprives her of the audience’s applause. The trainer continues to work with Blue in the event he’s needed as an understudy and, thanks to her positive reinforcement training methods, he’s now getting up on cue. “They never stop loving to learn,” she says, observing her ancient dog’s newly found youthful spirit.
Of Mice and Men is due to run through July 27, 2014. In between shows, Norton spends downtime with Violet, enjoying her company. “When the show’s over, I’ll miss her terribly.”
This is a touching story of a seizure-alert dog’s participation at a graduation ceremony at Idaho State University. This Pit Bull’s person, Joshua Kelly who was suffering from epilepsy recently completed his degree, but sadly had died in February. To honor his memory, Terrell Kelly, Joshua’s father, brought Cletus to walk the “stage” with him to pick up his son’s diploma, this gesture was met with cheers from all—a very moving moment indeed.
From rescue to model dog
When it came time to plan our cover for Bark’s summer issue, we didn’t need to look far and wide. The perfect model dog was sitting in our in-box. Back in March, Bark blogger Shirley Zindler shared her story of a remarkable little dog named Mr. Peebles whose will to live coupled with the love and care of an equally remarkable foster mom … was nearing a happy end. Mr. Peebles started life as an abandoned newborn—brought to a northern California shelter with serious head trauma that included a skull fracture and severe bit wounds. After several surgeries and months of devotion and TLC, he has made a full recovery and by all accounts is a happy, friendly puppy full of life. When we posted Mr. Peebles story, he received well-wishes from around the world. People were inspired by his will to survive, and the dedication shown by his foster mom. Mr. Peebles would make a wonderful cover dog.
At the end of March, we arranged a photo shoot with Mr. Peebles with the hopes of catching his spirit on camera. He was all that we could hope for … a normal, rambunctious 4-month-old puppy. He showed no signs of timidness or trepidation. He was a joyful model and wore us out! We got some great photos, and some delightful video. The clip above shows Mr. Peebles at “work”—greeting Natalia Martinez, and pouncing on Bill Parsons—Natalia and Bill are partners in Photo Lab Pet Photography, the dynamic duo who photographed our session. Mr. Peebles is still waiting for his forever home and the next chapter in this heartwarming story.
P.S. We’ve received several queries about the lovely collar Mr. Peebles is wearing on her cover photo — it’s from our friends at Aroo Studio.
Pet-friendly shelters can be lifesavers for victims
We caught an interesting story on the National Public Radio's Latino USA on Sunday … the report discussed the connection between domestic violence and pets. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NVADV) finds evidence that many women at risk of spousal abuse refuse to leave out of fear for their pets — studies show that between 18 and 48 percent of pet-owning women at domestic violence shelters had delayed their escape from their abusers because of their pets. Providing shelter and services to victims of domestic violence that include accommodations for their pets can be key in these life or death decisions. The numbers are still small, but some shelters like New York City's Urban Resource Institute are beginning to open their doors to pets—first cats, and now dogs. Listen to how the bond between survivors and their pets is an important part of the healing process.
Copyright © 1997-2017 The Bark, Inc. Dog Is My Co-Pilot® is a registered trademark of The Bark, Inc