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News: Guest Posts
“Wilfred”—If Dogs Could Talk

Over the years I’ve imagined up a full and complex human life for my dog. There is something about his personality that screams socially awkward 45-year-old still living at home with Mom. I can’t help it and it cracks me up, so needless to say, I was pretty excited when a friend told me about FX’s newest series, Wilfred.

Wilfred is about a troubled young man, Ryan (played by Elijah Wood of The Lord of the Rings fame) who forms a friendship with his neighbor’s dog, Wilfred. Sounds like the makings of a nice little show, right? Wrong. You see, while everyone else sees Wilfred as just a normal dog, Ryan sees a marijuana-smoking, Matt Damon-loving, tell-it-like-it-is Australian man dressed up in a dingy dog suit.

Wilfred, played by the hilarious Jason Gann, waltzes into Ryan’s life the morning after Ryan hits rock bottom, and immediately Wilfred begins pushing Ryan to step outside of himself with that special brand of in-your-face honesty that dogs have. Wilfred challenges Ryan to change, and Ryan does.

The humor is lowbrow (think The Hangover), so if that is not your cup of tea then Wilfred may not be the show for you. But, if you can see through the pot smoke and beyond the crass jokes, then you’ll catch a glimpse of something that all dog owners can relate to – dogs make people better.

I guarantee, after the episode is over, you’ll look over to your own best friend in a dog suit, give him a hug and wonder what he has to say about all of this.

Wilfred premiers tonight at 10 pm on FX.

News: Guest Posts
Google Android Still Offering Repackaged Dog Fighting App
Dog fighting is not a game

If you love dogs, this photo* is especially hard to look at. Imagine if this was your dog. For Pit Bull lovers, when we see these images—the brutal consequences of dog fighting—we can't help but imagine our dog in that victim's place. Why was that dog's life defined by cruelty, pain and suffering when my dog's life is spent being loved, pampered and spoiled? The difference is education.

 

This is why I'm asking Google Android to stop offering the KG Dogfighting app, which promotes and glorifies this inhumane, illegal activity. (This is a repackaged version of Dog Wars, which we thought had been pulled from the market a couple weeks ago.) Dog fighting is not a game. It has real-life consequences not only for the dogs, but for the children and innocent bystanders who witness the fights or horrific results. If a new generation learns to dismiss the worth of all living creatures, including themselves, there are no winners, virtual or otherwise. Game over.

 

*Editor's note: Originally, Julia included an image of a seriously wounded fighting dog, which we felt was too graphic for the Bark blog. She wanted to post the photo because it communicated the horror of dog fighting in stark, indisputable terms. She has a good point but we felt the image was too shocking for an unprepared reader of the blog. We agreed, instead, to show Hector, one of the beautiful but scarred dogs rescued from Michael Vick's compound in 2007. I add this note, because I don't want to change her words but felt the need to explain why the post and the image don't exactly sync.

News: Guest Posts
Cute Animal Overload
Cuteroulette.com is the most adorablest time-waster in the world

Buckle your sweet-belts, everybody. Cuteroulette.com is here to sweep you into a fluffy vortex of adorable-ness.

Created by New York City design firm Hard Candy Shell, the site brings together a random assortment of “squee!”-inducing YouTube videos. Simply keep clicking the “Next Cuteness” arrow to up your dosage of incredibly precious creatures doing precious little things.   Some of the videos are old chestnuts, like “Puppy Howl” and “Surprised Kitty,” but new friends are in store, too. The videos aren’t relegated to the usual domestic pets, so you may find yourself unexpectedly charmed by a pair of fennec foxes, or suddenly soothed by the sight of a sleeping tiger kitten.   Of course, there are plenty of pups in the feed to keep us dog-people interested. Beware of the “Pug Massage” video, or one of a gangly Great Dane puppy and his perplexing tortoise pal. They’ll make even the most jaded cute-seeker melt like a cheap chocolate Easter bunny.   The most dangerous thing about Cuteroulette? The parade of related videos that appear at the bottom of each clip as it ends. Before you know it, you could find yourself watching 10 baby-and-doggie vids, disappearing into the black hole of “Awwwww.” (Or, like me, end up following the call of the wolf video for 20 minutes.)   Just remember: All productivity will be temporarily terminated upon visiting Cuteroulette. But if you’re having a bad day, there may be nothing better. Watch, you'll see:

News: Editors
New Film Realistically Portrays How We Live with Dogs
Charming Jack Russell shares the screen with Ewan McGregor and Christopher Plummer

Escaping the office mid-week to sit in a movie theater and watch a film—what a rare treat! Claudia and I did just that one week ago, for a special screening of a new film Beginners, written and directed by Mike Mills, and starring Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer and Mélanie Laurent. This gem of a film opens the San Francisco International Film Festival tonight, before its commercial release in early June.

  The fact that a charming little dog, a Jack Russell Terrier named Arthur, appears in nearly every scene is the reason why Bark was invited to the screening. The film is not about Arthur or dogs specifically, but people who love and live with a dog. The dog is not there for laughs or a plot device, he simply is an important part of the characters’ lives, and this natural portrayal is rare among films.   McGregor plays the son, and Plummer, the father with Laurent the son’s love interest. Beginners is an intimate, understated story of self-discovery, life, love and death … and Arthur the dog (performed by Cosmo) is omnipresent for it all. His is a sweet, affectionate performance—coaxed by Mathilde De Cagny, the trainer who gave us that other thespian JRT, Eddie of “Fraser” fame.   Claudia and I loved Beginners, it is one of the most honest and joyous films you’ll see, but also one of the quietest and most restrained. Oh yes, and thought provoking.   We have the good fortune of interviewing the Mike Mills and Ewan McGregor on Friday, and we’ll be sharing our conversation with you in our summer issue.   Check out the film’s trailer, and get a taste of their magic:

News: Guest Posts
Does Your Home Need a Harvey?
Pup makes a convincing case for adoption in UK ad

Think your dog is well-trained? Meet Harvey, and reconsider. This freckled shelter pup performs a dazzling array of helpful household tricks, from shining (and not eating) shoes to picking the kids up at school—as he persuasively argues in this TV commercial, “Every home needs a Harvey.”

Since the ad first aired in the United Kingdom last fall, it’s racked up more than 1 million views on YouTube, and Harvey’s achieved canine celebrity in his homeland. He’s got his own Facebook page, a slew of “behind the scenes” extras and lots of incredibly cute pics for his fans to download. (The commercial is for UK advertising organization Thinkbox, which helps promote TV as a marketing medium.)   Offscreen, Harvey answers to a different name: Sykes. His real-life job as a pup-performer brings him plenty of work, including major film productions like Sweeney Todd, Prince of Persia and the latest Pirates of the Caribbean. In an article in The Guardian, Sykes comes across as refreshingly down-to-earth and charming, greeting the reporter at the door and showing off a sampling of the tricks he performed in his star-making commercial.   Sykes has a special connection to his Harvey character, too: He was once a stray. A friend of his future owner, Gill Raddings, was joined by Sykes while out on a walk. Raddings adopted Sykes after his original owner couldn’t be found, and she added him to her pack of acting animals.   Thinkbox’s “Harvey” commercial is currently getting a second blast of airplay across the pond, to the joy of his 12,000-plus Facebook fans. This time around, maybe he’ll make some new friends here in the States, and convince more people about the joys of adopting a shelter dog.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
“Little Hugo” the Dog Causes Controversy
Venezuela and Columbia in conflict over soap opera

Venezuela and Columbia are two countries that have long had a complicated relationship. Serious matters (such as accusations by one country that the other country was harboring Marxist guerrillas with the intent of overthrowing the government of the first country) strain the relationship. So, too, it seems, do less important problems such as a soap opera made in one country that doesn’t show the other country in a flattering light and named a dog after the president.

  The Colombian soap opera “Chepe Fortuna” stars two sisters called Colombia and Venezuela. The sister named Venezuela is apparently regularly associated with criminal activities, and is portrayed as vulgar and meddling. In addition, Venezuela has a dog who is named “Little Hugo,” which is presumably a reference to Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez.   Venezuela’s National Television Commission issued a statement objecting to the degrading treatment of Venezuela by the soap opera and urging the television station to cease airing it. The producer replied that it is just about humor and that Venezuelan officials are taking it too seriously.   In one scene, Venezuela asks, “What will become of Venezuela without little Hugo?” and a man answers, “Venezuela will be free. Lately Little Hugo was defecating everywhere.”   I lived in Venezuela for a while back in the 1990s and loved it. It was a warm and welcoming country with some of the most beautiful landscapes and wildlife I’ve ever seen. I must say, it’s easy to see the objection to having their country and president mocked in this way. A person could have a namesake dog and have that be an expression of respect, but it can also be the opposite—an insult.   Yet as a US citizen accustomed to free speech, banning a soap opera seems pretty extreme. In this country, we are used to parodies, especially of powerful people such as elected officials. The request to stop airing the show illustrates the tension between Columbia and Venezuela, the different thresholds for determining what is allowed (and what is not) in various parts of the world, and how seriously some people in Latin America take their soap operas.   Most interesting to me is the fact that a tense international political situation involves a dog. What does that mean to you in terms of dogs’ growing cultural importance worldwide?
News: Guest Posts
Tiger Is Headed for Sundance
Dog actor premieres at the big festival

Remember Tiger, the adorable Terrier-mix who had to learn to grab a pants leg and shake it for his role in Son of No One? His guardian and manager, Lorraine Goodman, wrote about his adventures on the set of the new Al Pacino film for Bark (October 2010) and she shared a few tips on getting your dogs into showbiz for TheBark.com.

  Yesterday, the full lineup for the 2011 Sundance Film Festival was announced, and Tiger’s movie (OK, Pacino, Juliette Binoche, Channing Tatum, Katie Holmes, Tracy Morgan and Ray Liotta are also in the film) will be among the premieres. At the time of her story, Goodman wasn’t revealing much about the plot but we learned from the announcement that it’s not exactly Disney fare. The story follows two men in post-9/11 New York whose lives unravel when violent secrets from their childhood surface.   We’ll be watching for the reviews. Good luck, Tiger!

 

News: Guest Posts
Hachi Debuts on Hallmark
Story of epic canine loyalty

From what I hear and read, it appears people either love the movie Hachi: A Dog’s Tale or, well, hate it. I’ve surprised myself by falling in with the fans. First, it’s hard not to swoon over the beautiful dogs portraying Hachi through the years—with their profound eyes and noble carriage. But more than that, I was impressed by the simple story, the slow pace and an unexplained melancholy that hangs over the small Rhode Island town, even when times are good.

  The film relocates the story of Hachiko, an Akita born in Odate, Japan, in 1923, to Rhode Island sometime close to today. The real Hachiko walked his human, a professor at Tokyo Univeristy, to and from the Shibuya train station every day for a couple years. One day, the professor died suddenly at the university and did not come home on the train. Hachi returned to the station and waited for the professor’s return every day for nine years. There is now a bronze statue at the station in his honor.   Knowing the story and that the film was heading for a Hallmark Channel premiere (Sunday, September 26), I worried it would be teeth-achingly saccharine. While I cry at the drop of the hat, I don’t enjoy being played, and I think director Lasse Hallström avoided that. Casting Joan Allen was probably one reason; she plays the professor’s wife/widow as a little hard and unsentimental. It also helps that the score features lots of piano that wanders rather than paces the story. Some of the train station folks—a bookseller, a food cart vendor, and Jason Alexander as the crusty stationmaster—are less convincing types.   Still, I happily bawled into my tissues watching scene after scene of Hachi waiting patiently through sun, wind, rains, snow and dark. When it was all over, I hugged my dogs and asked: “Would you wait nine years for me?” They held their tongues, but I figure I’d get a day, maybe two, tops.

 

News: Guest Posts
Tulip on the Big Screen
My Dog Tulip world theatrical premiere, Sept. 1

The animated film version of J.R. Ackerley’s best-selling memoir, My Dog Tulip, will have its world theatrical premiere on Wednesday, Sept. 1, at the New York Film Forum. Written, directed and animated by Paul and Sandra Fierlinger, this decidedly adult story traces the small details of the 14-year relationship between Ackerley (voiced by Christopher Plummer) and his Alsatian in post-war England. We’re big fans of the classic, unsentimental memoir, which was first published in England in 1956, and now the lively, thoughtful film. Check out our Q&A with the Fierlingers in Bark (Summer 2010).

 

The filmmakers will attend the 8 p.m. shows on Sept. 1 and 2. My Dog Tulip runs through Sept. 14 (screening details here).

 

News: Editors
And Man Created Dog?
Nat’l Geo special explores canine evolution

Recently, I had the chance to preview a National Geographic Channel special, And Man Created Dog (airing Sunday, August 8, 9p.m. ET/PT). This show is about canine evolution; one of our favorite topics! I must admit I had trouble with its title (too human-centric) and its diorama-like reenactments that confidently state scientific conjecture as proven fact. There is also too much of a “golly gee” flavor to the narrative for my taste. But mainly, I am disappointed that alternative theories of canine evolution aren’t presented, including one to which we subscribe: co-evolution. It’s possible that wolves shaped us as much as we shaped them. Considering that wolves have been among the leading megafauna predators for millions of years, our ancestors would have had a lot to learn by observing their hunting prowess.

  Nonetheless, it is interesting and well worth watching. Two of our favorite researchers—UCLA’s Robert Wayne and Barnard’s Alexandra Horowitz—help explain the story, which includes an emphasis on the longevity of the canine/human partnership.   Another problem I have with the program is the lack of coverage about how closing breed registry books means that dog breeding (especially in the U.S.) has increased the prevalence of canine diseases and resultant health problems. This is such an important topic—it deserves more coverage (or a whole show unto its own). The program spends much too much time with more “exotic” storylines, such as how Italians train Newfies (and other water dogs) to perform water rescues. Or how Italians use dogs for their truffle hunting—seems as if some producer wanted to spend a paid vacation in Italy, perhaps.   Among the most poignant pieces of evidence for the long term association of “us” and dogs is an archeological finding from Chauvet Cave in Southern France: two sets of footprints—those of a dog (which are different than a wolf’s) and a young child—embedded close together in the fossilized mud of the cave floor. The propinquity of the two left no doubt that a prehistoric child and his dog were in that cave together 26,000 years ago! That is, in itself, worth tuning in for.

 

Meet a therapy dog named Tuesday, who helps an Iraq veteran suffering from PTSD in this clip from And Man Created Dog.

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