I used to think Fergus's head resembled a Stealth Bomber when he was standing at attention, alert, ever listening. I liked to remark about his Airplane Ears, knowing it was a kind of softened mockery. The rest of him was all business, and when I think back, I'm grateful I never considered doing anything about his ears. They were fine in their uncut magnificence, catching every suspicious sound by object or person.
In the past, my girlfiend thought the idea for Dog Ear Covers could inspire a funny kind of scheme, where the humor of the idea is imbedded in the utility of the invention. A fashion statement on a dog is, of course, a statement about the owner. However, after the design is laid out, the pattern cut, parts sown, stamped, stapled or riveted, I tried to convince myself that a successful wearing of the covers is 50% the dog's responsibility.
Luckily, when a dog fails in that type of responsibility, we would rather laugh at them, celebrating their reluctance to satisfy our miserable need to re-make ourselves through them. The dogs are always very good at nullifying the things that attempt to take them away from being dogs.
When my girlfriend made several versions of the covers years ago, we were well aware of the intrinsic value in the project. The value was in their display, or artifact identity, not in the actual wearing. They had packaging, with cellophane, a nice design, and portability (storability).
After leaving the newly made dog items neatly contained in their particular wrappers on my kitchen table one evening, we returned from a night out to find the covers had been ripped to fine shreds. Our dogs at the time, Alex and Lucky, had been coaxed into wearing the covers earlier that day. A very effective dog-critique can reveal unknown depths of a canine's mind.
We value the artifacts attached to our dogs. They try, in their best, handless ways to control meaning and effects of these artifacts, on their terms.
Kimber and Blubberstick May 2009
A dear friend of mine once told me how she thought it was easier to feel compassion for animals than human beings. I might have agreed with her back then. Neither of us had been around kids very much, and we were very young, preoccupied with our art careers, and not old enough to have colleagues who had children. I began to realize the emotional life I shared with my pets was something I could never fairly compare to my relationships with children and adults.
There is a difference in the love and devotion I feel for my dogs. It is deep, yet qualified in the sense that I carry an understanding of the limits the animals have in the choices they make, or the ones they are allowed to make.
I love children with a determination to protect their interests, even at the sacrifice of my own. This is not the case with my pets, even with their uncanny ability to mirror my thoughts and emotions.
Nonetheless, when someone comes over to our house, the level of grace, and affection the dogs show people continually amazes me. They are good dogs, always showing a level of civility, and sensitivity.
I do not think I had much of a hand in teaching them that. I watch them seeing how their behavior proceeds naturally out of their desire to please, and to see pleasure in the human beings around them.
Several years ago, I talked to a man while waiting in line at a farm supply store. He was eying the 40-pound bag of dog food in my cart. He shrugged his shoulders and said:
“I think dogs get better treatment than some kids.”
I thought he was probably right, but I sensed some guilt coming my way and I asked, “Well, do you know of any starving children around here?”
He looked up, surprised that I would ask a question and he answered, “Well, no. But I can’t see wasting energy on dumb animals.”
It was okay. I sucked up the ignorance, and loathing. I understood the connection between his beliefs, and the things he and his friends ranted about, when they talked about the waste of others and the things they felt people deserved…
When I collected a few thoughts, I checked the head of the line. They were waiting on a price check. I placed my merchandise on the conveyer, turned to the gentleman and said:
“Look, there are some things at work here that you may not have thought about. I have two dogs. They are fed twice a day, and walked 4-6 times in every 24-hour period. The walks I give them are long and stimulating. I am exercising myself, maintaining good health so I can remain vital and productive.
The dogs piss and shit alot, and in my walks with them, I am a good steward of the community. I pick up the turds, and prevent the dogs from pissing in my neighbor’s gardens. This is my responsibility, but in a greater sense, it shows my neighbors that I value a clean neighborhood and I respect their property.
With the walks, I have met everyone on the block, along with many people who are transients in the neighborhood. I know everyone by name. When something is out of place, I notice it and the dogs do as well. When someone is doing something out of the ordinary, the dogs notice it before I do and alert me to the situation.
Anyone who drives through the neighborhood (and there are thousands), know me as “The Guy with the Dobermans.” And with this comes a pattern of recognition, and later, a pattern language, where I have a readymade commonality with almost everyone I come in contact with socially. Since this commonality has its origin in the dogs, and in the activity of care, play, and showing off, the language is positive. This subtle process rouses positive feelings in people, inspiring a general sense of wellbeing.
At home, the dogs work without hesitation towards the protection of our home. There is a legend amongst the mail carriers of the late Fergus, who guarded our entryway with his dog acrobatics, making any delivery person stand in awe on the other side of the interior door, wary and thankful Fergus was safely contained.
Our 2 year old, Blubberstick, is beginning to do the same guarding ritual, as if he is acting out some snarling requital towards a bad-guy. I'm convinced that he is serious now.
The dogs keep us somewhat safe from home invasion. Thus, we are without insurance claims. The dogs make us happy, which makes us more productive, and likely to spend more money, helping to push the ecomony, with our surplus given to good causes.
In a short way of explanation, they are kept in my home, a good home, where they are fed, sheltered and loved. In return, they work out their distinctive lives in service to all of us, not complaining, but ever vigilant, panting, sleeping lightly, and watching.”
My line mate smiled. He reached down and took my hand. We shook and he said,
“OK, I have to look at the whole thing a little different now. I learned something. Now I have something to tell my kids tonight. They think their old man don’t know anything. I had a good dog once. I still have that old hat he used to wear.”
He helped me lift the massive bag of dogfood onto my soulder. We both stood there still holding the bag, hardly believing the shared bulk could be so light.