Gary Justis

Gary Justis
Bloomington, Illinois, US
April 04
Gary Justis has worked primarily in the area of kinetic sculpture for the last 34 years. He lived and worked in Chicago from 1977 to 1999. He currently resides in Bloomington Illinois, where he teaches and writes stories about his actual experiences. (please take a look at his "Sculpture" link for more info)


MAY 4, 2009 6:59PM

Dog Ear Covers

Rate: 45 Flag
Fergus light OS
Fergus 1994-2006 The Greatest Dog in the History of the World


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.


Dog Ear Cover prototypes 3
Dog Ear Cover prototypes original napkin concept drawing


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 aggress

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.


Kimber lunge


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.



Fearless Fergus

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.


Blubberstick in light 1
 Blubberstick        Winter 2008


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.


G & Blubber
G and Blubberstick May 2009


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rated for that great photo of that light emitting dog!
mine are my children- I know that is always dismissed as ridiculous, but mine are. This is a lovely tribute to your dobies Gary.
Great post, Gary, as always...I clicked here thinking it was going to be about books (dog-eared covers ;) So the whole thing was a fun surprise, starting with that wondrous first picture. You are so good at capturing light! And the last third belongs in the checkout-line rant hall of fame ;) Nice job!
I'm a sucker for a good dog, what a kindness not to clip Fergus' ears
Donna, thank you! I always liked the way the three words sounded together. This is my favorite picture of Fergus, and Brinna, he was a very bright little guy! Hyblaean, they are the only children I have, and they are unfortunately short lived......that is the hard parts
The photos of Fergus have stolen my heart, and Blubberstick is quite the charmer as well.

Good for you, Gary, spreading the feeling of compassion for the creatures we share this planet with.

Admittedly, I am one who feels more compassion for animals than people---never met an animal I didn't like---never met an animal who was mean just for the sake of being mean. Can't say the same for people.

I really worry about the animals in this economy. How many will be abandoned because they can no longer be afforded? Or a forced move results in a pet not being able to be kept.

Great post.
Yay Gary! Dogs rule and I love, love, love that photo of you and Blubberstick!
gracielou (really my dog child's name...I know, you are probably shocked. Did you ever consider using Blubberstick as your screen name?)
I love the fact that you didn't crop (is that right, crop?) their ears. And your story is very endearing, as usual. I love dogs, but think I also learned something from your essay.
Their names are great and Fergus is magnificent. (I won't ask what happened) This line is great and says so much about dogs:

"The dogs are always very good at nullifying the things that attempt to take them away from being dogs."

This is so true!
Oh yeah, that first photo is amazing.
Why is it that people think it's either humans
or animals that we should care about? I once
told a man that I had spent a lot of money on my animals medical needs and he actually got angry stating he would never do such a thing.
But I bet he'd spend the money on a car or something nice for himself. I admire your
patience and how you explained things to the
guy in the feed store.
(BTW-my doggie is the best doggie ever
too! :^) )
gary, this is an amazingly well thought out and written piece, and i love the pics, especially the ones of fergus. i realize everyone has a slightly different take on their pets; for myself, there are some people, but not that many, who i love as much as my dogs.
Rated, not least for leaving your Dobies' ears unchopped. They are so much cuter left unaltered.
Aw, Gary. *schnuffle* The Daxter is the light of my life at the moment, too, and the things he does with his ears just amuse the stuffing out of me for some reason.

Fergus's face was nothing short of PRECIOUS. And Blubberstick's close-up with that human at the end made me crack my face in a great big grin.

I confess, I still don't get children.
Yeah for dogs! Fergus melted my heart immediately. Dobermans get a bad rap. They are such loving dogs.

One of my favorite things about my Rat Terrier, Maggie, is her crazy bat ears - I swear she could take flight at any moment. Hey, know anyone with dog ear covers? You know, just in case. Maybe just a hat.

Oh and what kind of crazy fertilizer do you use? That's the greenest grass I've ever seen!
Dogs never let you down.
Wonderful story, beautiful photos. I wouldn't expect anything less from you G. R.I.P. Fergus. He was a beauty.
I do find it easier to be sympathetic toward the dogs I've owned in my life than most people. That's not to say all people. They are unconditionally loving, devoted and our constant companions. We can't say that about all people. Dogs rarely get into bad moods and they never discovered sarcasm. Thank God.
Aw a man and his dog.

We have so loved ours, without comparison between them and humanoids.

What an elegant and moving tribute to Kimber, Blubberstick and Fergus. My dogs were less majestic, but I felt the same way towards them.
Again, you somehow transform your message into more than what you say and we see --there's a synthesis of some sort, fueled by talent and heart. And oh, those exceptional dogs! Just full of wonderment.
Once again you raise consciousness and expand perspective by pointing out the extraordinary in the ordinary.
Of course, you are correct that our affection for our dogs is not of the same level as that for children. But I can't let my dog, Albert, know that.

One thing that always amazes me with good pets is how they respond to emergencies. Once we had a medical emergency while on vacation with our dog, and I had to rush my wife to the hospital emergency room. The dog was amazing throughout, his silent understanding, and willingness to be left alone in the car for a long time in the hospital parking lot, and his look of relief when we returned a few hours later. They show similar deference when another pet in the house is ill. It is quite something.
Great pics and nice sentiments. But decorum? In a dog? Not mine.
Hi Roy, it’s great to see you! Fergus came that way….With Blubber we had a choice and decided to leave them alone. The long ears soften the look and their attitude… it seems. And m.a.h the abandoned animals that end up in shelters because of the economy and because of universities letting out is heartbreaking. Blubber was a rescue, and he is amazing. Gracie, hello! Blubberstick is made fro the li’l guy…..Michael, thank you for the read and the quote! Dakini, there are even more reasons to care for them and nurture them. Hi Nana, I have to admit, I love all of you just as much as Kimber and Blubber! Hi Verbal, Fergus was precious…….in ways so few ever express, he saved us……Julie…BAT EARS!? Yeas Dobies are lambiepies. Priddy.they will not ever……. Bro, they have no mood swings, until they see a squirrel, or a marginal character coming towards you..
Walk, I’m sure the kids take first place, but hey kids…be good, ya hear?

Denese, it is a special love……never withheld.

Hello Steve, thank you for the kind comment…..I’m sure they were magnificent!

Hi Lea, the message is easy as the moments hand over the words and they write themselves onto the page……

Hatchet, the everyday holds wonders, and anyone can find them…..

Procopius, they will surprise yu with calmness at unexpected times. That’s why forming trust is so important. They read us, and will act accordingly in desperate situations.

Jimmy, maybe when you are sleeping, he listens for your every breath, to make sure everything is OK…..
great story and pix! there are certainly many dogs i've loved more than people ... for sure. i think your friend is right -- in some ways it is easier to muster compassion for animals. maybe because they keep a child-like innocence forever...not sure. loving tribute here gary.
Great post - made me want to rush out and give my guys and gal great big hugs. I suspect that most people who treat their animals well do the same for their children.
Thank you Cindy......unfortunately, they bite harder than kids!

Yes carries over to people....
Fergus was a handsome dog with splendid ears. That first picture is amazing. And Kimber and Blubberstick are gorgeous...I love the sleek muscled look of Dobies.

I love my dogs (Siberian Huskies) and they and my cats are part of my family. There are very few people who mean as much to me.
Splendid indeed Suzn......they remind me of a strange cross between a deer and a cat......
Gary, sent my son your post and he remembers that you brought Fergus to the university sometimes. Says he was beautiful. So nice that he is remembered.
What depth, Gary. I think this is one of your best pieces, in the same league as your childhood memoirs, and that means very, very good.
I'm impressed with how you took a little bit of your time and managed to soften that man's heart. No doubt he was missing his own beloved dog but had allowed that sense of loss to embitter him.

Wonderful story, Gary, with lovely photos of some beautiful, faithful dogs. That one picture of Fergus (second from the bottom) melts my heart. I used to have a Doberman named Baron who looked just like Fergus, amazing ears and all.
Thanks for your comment Lea, Cory remembers Morgan (Nader) who used to come to work with me. She loved the beach adjacent to the campus. I would arrive early, run her, then she would sleep quietly through my classes in the office. We had her in Chicago, then later in Bloomington, Fergus came along later as a rescue........he used to try and get Morgan' attention by leaping over her......

Thank you so much Rob...that's a very kind, supportive thing to say.
Thank you Lisa, I think you need a puppy?!
Actually, Gary, I just adopted a 2-year-old dog this past weekend who looks like she might be giving Fergus a run for his money in the "Greatest Dog in the History of the World" category. It's wonderful to have a lovable dog again. :)
I loved this and I understand about the dogs and the neighbors ... my house is "where Gracie lives". :) Your babies are gorgeous ... man's best friend for sure!!!

On a larger field, your conversation with the gentleman in line with you brings to mind the negative comments made during the campaign, when Obama proposed to speak with everyone, even our enemies and the disdain that was met with. Goes to show the power of real dialouge and its ability to change minds.
Beyond all that, wonderful story Gary, as always!
Lisa......OK! I am happy for you and thanks for re-visiting.

Mother, Gracie is very fortunate!

Time, I rarely ever change minds, and this was a big, big surprise.
Good on you, G, for leaving them ears alone. :-D

My brother's dobie is such a sweet girl, and when he picked her out they asked if he wanted the ears and tail clipped. He said no, he wanted her as is. She is such a peach. Love the shot of Fergus, but even more the shot at the end with you and Blubberstick. Excellent post, my friend.
Gary, the first photo was stunning. My favorite is of you and your dog. I must admit a fear of Dobermans, but after reading your post, I'm thinking a little bit differently. They and their owner are amazing. Rated (yesterday).
Helllo Bill! tank you and i hope your brother's Dobie is still around....good call on his part.

Hello Mary! You just need to meet some of the good ones, who have owners who socialize them properly. I'm glad you stopped by!
I fondly remember Elvis, the Basset Hound I found at the humane society when I went there for a cat. He made life worth living. He comforted me and never argued (though his howls might have been interpreted as such by an outsider).

Fergus reminds me a bit of Elvis, obviously not in looks (though the ears have some commonalities), but in the gentle love that shined in both their eyes. I still miss our Elvis so much. Like you, I was the lady with the Basset Hound, the hound that would sit down when he was tired of walking, no matter where we were, so that I had to stand and wait for him to generate enough energy to get going again, and in the process, inevitably meet or reacquaint myself with a neighbor.

I like what you said to your line mate. It's very true. I have to ruminate on my feelings about dogs vs children, the similarities and differences. I'll get back to you.

Lovely post; it made me teary.

Lauren, Your comments always show such depth of understanding.
I appreciate the tenderness, and glimpses into relevant things in your life, and how the stories play those moments back to you. thank you so much for sharing the story of Elvis.....
thanks for coming by Karin!
Nice. You have more patience with the man in the line and the outcome was nicer than mine would have been. I would have replied, and have in similar situations involving my cats, "Mind your own business." That is not conducive to further conversation.

Enjoyed the post, Gary.

Oh my, those dogs are beautiful! The photo of you and Blubberstick (i love that name!) is wonderful, those eyes are magnificent!
You know, somehow Monte, I can see you being somewhat curt, but not by ay stretch rude. You would think the rationale, but be too shy initially to express it.............that's OK and I hope I am not presuming too much to speculated on what you would have done, but I know it would have been tender.....

Lady, yes, the eyes are wonderful.....he got his name from being a tubby little guy when he was 4 months old.....he also picked up any stick he could hold and carry it for sustained periods.
I wanted to add that Blubber has an extensive stick collection
You have my personality type down to a science there, Gary.

I have said it but, you are right, not in an unkind manner. ;-)

I just think that people are incredibly presumptuous today with total strangers. And I actually have, and likely will again, told or, more often, "asked" people to mind their own business. It usually embarrasses them, particularly the big hulking know it all types. What are they going to do to an old man standing in a line at Wal Mart anyway?

Monte, folks usually want others to agree with you know, with some, the thing that is obvious to them, they assume is obvious to all other folks. I am a big guy, so people naturally assume two things:
Hulking presence-nice guy, but a little slow, or Sports Nut Jock Type who wants to talk sports.

I have a very sweet barber, who is so polite about people's political beliefs.....he is still trying to figure out if I am liberal or not.....he's very humble, but like me, he is concerned with Justice.

It's I get older, alot of young people call me "Chief", especially African American young adults and makes me want to lapse into pidgin English and use sign language....Sorry about the digression.

One time in a theater, we were sitting next to some college kids. when the movie started, they threw up the public service announcement that reminds you not to leave unattended items in the empty seat beside you....especially purses. When the announcer's voice trailed off, the kid next to me leaned slightly out and shouted over the empty seat between us, "If you touch my coat, I will kill you!" the theater went silent and the kids he was with burst into laughter, others were laughing. I leaned out and said, "You do not know me well enough to kid in that way, so mind your own #$*cking business. LJ started laughing, then people around us applauded........the kid reached over and we shook hands.....I checked first to see if he had a hand buzzer, or it was a mannequin's hand that would come off as I grasped it.
Your response to the man in the check-out line is an inspiration. The construction of the piece is flawless, the pics are beautiful. Well done, Mr. Justis, and thank you!
Why do people feel the need to comment on what other people are buying in the store? That is one of my pet peeve. Yes, the quantity was large, but presumably it’s cheaper that way. And you were buying food, for goodness sake. It’s not like you were spending a lot of money on something ridiculous, like dog ear covers…

Lovely photos, lovely story, lovely dogs.
You're a heartbreaker, you know it Gary? I now officially have a crush not only on you, but also on your dogs......
I fell in love with the second picture of Fergus.
I was just starting to growl, "Why would you even bother talking to a knothead like that?" [knotheads, it takes one to know one]
Then I read the final paragraph.
Nice story, good lesson. Once again, much thanks.

PS: I miss Bismark, my son's boxer. His ears weren't clipped. A friend suggested I should fahion a sort of jock strap for him.
ah, sweet loyalty. Gary, Thank you.
Owl, a neighbor asked me the other day if I really said that. Yes, and I tried to get it as best as I could remember. My rant was not without a firmly constructed rationale that was inspired by a similar, more impetuous comment by a large, aggressive man. I had thought about an answer long after the fact, and like a dream come true, I was given the opportunity to use the argument.

Denise, we see it all the time, and I do it, like when I see excited teenagers buying beer on a Thursday (it used to be Friday) night……I usually say, “someone is going to party till it hurts so bad……” I usually get a smile, even though it’s really none of my business.

Cartouche……No you are, and you can be crushin’ on Blubber (that sounds odd) all you want…..he loves the ladies!!

Scupper… is truly sweet!

Padraig, When you quote parts back to me that you like it makes my day. Thank you. And I know how you feel about catching up. You are busy writing those masterful pieces!!!
The security they provide more than pays for their keep, does it not?
And I agree, one cannot be too sentimental about them.
Gary, this is the greatest doggie post evah! And I am now in love with the dear departed Fergus. His ears totally did it for me. :)

And great writing, my friend, as usual.
I am scratching my head .... as this is the first thing that I read here last night, did I not leave a comment? Fergus, oh yes, I know that he is gone ... but it was instant love. Love his rug. And Blubberstick? this is a memorable piece! A thorough joy. Say we have wonderful friends at IL Wesleyan [un, not students]. Bloomington right?
I'm with Donna. I was expecting something well dog-eared. Perhaps if it were part of a book of your collected stories, it would be sitting on someone's nightstand, dog-eared. ;)
Hi Dana, Everyone loved Fergus from the moment they met him. He in turn love humanity….but he was wary of other dogs, and he had apparently been trained to kill cats. We had to watch him. He nearly shook a large grey cat to death, but I was able to pull him off. I could not believe his strength and quickness. He shook the cat with such speed and force, his head, with his mouth holding the cat was a grey blur.

Hello Kent, That is a very clever compliment. And I am touched.

Jane, They are big Lap-Dogs!
Ah this is such a beautiful tribute! And your dogs are such gorgeous specimens! (That top photo of Fergus - amazing.)

Those pretty, thoughtful, all-seeing eyes of theirs. So patient and kind but on the alert to munch on anyone who threatens you! What would this world be without dogs and dog lovers? Not a place I'd like to be. (I'm looking to move and I won't consider a place that doesn't allow dogs, even though I don't have one right now!).