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Tag: history

Is this why “The Blue Boy” is blue?

The_Blue_Boy“The Blue Boy,” artist Thomas Gainsborough’s most famous work, featured a dog at one point in its evolution, and come September you’ll have a chance to see its ghostly image in person.

At some point in its creation, “The Blue Boy” lost his dog. Gainsborough painted over the fluffy white dog in the painting’s lower right hand corner, covering it with a pile of rocks.

Not until 1994, when an X-ray revealed the dog sitting by his master’s feet, did that become known to the world.

The painting’s ongoing restoration at The Huntington Library in California is now becoming an exhibit in itself, featuring a look at the painting’s history, mysteries, and artistic virtues, the revelations X-rays have provided over the years and explanations of the techniques being used to restore the work.

Project Blue Boy will open Sept. 22 at the Huntington, where the original painting has resided since 1921.

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Of course, the boy’s blueness had nothing to do with any feelings of melancholy; instead the painting depicts a young man who appears confident, proud of his station in life and maybe a little bit defiant, as if prepared to defend himself against any teasing about his frilly blue outfit and plumed hat.

The painting isn’t as vibrant as it once once, and that’s why the museum has undertaken the restoration project.

“Earlier conservation treatments have involved adding new layers of varnish as temporary solutions to keep it on view as much as possible,” said senior paintings conservator and “Project Blue Boy” co-curator Christina O’Connell.

“The original colors now appear hazy and dull and many of the details are obscured,” she added.

In addition to contributing to restoration research, the project will likely uncover new information of interest to art historians. O’Connell is using a Haag-Streit surgical microscope to closely examine the painting. To gather material information, she is employing imaging techniques including digital x-radiography, infrared reflectography, ultraviolet fluorescence, and x-ray fluorescence.

The restoration project has also uncovered an An L-shaped tear more than 11-inches long, which is believed to have dated back to the 19th century when the painting was in the collection of the Duke of Westminster.

The painting was sold in 1921 to railroad tycoon Henry Edwards Huntington, leading to an outcry among the English, who were horrified that “The Blue Boy” should leave his homeland. The sales price is believed to have been about $700,000, or about $9.3 million today, which made it the second most expensive painting in the world, behind Leonardo da Vinci’s Madonna and Child.

In 1939, an X-ray was taken of the painting that revealed the canvas had once been an incomplete painting of an older man. The dog didn’t appear in that X-Ray.

Many believe the painting pictured ironmonger Jonathan Buttall, the first owner of the painting, but the true identity of the model remains a mystery.

No one knows why Gainsborough decided to rid the painting of the dog, either.

O’Connell will continue her examination and analysis of “The Blue Boy,” and her efforts to restore it.

Visitors to the Huntington will be able to observe her at work in the Thornton Portrait Gallery on Thursdays, Fridays and select Sundays from Sept. 22 through January 2019, PasadenaNow.com reported.

The painting will get a final treatment and reframing after that and will be rehung in its former location in the Huntington’s portrait gallery in early 2020.

(Photos: At top, the original painting (ca. 1770), lower, the painting under digital x-radiography; courtesy of The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens)

Are there too many dogs on the Internet?

image001Depictions of dogs, as any one who has ever read the wall of a prehistoric cave knows, date back to well before ancient times.

Pharaohs commissioned artworks of their favorite pets. Portrayals of hunting and images of medieval banquets often featured dogs in the background or foreground. In the Victorian-era, aristocrats hired painters to make portraits of themselves and their pooches.

As the 20th Century dawned, as humans came to live ever closer to the species, artists seized upon the idea of depicting dogs dressed in human attire and doing human things, bringing us such classes artworks as the inimitable (but often imitated) work, Dogs Playing Poker.

Well before photography went digital, before somebody flicked that World Wide Web switch on, dog depictions were being shared — if not as instantly, often, ridiculously and (often) demaningly as they are today on the Internet, and social media in particular.

Even in my earliest days in journalism, back in the 1970’s, I remember some newspapers had a pet writer — someone who penned a pet column, usually weekly. He or she was commonly an older person who performed mostly clerical duties, maybe a secretary for some top editor, who, due to his or her love for dogs, had volunteered for the task, likely at no increase in pay.

He or she would probably feature a dog in need of adoption every week, or write about pet care and training, or simply ask readers to submit photos of their pets for publication — an opportunity many readers seized, sending actual photos through actual mail.

One of the differences between then and now — a time when many a website is telling you how much they would like to see photos of your dog — is that the old clerk/pet writer’s request for photos was more than likely at least partly sincere.

pokerThose folks who want to see your dog’s photo now? Almost always, they are after something else. You can trust them about as much as the bulldog sneaking an ace to his friend in that painting to the left there.

Pet food websites, pet toy websites, even (we hate to admit it) pet news websites will commonly beg you for a photo of your pooch — not because anyone actually wants to see it, but because they want to get you on their email lists, get you “registered,” introduce you to their products and enlist your loyalty.

They want, more than anything, your money, and like many other businesses that want your money, they will gladly deceive you and try to capitalize on your love for/pride in your pet:

“We’d love to see a photo of your dog!”

Yeah, right.

I’m not here today to say that there are too many dogs on the Internet — even if never before in the history of man have we been so saturated with dog photos and images. The more the merrier, I say.

But I would argue there is too much dog exploitation and too much dog ridicule on the Internet, much of it carried out via those “adorable” photos of your “fur baby” — sometimes by profit-making concerns, sometimes by dog owners themselves.

Compare and contrast, if you will, our old, likely unpaid, pet columnist with someone like Matt Nelson, who is making a six figure annual salary by posting photos sent in by readers, along with a comment and a numerical rating (based on the dog, not the photo) at @dog_rates.

He is not taking any photos. He is not buying any photos. He’s really not doing much work at all, other than accumulating followers. He is merely sharing other people’s photos on Twitter — and managing to make a handsome living from it.

Nelson — profiled by Money magazine recently — dropped out of college once he saw how popular his dog photo sharing Twitter page had become:

There, WeRateDogs’ operations are relatively simple. Nelson estimates he runs 95 percent of things from his iPhone (which, yes, he confirms, does require a massive data plan to handle all the dog photos). He has two remote employees: Ricci, who culls submissions down to about 20 each day, and Tyler Macke, who manages the WeRateDogs online store. His dad, an executive director of a law firm, advises him on finances.

Nelson says he brings in “a low five figures” every month. At minimum, that puts him over $100,000 a year.

Thanks, Money magazine, for doing the math for us.

While Nelson may not be doing much original or creative work, at least his pursuit is mostly cute and kind and well meaning.

20151016_181413-e1522168748576Other dog photo sharing websites are more distasteful to me — dogshaming.com, in particular.

It features photos of dogs who have misbehaved, along with hand-made signs — all submitted by readers.

But perhaps most troubling of all are the photos and videos that individuals post to their Facebook page showing their dogs doing distinctly human things.

Alexandra Horowitz, the author and researcher who has spent her career seriously studying and trying to understand dogs — despite what seems to be society’s preference to see them as dress-up dolls, movie characters with human voices, or (apologies to those who use the term) “fur babies” — made note of the phenomena in last week’s New York Times Opinion section.

In it, she asked the question:

“Why can’t I stand to look at one more photo of a ‘funny dog?'”

She continued, “In a typical image, the dog is posed in a distinctly person-like way, as if on the phone, seated at a table or wearing headphones and dressed up in human attire — glasses, a dog-size suit and tie, even pantyhose.”

” … These dogs are but furry emoji: stand ins for emotions and sentiment. Each representation diminishes this complex, impressive creature to an object of our most banal imagination,” Horowitz wrote. “Such treatment may not be mortifying to the dog, perhaps … but it is degrading to the species.”

Only the most extreme examples of making our dogs look ridiculous receive any sort of backlash — primarily from people who see the pet as being abused. Like this one on Twitter. Go to the link and read all the comments and you almost think, maybe people are coming to their senses.

It bugs me that society is this way — that it took a species, molded it to its liking, and continually foists its own likeness and peculiarities upon it. It bugs me what people will put their dog through to achieve a Facebook post or Halloween costume that makes their friends laugh. It bothers me that some people are getting rich off it.

It’s like we were blessed with an original Mona Lisa, and 85 percent of us want to draw a mustache on it slap it on their own personal billboard.

Somebody needs to grow up, and it’s not the dogs.

(Photos: At top, The Feast of Dives, about 1510–20, Master of James IV of Scotland, the J. Paul Getty Museum); lower, one of the many reproductions of Dogs Playing Poker, by Cassius Marcellus Coolidge, other photos via Twitter)

Retrievers bring back unforgettable win

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Undersized, unknown, and underdogs in every meaning of the word, the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) made history this weekend as the first 16th seed ever to beat a one seed in the men’s NCAA Basketball Tournament.

The 20-point victory over top-seeded University of Virginia was an inspiring thing to watch, leaving some fans with brackets smashed and hopes dashed; some celebrating a Cinderella story that, just maybe, outdid the original; and still more scratching their heads over the upstart team’s unusual (in the sports world) name — the Retrievers.

As golden as they were Friday night, the team’s not named for that type of retriever, but after the Chesapeake Bay retriever, the state dog of Maryland.

cbrThe Chesapeake Bay retriever has been the mascot of UMBC since its founding in 1966.

The costumed mascot was known as “Fever the Retriever” in the late 1990s. Later, the school had a live mascot, called Campus Sam.

At the beginning of the 2008 fall semester, a Chesapeake Bay retriever puppy was chosen as a new mascot. He attended many athletic events and an online poll was held to give him a name, Gritty, or True Grit, as a statue of a retriever that stands in front of the Retriever Activities Center.

To commemorate the 40th anniversary of UMBC in 2006, the University held the “March of the Retrievers,” a procession of 40 Chesapeake Bay Retrievers from the True Grit statue to the University Commons and then on to the UMBC Soccer Stadium.

umbmemeAfter UMBC’s startling win, the meme postings began on social media — most of them featuring golden retrievers or Labrador retrievers.

More than a few new fans of the team just assumed the mascot must be a golden retriever, but maybe that was because they’ve watched too many Air Bud movies.

Only a few dog breeds show up commonly in the names of college sports teams — huskies, of course; bulldogs, for sure. Southern Illinois University has the Salukis. Boston University has the Terriers.

And UMBC, the college with a long name, chose a breed that honors the state dog, but shortened the name — maybe out of consideration for the cheerleaders.

“Go, University of Maryland Baltimore County Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, go!” is a bit of a mouthful.

The Retrievers had their chance to get to the Sweet 16 last night, facing Kansas State University (whose mascot is, yawn, yet another Wildcat). Despite another gutsy effort, they fell.

On the bright side, though — one I’m sure that will be featured heavily in the “One Shining Moment” montage that always concludes the tournament — they had their history-making night, and what a night it was.

The history and science of dog comes to life in … Zounds! … a comic book!

hirschcoverThink “dogs and comics” and many canine characters comes to mind:

Marmaduke and Snoopy, Underdog and Scooby Doo, Pluto and Goofy –a plethora of cartoon pooches ranging in size, intellect, shape, and colors from blue (Huckleberry Hound) to red (Clifford).

Most of them did little more than provide laughs. Some of them actually passed along some life lessons and knowledge. But none — not even the professorial Mr. Peabody — has displayed the scholarly knowledge of this one.

Meet Rudy, and the man behind him, Andy Hirsch.

Hirsch, through cartoons, words and an energetic narrator modeled after his own dog, tells the story of how wolves transformed into domestic dogs, what’s behind their behaviors and how their relationship to man has evolved in “Dogs: From Predator to Protector“.

It’s the latest title in a graphic nonfiction series from Science Comics that examines science topics ranging from animals, to ecosystems, to technology.

Through Rudy, writer/illustrator Hirsch explores what led wolves to be transformed into the diverse shapes, sizes and breeds of dogs we know today — namely, man.

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“I think it all falls under the umbrella of humans having had a profound influence on dogs. They simply wouldn’t exist without us, especially any sorts of artificial breeds, so a good portion of the book is really about our methods of influence,” Hirsch told Live Science.

The comic-science book gets into the intricacies of doggie DNA and genetics, their exceptional senses, their sociability and their capacity for cross-species communication.

“Humans and dogs have an unmatched partnership all the way at the species level, and to me that means we have a responsibility to understand and care for them,” Hirsch says.

It’s the Texas author’s first nonfiction book, based on his own research, and advice from science consultants including Julie Hecht, a canine behavioral researcher and adjunct professor at Canisius College in New York.

Readers follow Rudy, and his bouncing ball, through a lively series of discussions dealing with the history and science behind how dogs live and behave.

“Maybe it’s something of a cheat to let a tennis ball bounce 25,000 years between panels, but that’s the magic of comics!” Hirsch said. “… The tennis ball was a good way to, well, bounce from one thing to the next. Rudy is our friendly narrator, and though he’s very knowledgeable, he still has the distractible nature of an average dog. That means the bouncing ball never fails to move his attention from one topic to the next.”

Hirsch2-banner“This isn’t a textbook, so when there’s the opportunity to present some facts through an entertaining narrative aside I let the story follow it.”

Rudy is modeled after Hirsch’s own dog Brisco, who he and his partner (all shown at left) adopted.

“Rudy was his first shelter name, and it’s a good fit for a comic book dog,” Hirsch said. “If you get a chance to draw a book full of dogs, of course you’re going to make yours the star.”

Dachshund sign in San Pedro to be rescued in hopes of finding it a new forever home

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A dachshund that towers above an empty restaurant on a busy intersection of San Pedro, California, is coming down, but it has avoided being put down by a wrecking ball.

Instead, in hopes of finding it a new home, the sign has been rescued by a group seeking to preserve the gentrifying harbor town’s history.

The Daily Breeze reported yesterday that, rather than being destroyed as part of a redevelopment project that includes a new drive-thru Starbucks, the sign for Bonello’s New York Pizza has been procured by the local historical society.

The project’s developer agreed to sell the sign to the society for $1.

The sign has hung over Gaffey Street for 75 years, originally to beckon diners into The Hamburger Hut, one of San Pedro’s oldest burger joints when it closed almost 20 years ago.

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Over the years, it has lost its neon outline, and the dachshund lost its tail, and the dog was painted the colors of the Italian flag when the business became home to Bonello’s New York Pizza.

The San Pedro Bay Historical Society will pay to have the sign carefully removed. It wants to refurbish it and put it on display someday in a hoped-for local museum.

“It’s the only sign that’s been hanging over Gaffey Street for like 70-plus years,” said Angela Romero, the historical society board member who led the effort to save the sign.

“The feeling was let’s get it before it goes away or leaves San Pedro,” said Mona Dallas-Roddick, president of the board. “I’m telling people it’s a preservation move right now — we don’t know if we could ever (raise) the money for restoration.”

The sign will make an appearance next weekend at a wine tasting benefit for the society at Muller House, an historic home in San Pedro.

The dachshund first appeared in 1941, atop a sign for The Hamburger Hut — we can only guess it sold hot dogs, too — and the establishment went on to become a hot spot for teenagers and a fixture for generations of residents.

After Hamburger Hut closed, neighboring Bonello’s New York Pizza expanded into the closed Hamburger Hut space and restyled the Hamburger Hut sign, keeping the dachshund but adding its own name and a distinctly Italian color scheme.

Bonello’s, still in business, recently moved to another building on the block to make room for the new development.

indian roomWith massive redevelopment projects underway along the harbor, in downtown San Pedro and on its outskirts, word that the dachshund sign was coming down prompted members of the historical society to vote to save it.

Many still lamented how another sign, the one from the Indian Room at the corner of 10th Street and Pacific Avenue, had vanished when that bar was gentrified.

It saddens me to see old school places disappear — even if they’ve become pretty worn around the edges. So I applaud any effort to hang on to pieces of the past, even if it’s just an old school sign, and especially if it’s a dog-themed old school sign.

No matter how shiny and Starbucky San Pedro becomes, its working class roots should remain within grasp — even if it’s a wiener dog who somehow ended up on a New York pizza place sign in Los Angeles.

(Top two photos from Pinterest; middle photo from That’ssoPedro.com; bottom photo from LAEastside.com)

Dog leasing: A deceptive and disgraceful practice that needs to come to an end

Historians debate whether P.T. Barnum ever really said there is a “sucker born every minute,” but never in history (I’d argue) has it been clearer than now how true that statement is.

Maybe that sucker birth rate has increased, and one is born every 10 seconds nowadays. Maybe, it’s the number of charlatans that has increased. Maybe it’s all the modern-day tools at the schemer’s disposal — Internet, infomercials, ever-slicker and more deceptive marketing techniques.

Maybe it’s our own increasing gullibility. Maybe, with our shortening attention spans, we more easily fall for double talk, and accept bald-faced lies as hard truths, and hear only what we want and have time to hear. Maybe it’s our own failure to investigate.

In any case, today, maybe more even than in Barnum’s day, you can sell anybody anything. And you can lease them even more — even a family member.

We’ve written about dog-leasing outfits several times before, going back to 2007 — when the unsavory concept first popped up.

They’ve been through many variations since then, some in the guise of do-gooders, some clearly sleazy, but all ugly at their core.

Why? Because they are all based on the concept that dogs are disposable, here to serve as many masters as we deem fit — not permanent family members, but beings to be passed around by us as need be and in the name of profit.

My earliest recollection of such a company was one called Flexpetz.

It was greeted in the media as a mostly cute idea when it debuted in 2007 — a way for people who weren’t in a position to own a dog to rent one for a few hours, a few days, or share one regularly with another client.

Making it more palatable was its claim to be hooking up dogs in need of humans with humans in need of dogs — albeit it on a temporary basis, and albeit it without much screening, of the dog or the human, or the environments they were headed into, or the reasons people needed to borrow a dog. And albeit for profit. Pretty big profits.

Flexpetz established offices in London, and had plans to open 120 locations in the U.S.

Fortunately, early on, some localities saw it for what it was — slave dogs on call to serve multiple masters. In 2008, after hearing Flexpetz planned to open a location in the city, the Boston City Council passed an ordinance prohibiting dog rentals.

Then the Massachusetts Senate passed a bill that would prevent companies like FlexPetz from setting up shop anywhere in the state.

Representative Paul Frost, a dog-owner who filed the bill, says the business model promoted the idea of “disposable pets .. I am not against business growth or the entrepreneurial spirit. But there is an ethical line you have to keep in mind.”

Flexpetz would go on to close in 2008, but the concept would live on, in numerous variations. And that ethical line Frost noticed seemed to become harder for people to see.

Hannah the Pet Society was founded in Oregon in 2010, and put a new twist on things. The society promised to match you up with a dog, and provide that dog with what it called “Total Lifetime Care” — from dog food to boarding, from veterinary care to funderal arrangements.

All for a start-up fee and “low” monthly payments.

But, contrary to what many thought, those signing up for dogs weren’t really becoming their new owners. Hannah retained ownership of all the dogs it placed, which meant that it could reclaim them, or reassign them, or even euthanize them, whenever it pleased.

In 2016, Seattle Dog Spot exposed some of the questionable practices at Hannah, and an investigation began into complaints against the company that included unnecessarily euthanizing three dogs.

Many of the shelters and rescues providing dogs to the outfit terminated their relationship with them, and the state Department of Justice began looking into the 10 complaints and two lawsuits filed against the company since 2012.

Hannah stopped sourcing and placing pets in 2016.

Today, the biggest name in dog leasing is Wags Lending, another company that’s been accused of not making it clear to customers that they were leasing dogs, and wouldn’t own them when the lease period expired.

As one customer complained, he and his wife signed up to make 27 monthly payments of $95.99 for their bichon frise — totaling $2,687 for the dog, whose store price was $495.

Upon closer inspection of the contract they’d signed, they also learned that, even then, they wouldn’t own the dog.

The dog, unless the San Diego couple forked over yet more money at the end of the lease period, would have to be returned to Oceanside Puppy — the store they leased it from.

Three years later, the horror stories keep coming. Bloomberg did an excellent piece on the seamy side of pet leasing earlier this year.

Here are two more from last week –one from WSB in Atlanta, one from WKMG in Orlando.

It has been well documented by now how Wags does business. But maybe enough repeated exposure will get the message across that this is bad business — not just for dogs, but for the customers who fall for it.

Much like dog cloning, dog leasing never took off in a big way, but it lingers, unfortunately, with new customers being duped, and dogs being placed, repossessed, reassigned and bounced around by a company that cares far more about financing than it does Fido.

No matter how respectable looking a front, or website, they put up, they are basically predators — loan sharks cloaking themselves in cute puppies.

And any pet store selling commercially bred dogs that promotes or refers customers to the service (as many do) is behaving in an equally scummy manner.

The problem is being scummy and doing something technically illegal are two different things.

If the laws aren’t there to drive these people out of business for good, or sue them for everything they are worth, then do what Boston and Massachusetts did nine years ago: Outlaw dog leasing.

Preferably now.

Remembering Pickles, the dog who, 50 years ago, sniffed out the missing World Cup

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When soccer’s World Cup was stolen from a display case in London in 1966, the week that followed saw huge tabloid headlines, a ransom demand, threats to melt the trophy down and a botched undercover police operation to exchange a bag of fake money for the treasured hunk of gold.

It wasn’t until seven days after the theft that the trophy the best minds of Scotland Yard were unable to find was easily sniffed out by a re-homed, furniture-chewing mutt named Pickles.

England was hosting the World Cup that year, and ended up winning it, but if not for Pickles there might have been no trophy to hoist.

Pickles was a four-year-old border collie mix whose owner, Dave Corbett, had taken him in as a puppy when his brother could no longer put up with his habit of chewing up furniture.

The cup had been on display in central London, and supposedly was being heavily guarded when it was stolen in the months leading up to the tournament.

Police made the case a high priority, but were still stumbling by the time Pickles, out for a walk, sniffed out the Jules Rimet Trophy in a clump of shrubs. That was 50 years ago yesterday.

“I put the lead on Pickles and he went over to the neighbor’s car,” Corbett recalled in this recent interview with the BBC.

“Pickles drew my attention to a package, tightly bound in newspaper, lying by the front wheel. I picked it up and tore some paper and saw a woman holding a dish over her head, and disks with the words Germany, Uruguay, Brazil. I rushed inside to my wife. She was one of those anti-sport wives. But I said, ‘I’ve found the World Cup! I’ve found the World Cup!'”

Corbett duly rushed the cup to the police station, and immediately became a suspect.

Two days earlier, the police investigation had taken a turn for the worse, according to The Guardian.

A man calling himself Jackson had contacted league officials about how they might reclaim the trophy for £15,000.

An undercover officer was sent to meet Jackson and make the exchange, but Jackson became suspicious it was a set up and fled.

He was caught, but the trophy was not.

Jackson’s real name was Edward Betchley, a small-time thief, and he would only admit to being a middleman.

He refused to disclose the location of the trophy.

cupTwo days later Pickles found it.

Once police became assured Corbett had no part in the theft, he would get the reward money for the trophy, and Pickles became a celebrity. He starred in a feature film, appeared on numerous TV shows and was proclaimed Dog of the Year.

After England’s 4-2 victory over West Germany in the World Cup final, Corbett and Pickles were invited to a party celebrating the victory.

The World Cup trophy would be stolen again in 1983 in Brazil, and never recovered.

Pickles died the year after his big find. He saw a cat and took off, his leash trailing behind him. Somehow it got tangled on a tree limb and the dog choked to death.

Corbett buried him in the garden behind his house in Surrey — the house that, thanks to Pickles, he was able to buy with the reward money.