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Tag: photos

The short, sad lives of dog toys

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Poor things, they never had a chance.

Even the so-called “indestructable” ones would end up torn and in tatters — victims of the enthusiastic canines to whom they were gifted.

Rope LionVirginia dog photographer Hannele Lahti — after seeing how quickly her dogs went through dog toys — decided to document the not-at-all-surprising phenomenon.

The project began out of frustration, Lahti, of Manassas, says.

“Every cute (expensive) toy I brought home for my dogs ended in a mangled mess destined for the landfill,” Lahti wrote in a photo essay for The Washington Post. “I decided to photograph the toys in their pristine shape, then again months later, observing this savage demolition with the scrutiny of an anthropologist.”

She started taking before and after photos of toys she bought her own dogs, Boston terriers.

Friendly Octopus“I started the project in late 2013 after noticing how grotesque a green stuffed snake had become. I photographed the chewed-up snake, but felt in order to really understand how disgusting it was, the viewer had to see how cute it was in the beginning”

Other dogs were later recruited into the project and presented with new toys to have their way with.

“It’s funny — it seems all of the dogs have their own objectives when playing with the toys, she said in an interview the American Society of Media Photographers.

lahti2“One of my dogs, Annie, will suck on a toy for hours as if it’s a pacifier. Murray, my senior, removes the eyes before he de-stuffs it. A Newfoundland buried his for a few weeks while another snuggled with it for a month before systemically tearing it to shreds. Two of the others ripped theirs apart immediately then had no more interest in them.

“I have not analyzed what any of this means about their personalities but it was interesting to see how different their methods were.”

You can see more of the mangled toys on Lahti’s website

(Photos by Hannele Lahti, from the Washington Post)

You remember Ace

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I promised myself long ago that, when Ace’s time came, I wouldn’t make too big a deal of the big dog’s death on these pages.

Unlike many dog websites, this one has always tried to avoid blatantly tugging on heartstrings — and to eschew all those mushy sounding and unnecessary words like “beloved” and “adorable” and “fur baby.”

We’ve always made it a point not to pander to your love for dogs with adjectives — just to cultivate it with truths.

For that reason, and others, we’re not going to be writing about Ace’s death a whole lot more.

Already, there have been more words written about him — between ohmidog! and Travels with Ace — than probably any other dog around. To keep going on and on about him (which in life I always viewed as “sharing”) would become something more like exploiting.

In other words, having made such a big deal out of his life, my plan was to refrain making a big deal out of his death.

But look what you went and did.

aceandjenYou’ve clogged my emailbox, you’ve kept my phone ringing, you’ve commented on my Facebook page and put up your own posts, often with your photos of Ace.

Since Ace’s death, I’ve heard from friends in Baltimore, Philadelphia and North Carolina, friends in — to name a few — Seattle, Alabama, Tennessee, Texas, Ohio, Montana, California, Arizona, New Mexico, New Jersey.

And those were just the ones who actually met him.

Hundreds more, from across the country and even overseas, who came to know Ace through our websites, left comments here and on Facebook — many of which made me cry all over again.

I guess that’s a good thing.

Thank you is what I’m trying to say, in a non-sniffly way, to those who touched Ace and were touched by him.

A sampling:

“Folks who don’t believe that dogs have souls have never met Ace,” a North Carolina friend wrote on her Facebook page. “I saw the effect he had on people everywhere he went. People were very drawn to Ace, it was amazing to watch. He was pure LOVE.”

“Ace was loved by so many all over the country … our hearts break for you,” wrote another, who put Ace and me up for days in Seattle during our year long “Travels with Ace” journey — and helped him overcome some stomach distress. (He arrived there with a bad case of diarrhea, probably the result of too much fast food.)

Ace and Bim at Idle Hour

Ace and Bim at Idle Hour

A Baltimore buddy wrote, “Today is one of those days where something comes across your newsfeed that you dread seeing. Many moons ago Bim and I met a big guy of a dog named Ace at Canton Dog Park. Unlike some other big dogs, where Bim felt intimidated, he and Ace were very content to just “be” together … Ace was one of, if not THE, most amazing, chill, coolest, sweetest dogs I’ve had the pleasure of meeting.” This from a woman who Ace once pulled out of her chair and dragged across a few feet of pavement after I asked her to hold Ace’s leash for a minute.

aceatidle“Ace, there isn’t a human or dog that didn’t love you!” wrote another, posting a photo of Ace at the Idle Hour, his favorite bar.

“You will be so very missed by so many! Thank you for teaching us how to love every minute of life! The original bar dog, park dog. I am so sorry HB (Honeybun) tried to eat you the first time she met you.”

Another friend, who spend some dog park and bar time with Ace here in Winston-Salem, wrote: “Lauren and I first met Ace five and a half years ago on an assignment for the Winston-Salem Journal, and when we arrived at our interview, we saw him, a giant black-and-tan dog, gliding through the trees. We joked that he probably weighed more than 5’2” me. (He did.)

“…I watched Ace break up dog-park scuffles with the kindness and wisdom of a compassionate cop, moving his massive body between the offending parties. I saw him snack on peanut shells at one of my favorite Winston dive bars. Once, Lauren and I shared some beers with him in a booth (still one of my all-time favorite photos). He was the most gentle dog I’ve ever met … I’ll be hugging Stringer extra-tight tonight, and I hope y’all do the same with your pets. Rest easy, Aceface. The world will miss you.”

Ace and Stringer at Recreation Billiards

Ace and Stringer at Recreation Billiards

A former neighbor here in Winston-Salem whose two dachshunds were close friends and dog-walking buddies, sent this email:

“I don’t know what to say. I was thinking of what to say and then of all the things I would not like to hear… I guess I just wanted you to know that while I cannot understand what you are feeling right now … I am constantly thinking of all the many, many great times I had with you and Ace. I don’t think I knew how many until I really thought about it.”

Then she brought up Ace’s most shameful day — when he (always exceedingly gentle with every creature from baby kittens to baby ducks) took off, along with the dachshunds, after a baby bunny in College Village.

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“The memory that stands out to me is the one involving the very unfortunate bunny in CV. Watching Ace actually grieve over the fact that he accidentally stepped on one, while the doxies went nuts for blood. I am grateful for having Ace in my life …”

Some of those who got in touch had only known Ace for minutes.

This from a woman we bumped into five and a half years ago at a rest area in Montana, and spent maybe five minutes with:


“John, my heart breaks for you. I remember meeting you and Ace at that rest stop in Montana during your Travels with Ace road trip. He was sweet and gentle and willingly accepted my St. Bernard Charlie’s clumsy attempts for attention. As I lost Charlie just over a year ago, rest assured Charlie is now helping Ace settle in wherever special dogs go after their time with us.”

Dozens more who passed along their condolences were people who never met him at all — knowing him only through the Internet.

“My deepest condolences to John Woestendiek, whose eloquent journey with his beloved Ace has come to an end. Thank you for opening our eyes to BARCS (Baltimore Animal Rescue & Care, the shelter Ace was adopted from) and for showing us what love looks like,” wrote Baltimore attorney and animal welfare activist Caroline Griffin.

It is greatly comforting to know he lives on.

Sure, I’m still doing all those things that people who have lost dogs do — steering clear of the dog food aisle at the grocery store, getting used to returning to an empty house, marveling at how less often I have to empty the vacuum bag, thinking about the next dog, in a while, and worrying how unfair it might be to put a dog in a position to be his follow-up act.

Like most readers of this website, I can’t imagine a dog-less life.

Like a lot of you, I probably have a more admiring view of dogs than I do of humans.

But your response to Ace’s passing — the eloquent words you shared with me at a time when it’s so hard to come up with the right thing to say — has moved me more than I can describe (without getting sappy).

Let’s just say humans can be pretty decent, too.

Have you hugged your dog today?

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We’re not recommending you do, and we’re not recommending you don’t. We’re only taking a quick look at the subject because, pure and innocent an act as hugging your dog might seem, it is not without controversy.

Stanley Coren, author of many dog books, stirred up a little of it in his column this month for Psychology Today, citing “new data” that shows getting hugged raises the stress and anxiety levels of dogs, and the possibilities of someone getting bitten.

Some people who have been hugging their dogs for years (and insist their dogs enjoy the affection) found his conclusions laughable, labeled him a party-pooping old fuddy duddy, and said his research techniques were anything but scientific.

We’d agree only with that last part — because Coren’s “new data” was gathered by looking at 250 random photos on the Internet of people hugging dogs.

“I can summarize the data quite simply by saying that the results indicated that the Internet contains many pictures of happy people hugging what appear to be unhappy dogs,” he wrote.

“In all, 81.6% of the photographs researchers scored showed dogs who were giving off at least one sign of discomfort, stress, or anxiety. Only 7.6% of the photographs could rate as showing dogs that were comfortable with being hugged. The remaining 10.8% of the dogs either were showing neutral or ambiguous responses to this form of physical contact.

doghug1Those signs of stress or discomfort include baring of teeth, lowered ears, a dog turning his head away, and a dog who either closes his eyes or shows what is called “half-moon eye” or “whale eye.”

That’s when you can see the white portion of the eyes.

Here’s the problem, though — or one of them, anyway. How does Coren, or anybody else, know that the dogs pictured are stressing out because of the hug. Couldn’t it also be a reaction to WHO is hugging them? Or a reaction to the camera?

The simple fact is some dogs like being hugged, some tolerate it, and others don’t like it at all.

For the latter group, it might be the amount of pressure applied during a hug that they are reacting to — enough to make them feel restrained. It might be that hugs tend to be spontaneous and come out of nowhere.

Then, too, mood could be a factor. Sometimes dogs, and humans, feel like being hugged and sometimes they don’t.

There are just too many variables to make a sweeping conclusion — especially when it’s all based on what photos turn up in your Internet search and your subjective interpretation of those photos.

doghug3Reading a dog’s emotions is tricky enough when you are face to face with one. Doing it from a photo is even more problematic. What for example is this dog thinking?

Hard to read emotions through that many wrinkles, but he seems to be digging it.

We’d agree with the experts who say hugging a dog you don’t know or have just met is not a good idea — and that children should be taught that early on.

But beyond that, we’d be hesitant to put the kibosh on dog hugging altogether, especially when it’s based on Flickr’ed or Facebook’ed photos posted by dog owners wanting to show how much they love their dogs — whether their dogs like it or not.

In this writer’s life, he has been creeped out by some hugs, tolerated others, found some both warm and comforting, and gotten truly enthused by a few.

Probably, some old photos exist of him showing half moon eyes while being squeezed by his big sister.

Does that mean he doesn’t like hugs?

Of course not. He just prefers to make the decision on a case by case basis. Dogs should have that freedom, too.

Making the best of a sticky situation

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I’ve got to admit, when I saw the story about how a photographer is turning his photos of dogs eating peanut butter into a book … and calendar … and more, I got a little jelly.

Jelly as in jealous, that is, and not so much of the photographer’s skills — but of his entrepreneurial abilitities.

You see, I barely have enough of those to spread on a Saltine.

I can take a decent picture, write a decent story, but when it comes to creating anything you might call cash flow, well, it gets sticky.

Cleveland photographer Greg Murray, on the other hand, is managing to turn a simple idea — a very simple idea — into a potential empire.

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A couple of years ago, trying to make a mastiff in his studio have an expression that looked less sad, Murray fed the dog some peanut butter.

“I wanted to make her happy, you know. I wanted to get her to drool and hang her tongue out and nothing was really working,” he told TODAY.com.

Now he’s turning that concept — dogs eating peanut butter — into a book and calendar, expected to go on sale sometime between this summer and October.

First, to cover his costs, he launched a Kickstarter campaign, setting a goal of $3,750. As of today, it has raked in $14,348.

That’s a lot of Jif.

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Pledge $40 and you’ll get a copy of the calendar when it comes out. Pledge $75 or more and you’ll get a softcover copy of the book. Pledge $390 or more and he’ll put a photo of your dog eating peanut butter in the book (assuming you bring the dog to Cleveland) and give you a hardcover copy.

Pledge $2,500 and he’ll come to your house and take photos of your dog, and you’ll get the book, and he’ll sign it for you. (I’d don’t think he’ll wash your windows, or scoop up poop, but you could ask.)

It’s really quite an ingenious set up. Publicity about the book — and there has been a lot — boosts his contributions, will add to his book sales, and will likely benefit his photo business.

On his Kickstarter page, Murray does point out that peanut butter can be bad for dogs (if it is a brand that contains Xylitol, which, he points out, Jif does not).

Some of the photos I’ve seen are quite charming, others strike me as little more than dogs with dirty faces.

To me, they don’t quite have the appeal of those Underwater Dogs.

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Nevertheless, the news media — always in search of stories allowing them to use the word “adorable” — gobbles it up. His venture has been reported on in, among others, the Huffington Post, BarkPost, Mashable, Fox News, the Daily Mail and the aforementioned Today.com.

On his Kickstarter page, there is a prediction the book will end up on the New York Times Bestseller List — but, keep in mind, that prediction comes from a dog he gave peanut butter to.

So yes, I am experiencing a little envy. Not so much of his idea. More of how he deftly he is turning it into a profitable reality.

But I’ve decided to squash that negative emotion and devote my energies to a project of my own:

Dogs eating jelly.

(Photos from “For the Love of Peanut Butter,” by Greg Murray)

Dogs looking skeptical

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These dogs appear to share a common expression, something akin to what we humans might call skepticism.

But the German photographer who put together the collection of outtakes from photo sessions in her studio calls it, “Dogs questioning the photographer’s sanity.”

And who’s to say they aren’t?

Elke Vogelsang, also known as Wieselblitz, is a photographer of dogs who specializes in portraits — but not the kind of portraits dog owners traditionally look for.

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Instead, she likes to capture them mid-expression — even though she knows what we humans see in those expressions may not be what the dogs are expressing at all.

“I usually prefer the pictures, which don’t look like that one portrait the owner would hang on his wall. I like the outtakes, the bewildered, quirky expressions,” she said in a post on Bored Panda.

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What the photos she posted had in common, she said, is that “the dogs look like they think that the photographer lost her mind.”

“With my dog portraits I try to explore the different expressions and characters of dogs. It’s all about emotions and personality. I love the challenge to get funny, silly or sometimes even melancholic expressions.

“Of course, these are snapshots, a moment in time, captured in a fraction of a second. Often we have our own interpretation of those expressions. The dogs appear to be laughing or smiling or they look sad. Like all dog lovers I’m guilty of humanizing them. But yes, dogs do feel all emotions humans feel, too.”

For more information on Vogelsang and her photography, visit her website or Facebook page.

Completing the bucket list, posthumously

12748381_611736422307626_1302001925_n(1)The thing about bucket lists — be they custom designed for our dogs or for ourselves — is that the bucket often gets rudely kicked before the items on the list are achieved.

That’s why Ace and I had our’s, though we simply called it an extended road trip, years ago.

New York City resident Neil Rodriguez was living out his and his dog’s list, when his yellow Lab, Poh, diagnosed a year earlier with tumors and kidney failure, died earlier this month.

Rodriguez finished up the list anyway.

He took Poh, in the form of a large photograph, to Disney World, introducing him to Pluto, Mickey Mouse and others.

On Sunday, Rodriguez posted photos on social media, including one of Mickey Mouse holding a photo of Poh at the Magic Kingdom in Orlando.

“After a couple of tries, we finally fulfilled one last item on #pohthedog bucket list,” the photo’s caption read.

12716590_512191502288812_412147863_nPoh was diagnosed as terminally ill in March 2015. Rodriguez, suspecting the dog had only a few weeks to live, decided to take the dog to visit landmarks across the U.S.

Rodriguez, a DJ, took Poh on a seven-week cross-country trip that included stops in 22 states. They visited Bourbon Street, the Alamo, the Santa Monica Pier and the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

The trip was depicted in photos and videos on Poh’s Instagram account, Poh the Dog’s Big Adventure, which now has more than 130,000 followers.

In July and August, they traveled to Chicago and the East Coast.

By this February, the dog’s health deteriorated and Rodriguez made the decision to put him down on Feb. 16. Poh died four days before that date, of natural causes.

“Because Poh is Poh, he went out on his own terms, while we were on the road, naturally in … my arms,” Rodriguez wrote in an Instagram post.

(Photos from Poh the Dog’s Big Adventure)

An app that’s not apt to be very useful

Only in these mega-awesome modern times could a product that really doesn’t work well at all become a big hit.

And only in the Internet age could how badly it works be a selling point.

Fetch! is an app that lets you upload a photo of your dog and learn what breed it is, or, judging from my try, what breed it’s not.

It was released yesterday just in time for the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, according to promotional material. (Last I checked, competitors at Westminster were pretty sure what breeds their dogs were.)

triaddoggames 093

Not a Rhodesian Ridgeback

The app analyzes a photo and makes a guess as to breed — using its artificial intelligence and tons of data stored in clouds.

It’s just one of the latest products to hit the market offering to guess everything from your age to your state of mind to the significance of your mustache — all via the power of object recognition, a key facet of artificial intelligence.

It comes as a Web app or download for devices running Apple’s iOS, and you can also get an idea of what it’s all about at the website what-dog.net.

I generally avoid apps (I’m app-rehensive?) so I went to the website to give it a test. I fed it three different photos of Ace, and it identified him as a Rhodesian Ridgeback each time. (He’s not.)

Next I uploaded a photo of myself and was told I was a “Chihuahua … quick witted, loving, wary of strangers and other dogs.”

(Strangers and dogs are actually the two things I’m NOT wary of.)

Microsoft is using the device’s lack of reliability as a selling point, as if to say,  “Well no, it’s not really accurate at all, but isn’t it fun?”

Seems to be a lot of that going around these days.

As in the series of ads from Time Warner that make light of the sheer hell the company — once, they’d have us believe — put customers through.

As in the direction the news media has been going in ever since it realized there was an Internet.

As in all those overused hooks designed to get us to click a link on the Internet – such as awesome, epic, jaw-dropping, life-changing, pee-your-pants-funny, you’re not going to believe what happened next.

With Fetch, in my case, not too much happened next.

But its developers say they expect it to wow the masses.

“There was an interest in creating a framework that would allow you to take a domain – in our case, dogs – and recognize numerous classes, such as breeds. We were interested in enabling an app to allow you to make object recognition extraordinary, fun and surprising,” said Mitch Goldberg, one of the Fetch  developers

“If you want to take photos of dogs, it will tell you what dog breed it is, if it’s one of our supported breeds. If I choose to take a photograph of a flower, it’ll say, ‘No dogs found! Hmmm… This looks more like…flower?’ But if you take a picture of a person, it’ll kick into its hidden fun mode. And in a playful way, it’ll communicate to you not only what type of dog it thinks you are, but also why.”

Follow all that? When the app works, it’s an amazing example of artificial intelligence. When it doesn’t, don’t worry, it’s in playful, fun mode.

I sometimes wonder if artificial intelligence is gaining on us, or if we’re just getting more stupid.