Thursday, December 10, 2009

categories, or, "soul of the new south"

Cross-posted from my Tumblr image blog Village Dog (such as it is - and where you can see the subtitle of the magazine more clearly).  Also see this earlier post on dogs and guns and other accoutrements of Southern history.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

cruel death, good death

"Oreo the Abused Pit Bull is Euthanized," New York Times, November 13, 2009:
Oreo, a dog that was nursed back to health after surviving being thrown off the roof of a six-story building, was killed Friday by lethal injection.

A 2-year-old pit bull, Oreo was euthanized in the New York City headquarters of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals after the organization rebuffed last-minute pleas to spare her life. The organization called the dog a danger to the public.

On Friday morning, Oreo received a last meal of “premium quality” kibble and canned dog food. She was then given a sedative, though she appeared “content, alert and panting,” according to an organization spokesman. Oreo was injected in the leg with an overdose of sodium pentobarbital and was pronounced dead shortly after 3 p.m.

Oreo broke two legs in the fall. News reports of the incident, accompanied by photos of the brown and white dog with her front legs in casts, triggered a flood of adoption offers and financial donations to help pay for the medical care.

However, as Oreo recuperated from her injuries under the care of the A.S.P.C.A., she was increasingly viewed as a danger — difficult to control and “unpredictably aggressive,” according to an organization spokesman.

News of Oreo’s death provoked angry reactions among supporters who had been frantically lobbying the A.S.P.C.A. to delay the euthanasia and allow time to negotiate a deal to transfer Oreo to an animal sanctuary in the Hudson Valley.

Oreo’s case came to public attention in June, when her owner, Fabian Henderson, threw her off the roof of his apartment building at the Red Hook Houses in Brooklyn. Mr. Henderson was convicted of animal cruelty and was scheduled to be sentenced in December.

[ . . . ]

The A.S.P.C.A. rejected [pleas to delay the euthanasia], citing the evaluation of staff members and an outside veterinary behaviorist who said that Oreo could not be rehabilitated. “Animal cruelty isn’t pretty and doesn’t always have a happy ending,” said the society’s president and chief executive, Ed Sayres. “It is ugly and sad and, ultimately, tragic.”

Seven staff members were present during the euthanasia procedure. But the dog’s former owner, Mr. Henderson, was not on hand to witness his pet’s final moments.
* * *

A curious mixed-up creature Oreo was.  A pit, a pet.  Aggressive, abused.  Nursed back to health.  Put back to death.  Content and alert, ugly and sad.  Panting.  White on the inside.

* Revised Dec 2, 2009

Saturday, September 19, 2009

how the other half lives

Two snapshots of dogs in Southern social history courtesy of my hometown public library's North Carolina Collection:

Industrialist and early Duke University trustee Julian S. Carr with goat cart, children, dog, and African American servants in fore- and background (ca 1920's, likely at Carr family's Occoneechee Farm)

Five African American women and girls - and photo-crashing dog - in Brookstown area of Durham (ca. 1940)

See full citations here and here; information about Occoneechee Farm and Brookstown courtesy of the superb local history/geography blog Endangered Durham.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

ghost dog

Sniff from karolina sobecka on Vimeo.

Sobecka calls Sniff an "interactive public projection."  In her artist's statement, she asks the viewer/reader to imagine an urban interspecies encounter:

As you walk down the street you are approached by a dog. He cautiously and curiously sniffs you as he gets closer. He is on his guard trying to discern your intentions. He will follow you as you walk on and interpret your gestures as friendly or aggressive. He will try to engage you and get you to pay attention to him... As the viewer walks by the projection, her movements are tracked by a custom computer vision system. A CG dog comes up in the projection and sniffs her, following her as she moves in front of the display.

What's being narrated here is a multisensory meet-and-greet between two free-roaming agents - something which is happening less and less, I think, in our leash-lawed, obedience-trained streetscapes. Indeed, as the piece is actually staged, Sniff is not loose on the sidewalk but trapped behind a window. Despite his name, he can follow you but never actually sniff you. The "interaction" here ends up being decidedly one-sided: with Sniff always pacing, jumping, reacting, beseeching.

When I posted this on facebook my friend Paul commented: "shelter dog behavior." In his perceptive reading, Sniff is a projection not so much of dog-human social reciprocity as its opposite.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

dogs of mississippi, 2009

* Also see dogs of mississippi, 1947

From "A World Away, Close to Family," a New York Times piece on African American city kids who spend their summers with relatives in the South (story by Robbie Brown, photos by James Patterson):

The sight of a menacing dog outside her Brooklyn apartment would send Amya CaJoie Stewart skittering inside for safety. But not the Rottweiler that prowled the gravel road at her aunt’s house in this sun-cooked rural town. In a flash of bravado, the prim 10-year-old lured the dog with a dish of water, lashed it to a post and named it Sam.

“That’s what you do in Mississippi,” Amya explained. “You tie the dogs in your yard.”

* * *

The matriarch of the family, Estella Mae Oaties, 81, supervises Amya during the day. Behind her house, she keeps several dogs as pets, and it is Amya's job to feed and water them. When she grows up, Amya says, she might want to become a veterinarian.

dogs of mississippi, 1947

* Also see dogs of mississippi, 2009

William Faulkner and his fyces (photo by Henri Cartier-Bresson, courtesy of Iconic Photos)

Sunday, August 2, 2009

more eyes that have looked at jim crow

Just looked again at the photographs in my previous post about the early-20th century African American photographer Michael Francis Blake - was struck, suddenly, by the strange elision of dogs in that post. When I talked about the "eyes that have looked at Jim Crow," I was implicitly talking only of the eyes of the human beings in the pictures. Is it nonsensical to think of the dogs as also having witnessed segregation? To ask what racism among humans look like to dog - or perhaps, more apropos, what it smelt and felt like?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

eyes that have looked at jim crow

In the timeless traditions of the internet, I stumbled upon a wonderful digital collection of early 20th-century African American photography at the august institution where I work (see credits below - also see this related post on historical photos of Chinese dogs). The website doesn't provide too much information about the photographer, Michael Francis Blake - only that he opened the first one of the first black photo studios in Charleston, South Carolina. Which, of course, is saying quite bit. {Corrected & updated: 1:12am, June 17, 2009}

I was delighted to see that two of the ~170 photos in the collection feature dogs. I love the shadow of the photographer (?) in this one:

The vast majority of the images of the collection are posed portraits, studio or outdoors. Without exception, Blake's clients were impeccably dressed for the occasion. This is a beautiful image that makes me almost want to cry: the elegance of the women, the sweet openness of the boy's face, the alertness of the little dog.

In these images, to paraphrase Roland Barthes, we are looking at eyes that have looked at Jim Crow. Or, in the case of the unidentified woman below, stared back and perhap even glared at it at choice moments. This is my favorite dogless photo in the lot. I just love the tilting of the chair, the insousiance of the gesture.

Image credits (from top): "snapshot, dog lying down, unidentified," "Seated elderly woman holding a small dog, standing child and two standing women, unidentified," "Standing woman outdoors, unidentified" from Michael Francis Blake Photographs, Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library, Duke University.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

dogs & the plantation order(s) of things

{ I }

Dog and Gun; A Few Loose Chapters on Shooting

- Title of 1856 book by Johnson Jones Hooper, Alabama writer known for his humorous sketches of frontier life in the swamps and forests of the Old Southwest (i.e. inland Deep South of AL, Mississippi, Louisiana, etc.)
{ II }

"Field sports provided [antebellum white planter-class] men an identity based on their demonstrated expertise with horses, dogs, guns, and slaves."
- from Stuart Marks, Southern Hunting in Black and White, 1991
{ III }

"Slavery's roots as a form of captivity... entailed the strictest control of the physical and social mobility of enslaved people, as some of the institution's most resonant accouterments - shackles, chains, passes, slave patrols, and hounds - suggest."
- from Stephanie Camp, Closer to Freedom: Enslaved Women and Everyday Resistance in the Plantation South, 2004
{ IV }

"[To an enslaved person newly sold to the deep South] the whole world must have seemed to throb with slavery - with the shouts of owners railing about distinctions that only they could understand; with the hushed and hurried advice of slaves who had already survived their "seasoning"; with the quick hiss of the lash and the low baying of hounds that marked the boundaries of the permissable; with loneliness, uncertainty, and fear.
- from Walter Johnson, Soul by Soul: Life inside the Antebellum Slave Market, 2001

Friday, May 8, 2009

dog cartography

My love of dogs and love of maps converged in a Dog Whisperer episode I caught this afternoon (apologies for the iPhone/TiVo freeze frame photography):

Cesar's client in this episode is dog-phobic dad Ernesto - a hulking Mr. Clean look-alike - who desperately wants to overcome his traumatic memories of a childhood dog attack, so that his kids can get a family pooch. In the middle of the episode, Cesar breaks out this dog energy map, wherein his "team" has detailed the location and energy level (High, Medium, Low) of every dog in Ernesto's neighborhood. So if he's not feeling sufficiently "assertive" one day, he can simply chart a course avoiding the high-strung big dogs, etc.

Millan's dominance-based method of dog-training has been criticized, rightfully so, by progressive trainers and behavioral scientists. This 2006 article in the San Francisco Chronicle lays out the arguments nicely. But behind or alongside the whole macho "leadership" claptrap, there also seems to be something incongruously - or may be charlatanically? - new age about his approach. I mean, energy map? (I also suspect there's more interspecies subtlety and give-and-take in his actual techniques than he lets on - but that's an admittedly unscientific observation.)

In any case, this amusing detail of Millan's map pretty much describes the energy-scape of my household:

find of the day

Funny-looking (and inaccurate) illustration for a talking (not reading) dog story in the Nov/Dec 1831 issue of Juvenile Miscellany, a children's lit magazine edited by the trail-blazing feminist abolitionist writer Lydia Maria Child.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

skunk in headlights

Outside Locopops on Hillsborough Road, Durham, NC

Sunday, April 19, 2009

back to the land of horrible dogs

A friend and fellow dog/dog studies person alerted me to Sara E. Johnson's disturbing article in the latest issue of American Quarterly, on the widespread use of dogs in slave repression/anti-maroon warfare across the Americas in the 18th and 19th centuries, from Cuba to Haiti to Jamaica to the United States. The illustration here, depicting the goading and training of slave-hunting hounds, is from the English sea captain Marcus Rainsford's 1805 An Historical Account of the Black Empire of Hayti, one of Johnson's main sources. (Access to the full article is limited to institutional subscribers, unfortunately.)

I approached the article as a way of jump-starting my own on-going project on dog-human relations in the shadow of slavery. And what a jolt it was! I'm not a newbie to the general span of historical materials Johnson examines (see, for example, this study by John Campbell for comparison). But you just don't get desensitized to eye-witness accounts of dogs disemboweling human beings. Especially when you live with dogs.

Johnson gestures towards this deep cognitive and affective dissonance when she writes near the end:
… during the recent media frenzy surrounding NFL player Michael Vick and his dog-fighting ring, public outrage was palpable concerning the vicious, inhumane treatment of animals bred to fight and kill one another for their owners' profit. It is almost impossible for a contemporary audience to imagine that dogs were once similarly and purposefully abused in order to train them to attack human beings, all in the name of maintaining the slave economies that were the foundation of modern capitalism in the Americas.
I find myself simultaneously objecting to this polarized framing of the history of dogs and racial slavery – that history is more complicated, as histories are wont to be, and as I’ve blogged about here, here, here - and appreciating its starkness and provocation. As someone who’s interested intellectually and personally in multispecies co-flourishing a la Donna Haraway, I feel more responsible than ever to do the most rigorous scholarship possible on alternative forms of sociality that enslaved people forged with the dogs that lived alongside them – alternatives not only to the extreme terror cultivated by slave regimes, but also the culture of sentimental pet-keeping that we inherited from the Victorian age.

I presented some of my preliminary findings and thoughts in the "Canine America" panel at the American Studies Association last October. I’m still revising the thing, but this paragraph - which follows a section that looks at the highly conventionalized representations of slave-hunts that circulated in the Abolitionist press in the US pre-Civil War, specifically those in Theodore Weld’s American Slavery as It Is - kind of gives a snapshot of where I’m at on this issue:

But the fugitives in the stories told by Weld’s informants are as much stick figures as the dogs: defenseless in the face of an implacable animal malevolence, they are utterly without power, agency, or the interspecies resource to deal with dogs. Accounts of “slave hunts” told by ex-slaves complicate such views of dogs as well as views of slaves. Interspersed among harrowing tales of failed escapes are many stories of failed pursuits. People describe throwing dogs off their scent by, for example, treating their shoes with various pungent substances, from peppers and herbs to dirt from freshly-dug graves.* Some fugitives are overtaken but manage to elude capture by misdirecting the dogs to keep chasing [e.g.
here and here]. One WPA informant claims to know a fugitive who succeeded in “making friends” with the dogs sent to hunt him down, even traveling all the way up north with the dogs in tow [see page 2 of this narrative]. These modest tales of tricksterism give us glimpses into vernacular knowledge about dogs in slave communities – and, strikingly to me, the specific interplay of fear and familiarity that seems to animate this knowledge. In these stories, knowledge of how to interact with dogs, even to play with them, is inseparable from the knowledge of how to guard against them.

* Here I drew from both contemporary/antebellum and postbellum sources - will gather up some of these for a future post.

Saturday, April 18, 2009


An image from A Journey around My Skull, a wonderful blog on illustrated books I recently discovered via twitter. More where this came from...

Saturday, April 11, 2009

more on dogs and the post

Re: post below: how did I manage to forget about the legendary dogs-and-cats like antagonism between canines and mailmen? That puts a whole new spin on things!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

dog as social media?

My stamp-collecting father wanted to visit the National Postal Museum while we were in DC last weekend, so we went! (By the way I would recommend the place for kids - and for kidlike adults.) For some strange reason, though I often feel like my life depends on e-mail, facebook, and now (maybe) twitter, I haven't thought much about - or have simply forgotten - the social and affective dimensions of good old regular mail.

Affect and sociality are very much front and center at the museum. The poem engraved above the entrance makes it pretty unmistakable:
Messenger of Sympathy and Love
Servant of Parted Friends
Consoler of the Lonely
Bond of the Scattered Family
Enlarger of the Common Life

* Evidently this is only half the poem - the rest is here
So, the mail is like... dogs? Indeed dogs are everywhere in the museum: from the various incarnations of Owney the official USPS mascot (in bronze, in kid's books, as stuffed animal, and just plain stuffed!) to canine figurines in a cute postal diorama. I don't have anything smart or interesting to say about this curious conjuncture of mail and dogs, but will keep thinking about it. In the meantime, some images that caught my eye:

Sunday, March 29, 2009

animal - technology

I happened to be looking through the comics artist Anders Nilsen's blog (as compensation for not having read nearly enough of his print work), and came upon this eerie and beautiful image by his friend and collaborator Todd Baxter:

The encounter Baxter stages here - between the curious, gently nudging tapirs and the somewhat ridiculous shipwrecked astronauts, lumbering around with their age-of-plastic milk crate - reminded me of the recent finale of Battlestar Galactica, where space-age humans also find themselves, unexpectedly, in the midst of wild animals. But of course, I mean "reminder" only in the sense that Baxter's diorama is an elegant counter-example to the absurdly unreconstructed, colonial safari vision that BSG foisted upon us.

Here's another image I found on Baxter's own website:

Revised March 29, 2009, 2:21pm EST.

they have a plan

In its series finale, Battlestar Galactica revealed itself to be Journey of Man...

... and Out of Africa:

Here I thought the final season of BSG would be about letting go of old illusions - nationalist, civilizationalist, humanist - and about the difficult but necessary work of building a new society - one that would be human, cylon, hybrids thereof - from the rubble of mutual all-out war. Up until the end I thought the show was sticking to its guns: with the almost socialist-realist backdrop of 6's and 8's calking Galactica together with cylon resin; with the restructuring of political representation from the 12 colonies to the ships in the fleet, which also means the inclusion of cylons in the political process; with Adama ordering an altruistic mission to rescue the Pearl-like cylon-human child Hera from the bad (ethnic-absolutist) cylons. But no!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

poodle ESP

An irresistible photo: from the archives of Duke Parapsychology Laboratory, now Rhine Research Center, subject of an interesting-sounding recent book.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

RIP John Hope Franklin, 1915-2009

Duke has a nicely put-together memorial site that documents Dr. Franklin's life and work. The photo here is by Derek Anderson, from this 2007 Independent Weekly article.

Updated with water-marked image 3/29/09

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

random dog kitsch

$12.50 bobbleheads on display at the Mark Jacobson Toyota dealership in Durham (proceeds to go to the local Animal Protection Society).

Saturday, March 21, 2009

sad animals

Adam Meuse, author of the wrily absurdist Sad Animals, is doing a signing at Chapel Hill Comics today. Besides the self-castigating sea horse below, some of my favorite panels feature a jelly fish thinking, "I think too much" and a tiny caterpillar, dangling from a tree, wondering if it's "living a lie."

Monday, March 9, 2009

dogs & public sentiment

Seen at a Durham restaurant, homemade flyers from the Coalition to Unchain Dogs (subject of this earlier blog entry):

Thursday, February 26, 2009

ghost cheetah

Saturday, February 14, 2009

moth, ghost

When I was a kid I had a deathly fear of moths. I had seen an episode of a Twilight Zone-type horror TV serial in Hong Kong, in which a moth, possessed by the vengeful ghost of a murder victim, haunted its/her murderer. I have no memory of how the haunting worked in the plot - especially given the physical limitations of the lepidoptera. All I remember is a backlit close up of a moth at rest with folded, mottled wings, and an eerie female voice-over intoning... something.

Perhaps I don't even really remember that. But for years I hung onto a vague but tenacious belief that moths were so many human spirits in insect form, flitting through the night or, worse, perched silently on one's bedroom walls, nursing some unreadable, malevolent intent.

Also in the flying ghost category: ghost pigeons.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

president dog

From the flickr photostream of the comic artist and illustrator Andrice Arp.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

in the spirit of the inauguration

Courtesy of the hubster, a bit of fun with Paste Magazine's obamacon generator.