You know how there are some dogs at the park who delight in running after other dogs, just because they can?
That’s Bowpi. Of course, it’s even better if they turn around and chase her. But when the dog in question can’t be distracted from their singularly important task (Ball!!!), she’s happy to run alongside.
There was some amazing fog at the park that day.
At one point, we found ourselves knee-deep in a stream of Corgis. The woman with the Chuck-It had just one, Ruby, whom we’d been watching and listening to during her obsessive game of fetch. Another woman had all the others. It was pretty intense.
There were two or three more that didn’t even make it into this frame. And every single one of them was more interested in cheerleading for Ruby, rather than chasing Bowpi!
WAYTOGO! YOU GOTTHEBALL! ATTAGIRL RUBEEEEEE! Yup, these little guys sure do know how to make a fuss.
I’ve got a lot of these to crank out, as it is the holidays… which means that I’ve been watching even more films than usual.
Film: The Lucky Dog
Director: Jess Robbins
Performers: Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Florence Gilet
Breed(s) featured: Mutt, Miniature Poodle
Production information: Sun-Lite / Amalgamated Producing Company, 1921 (USA)
Stan Laurel, kicked out for not paying his rent, befriends an adorable stray dog on the streets. Though he initially finds the dog an inconvenience (“a dandruff hound — hard to get rid of”), he soon discovers that his friendly mutt is the key to winning over a well-to-do lady’s affections. Antics ensue, mutt saves the day, and the guy gets the girl in the end!
As the first film to feature Laurel playing alongside Hardy — though one is cast as the hero and the other a villain, and they were not yet featured as a paired duo — this film already has a pretty full write-up on Wikipedia. I have little to add other than to point out a few details that amused, confused, or otherwise stood out me…
As Laurel attempts to abandon the puppy in a garbage can, a cop appears. His presence alone acts as a deterrence, but then the policeman goes one step further by ordering him to abide by leash ordinances! In contrast to what I figured was a much more lackadaisical attitude towards dog guardianship, given the ubiquity of free-roaming street curs back in the day, I’m surprised that the lawman actually cared to intervene, and that Laurel felt it necessary to keep up appearances — if only for comedic tension.
Secondly, the momentum of the simple plot allows no pause for sympathy when the rich woman loses her poodle. Everything is made better as soon as Laurel deposits his cute puppy into her arms — and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with him being a mutt. In fact, her poofy, tear-stained purse dog looks downright pathetic in contrast to Laurel’s handsome, sleek-coated little gift, and I don’t think it’s a matter of subjective preference. It’s a rather deliberately plotted contrast, especially since they had just made such a big fuss out of the mongrel’s exclusion from the dog fancy in the preceding scene.
Embracing the mutt (and her new suitor), the lady effectively turns her back on the Metropolitan Dog Fanciers Association and gives in to what actually counts — enjoying a dog as a dog, and not as a status symbol. It’s charming. There is often a healthy subversive streak to early comedies that makes them quite exhilarating, despite rudimentary camera work and poor archival preservation.
A tangential question: when and why did we (perhaps just Americans?) stop using the term thoroughbred to describe purebred dogs? I think sometimes that it’s a term worth reviving, if only to distance oneself from the more lurid connotations that ‘purity’ invokes.
Finally, in the climactic scene where the dog carries a lit stick of dynamite out of the living room, it’s fairly clear that the object is strapped to his face, as he paws uncomfortably at his muzzle a couple times mid-action. Alas, this tiny but completely noticeable detail ruins the whole finale for me. It’s a pity that they went through the trouble to make so many other special effects appear seamless through technical manipulation, but they were unable to account for the one living illusionist by training the dog to carry an object properly. That is, the filmmakers regarded the cute mutt as just another prop in the film’s production, and not really an “actor” in his own right. So he gets no coaching, no credits, nothing!
Hopefully he wasn’t just another disposable backlot dog, forgotten after the film. That would be a cruel punchline indeed.
The House of Two Bows keeps a running index of movies blurbed on the site, annotated by breed. If you’re interested in writing a guest blog for a dog film, contact for details.
First: The Doggy Daddy is no longer to be referred to herein as the DD. He’s as much a “father” figure to our dogs as I’m a mother to… uhm, anything or anyone. It’s not that I take offense at the idea that pet guardianship is like parenting, or that the Bows are like children. However, I shouldn’t pretend to know anything about parenting and I WON’T know for some time to come, having made a pretty conscious decision not to be a biological mother in my own lifetime. Since the moniker far exceeds either of our experiences, I may as well drop it.
So from now on, the DD is just RJ.
Now here’s an example of the difference between RJ’s family and mine, when it comes to pets.
Bowpi is conducting quality control inspections on our second annual calendar order from Snapfish. I made one last year for RJ’s grandma, and it was apparently such a hit that I had to compile another one for 2012. We printed up an extra one for his folks this year. RJ’s family was the first to greet us when we moved back to the States with Bowdu, but since they haven’t actually had a chance to meet Bowpi, the pictures help flesh out her personality when his folks inevitably ask how the dogs are doing.
They always ask, just like they ask how I’m doing, because they see the dogs as part of the family.
Then, there’s my folks. Though my Facebook profile picture has featured myself flanked by both Bows since this March (and we’ve had her since two Marches ago), my mother just figured out that we added a new canine member to the household.
Mom: I heard you have TWO dogs now.
Me: Ha ha ha… so it finally dawned on you.
Mom: *sigh* Such a nuisance. Think of how much trouble it is!
Me: Nah, she’s the most easy-going gal. Just a wee little second dog.
Mom: Little? I don’t think so! And so much dog fur everywhere!
Me: Oh, Bowdu sheds enough for three dogs. Can’t be helped. Besides, she barely has any fur. She’s an African Basenji.
Mom: An African dog? They have dogs in Africa?
Me: *exasperated* Yes, mom.
Mom: The Africans can’t even feed themselves! How can they take care of dogs?
Me: Mom!! Geez. A good African hunting dog can be very valuable for bringing home meat, you know…
Mom: Their dogs are not for eating?
Mom: By the way, your sister brought you some bawan.* She couldn’t bring the sauce on the plane. Do you know how to make it? …
… And so she pinballed off to another topic, without even bothering to ask the name of our second Bow.
* My younger sister, who now lives in my neck of the woods, recently made the long journey home to visit the folks for the holidays, and brought back some bawan 肉圓, or “meat dumplings” as a local Taiwanese restaurant calls them on the menu. Our recipe is a unique family specialty and one of the tastes of home that I absolutely crave… if only I didn’t have to risk parental nuttiness just to score a bite.
Film: The Thin Man
Director: W.S. Van Dyke
Performers: William Powell, Myrna Loy, Skippy (Asta the Dog)
Breed featured: Wire Fox Terrier
Production information: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1934 (USA)
This Dashiell Hammett murder mystery classic did not, in my opinion, transfer well to the filmic medium, nor does it endure the test of time. I’m far less charmed by the witty repartee of Nick and Nora Charles, the glamorous detective couple, than the antics of their Wire Fox Terrier, Asta.
“Asta, you’re not a terrier, you’re a police dog!”
Thankfully, he gets a decent amount of screen time, punctuating the otherwise stuffy, ponderous script with moments of puppy levity. The most notable action scene in this film is mere seconds in length. On Christmas morning, Asta plays with a balloon which suddenly pops, causing the terrier to scramble and reel back in surprise.
A totally spontaneous, attractive scene.
Alas, Asta the dog provides more vivacity than all the other characters combined. I’m not willing to mine the rest of the series for such precious few gems. I suppose I’m curious about the others that were filmed locally (specifically, Shadow of the Thin Man from 1941). But honestly, there are hundreds of other titles ahead in the queue. Maybe someone who’s a bigger fan than I would be willing to write a dog-centric review of the rest?
Things were a bit hectic this Christmas weekend, so just a quick photo update for now. The Bows finally got to dip into their Secret Shiba Santa stash, delivered all the way from New York!
There were lots of awesome goodies in the box, but the one that Bowdu really went nuts over was the Christmas monkey. As spoiled as the Bows are, I don’t usually buy them stuffed toys because frankly, Bowdu doesn’t know how to make them last very long.
Of course, he appreciates them in his own way!
After Bowdu had slaked his flufflust and was feeling less possessive about his toy, Bowpi was able to sneak in and steal a limb.
If the Bows were left to fend for themselves on the streets, I think Bowdu could do all right, but poor Bowpi would probably become scraggly and thin with malnutrition, picking off bony cast-offs and stringy carrion. Still, we were all impressed that Bowdu was as willing to share as he was. After he already had his fill, of course.
I wouldn’t have noticed that Scout had snuck up behind me if not for a glance of her long shadow invading my peripheral vision. Her muzzle was inches from my hand when I turned to look her in the face. Without skipping a beat, she fell back and loped off to the side. Just reminding you that I COULD have taken you down if I wanted, her nonchalance seemed to express.
Perhaps I exaggerate, because I was thrilled to meet my first wolfdog by chance, up close. Though she wouldn’t let me get within arm’s length, she let both Bows surround and sniff her, just as they would greet any normal dog. I had a hard time reading her body language. According to her owner, she is gentle and even obsequious. He probably couldn’t get away with walking her at a public, off-leash park if she showed even a hint of aggression!
Inspired by this encounter and a recent reading of Brett L. Walker’s Lost Wolves of Japan (review hopefully forthcoming), I rifled through my music collection to compile a short mix of songs about wolves — my “gift” of music to you, dear reader, in the absence of any holiday spirit.
If 8tracks.com didn’t randomize everything after the second play, this would be my ideal sequence:
Drawn into the pack: 13 songs about wolves (click to listen to the mix)
- Iron & Wine: Wolves (Song of the Shepherd’s Dog) [The Shepherd's Dog, Sub Pop 2007]. Cryptic lyrics compel me to take the title at face value.
- Paul Kantner & Grace Slick: When I Was a Boy I Watched the Wolves [Sunfighter, Grunt 1971]. A Jefferson Airplane side project.
- Arborea: Wolves [Red Planet, Strange Attractors Audio House 2011].
- Devendra Banhart: Mama Wolf [Cripple Crow, XL 2005]. Bleeds into your veins like magic or epiphany: “I know what to call you now.”
- Cat Power: Werewolf [You Are Free, Matador 2003]. “Nobody knows, nobody knows / How I loved the man as I teared off his clothes.”
- Hunting Lodge (feat. Roselle Williams): The Wolf Hour [Nomad Souls, S/M Operations 1984]. The most terrifying song I’ve heard in a long time — truly the audio equivalent of being ripped apart by wolves and left for dead.
- Amon Düül II: Wolf City [Wolf City, United Artists 1972]. Has the least to do with wolves of any song on this list.
- TV on the Radio: Wolf Like Me [Return to Cookie Mountain, Interscope 2006].
- Oh Land: Wolf & I [Oh Land, Fake Diamond 2011].
- Florence + the Machine: Howl [Lungs, Island 2009]. This goes sort of by request to Johnny Pez, who suggested a different song by the same artist for a dog-oriented mix. Instead, I found this track to be more appropriate for this theme.
- Blitzen Trapper: Furr [Furr, Sub Pop 2008]. “And I lost the taste for judging right from wrong…”
- The Cramps: I Was a Teenage Werewolf (with false start) [Songs the Lord Taught Us, Illegal 1980]. This contains bad words, for those concerned about such things.
- Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs: Li’l Red Riding Hood [Silly Songs, K-Tel 2002 (originally 1966)].
December’s monthly Basenji meetup came early, since the last Sunday of the month is Christmas Day. Some B’s were more than ready to celebrate!
Let’s see if I got this right: from left to right, Dannii, Scout, Zak, and Jenna.
And the one below, from left to right: Dannii, Jenna, Baree, Zak — four tongues to the wind in anticipation of handouts.
Lean and leggy Angus:
And his recently adopted sis Roxy, sporting some new accessories:
This cute pup named Beta paraded through the crowd at one point. Looked a lot like a Taiwan tugou to me!
Everyone insisted that he is a brindle Basenji mix. I’m not entirely convinced, but it’s certainly high on the list of possibilities!
Beta would have been the youngest, if we count him as an unofficial attendee. The eldest, I think, is Sunshine. On this overcast day, she was a bit shivery in the absence of her namesake.
By the end of the meetup, I came to a couple realizations regarding the Two Bows. The first, about Bowpi — even though she typically loves her time at the park, and even though she has played with other B’s before, she’s become increasingly antisocial at these meetups.
Maybe this is because she’s been jumped by too many Basenji gangs, or she just prefers to stay out of crowds. At any rate, it’s evident from her body language that she’s not as into the meetups as everybody else, and no amount of treats can convince her to enjoy herself.
Still, I did manage to get a shot of her alongside Dannii of the Troublemakers pack. What a dainty leg-lift!
Then, there’s Bowdu.
In sharp contrast to Bowpi, he’s too into the idea of jostling amongst the horde and competing for treats. There’s usually a lot of teeth-flashing from him, directed at his neighboring dogs. His line of vision in the picture below remains fixed on the human, but make no mistake — he’s simultaneously communicating with the dogs at his side using a very different type of language!
That day at the meetup, he was really having a hard time keeping himself contained, and he crossed the line with a couple spats. Bowdu was also recently on the punishED end of a minor incident that was serious enough to result in an exchange of personal information (but no vet visit). I don’t know if that memory contributed to his bad behavior this time, though this was a different park and crowd altogether. Whether or not he’s the instigator, obviously I’d like to minimize such scuffles.
I don’t want to set him up to fail again, so I think we’ll cool it with the meetups for a while. Frankly, there are too many variables outside of my control. As much as I love taking pictures and seeing so many Basenjis at once, Bowpi gets overwhelmed, and Bowdu is too easily pushed over threshold in the presence of food.
I know that he’s not a bad dog, but lately, he has not been doing his breed any favors!
Film: Dog Heaven (a Little Rascals short)
Director: Anthony Mack
Performers: Pete the Pup, Hal Roach’s Rascals
Breed(s) featured: American Staffordshire Terrier, Great Dane, various mixes
Production information: Hal Roach Studios, 1927 (USA)
Availability: Viewable and downloadable at Archive.org
Ah, woe unto the poor misunderstood pit bull — back then, as in now. However, the nature of Pete the Pup’s “family troubles” is decidedly different from the breed-specific legislation of today. Poor Pete is accused of being lazy drunkard (!) and a bully who terrorizes the neighborhood and goes so far as to push a child off a bridge. When even his own “fat kid” owner refuses to come to his defense, Pete makes the desperate choice to end his own miserable life…
Don’t worry — despite the dark humor of the opening images, everything turns out okay.
Pete the pit bull is one of the most famous of the Little Rascals, whose legacy has endured thanks to a combination of his peculiar markings (the product of Hollywood makeup artistry), charismatic canine acting, and contemporary breed politics. He was a fixture of the Rascals gang. Frankly, this is a great relief for someone like me, who normally cannot stand child actors. Pete’s presence greatly redeems the quality of these funnies that otherwise try too hard for my taste.
In my new favorite!blog! of the moment, Modern Mechanix, which features amazing archival scans of vintage magazines, I learned how early special effects contributed to the magic of Pete’s acting skills. As relayed by Pete’s trainer, Harry Lucenay:
… Pete frequently is called upon to register astonishment by putting his paw behind his ear while sitting up on his hind legs. Due to a dog’s physical make-up, this is virtually an impossibility. How is it accomplished? Simply by having the trainer place the dog’s paw behind the ear before starting the cameras and then shooting the scene in reverse action. A shot then is made of him sitting up in a natural position. In the cutting room the two shots are matched so the action appears to be simultaneous.
“Secrets of Famous Dog Trainers,” Popular Mechanics June 1936, p. 882
He goes on to impart other pearls of dog training wisdom: “The early stages of training should be masked as play, says [Lucenay]. Thus, knowledge is instilled without making it a hardship” (ibid., 884). It’s an interesting article that suggests what we now think of as “positive” training, without getting bogged down in jargon or debates. But it would take a lot more close reading to unpack just what’s going on here, since even the ideas of play and obedience, so critical to Lucenay’s training philosophy, are categories in flux — as evidenced by the comedic and satirical edge that early films like Our Gang shorts often display.
Anyway, if you want to watch a cute pit bull doing cute tricks with a cast of ingratiating and slightly creepy children, check out this or any number of the Little Rascals films. It sure must have been fun while it lasted.
The House of Two Bows keeps a running index of movies blurbed on the site, annotated by breed. If you’re interested in writing a guest blog for a dog film, contact for details.