Caption from book: Insurgents resting on the banks of the Xiang River, a branch of the Yangzi River that runs through Hankou. Note a dog is snoozing by the soldiers in the foreground, reflecting a peaceful moment between battles. [Lu Hanchao, ed., The Birth of a Republic: Francis Stafford’s Photographs of China’s 1911 Revolution and Beyond (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2010), p. 57.]
As I was mining the archives in Taiwan, I always kept my eyes open for canine sightings. The difficult and wondrous thing about dogs is how ubiquitous they are, yet unindexed. I found them chronicled in books that are not specifically about dogs, but on closely related topics — such as Taiwanese indigenous resistance to Japanese colonialism. What we now know of the Formosan Mountain Dog is closely aligned with the history of Taiwanese aborigines, or yuanzhumin 原住民.
Dogs were seldom depicted as isolated subjects of early photodocumentation. But the photographs where they are integrated into domestic, social, and military scenes are incredibly rich with anthrozoological detail to me. Here are a few of my favorites from GEN Zhiyou 根誌優, ed., Collection of Historical Photographs of Taiwan’s People’s Resistance Against Japanese Occupation 1874-1933 [Taiwan kangri shi tuji 台灣抗日史圖輯] (Taipei: Taiwan yuanzhumin chuban youxian gongsi 台灣原住民出版有限公司, 2010).
Vol. I, p. 305 (Year 1905): “日軍11月9日以步砲聯合作戰攻入北葉社，懲罰其頭目庇護抗日義軍，圖為1905年在頭目宅前合影的北葉社排灣族。” On November 9th, the Japanese military launched a coordinated infantry-artillery attack on the Beiye Society as punitive measures against a chieftain who was harboring Japanese resistance fighters. Pictured are members of the Beiye Society, assembled in front of the chieftain’s home.
A moment of relative peace, given the violence that would ensue, as described in the caption. Even the dog, a drop-eared specimen, looks docile in contrast to the prick-eared hunters that are usually depicted in aboriginal company — and which would clearly be favored in the Formosan Mountain Dog breed standard, a century later.
Vol. II, p. 195 (Year 1916-7): “在警察掌握部落行政，法律與教育的日據時代，部落駐警宛如太上皇，可是一旦原住民忍無可忍起義，平日宛如貴族的日警與眷屬往往要魂斷異邦。” During the Japanese colonial period, the [Japanese] police who assumed administrative, legal, and educational control were basically overlords of their stations, but they’d quickly push the aborigines to the limits of tolerance and cause them to revolt. Typically, the aristocratic Japanese police and their families would have to make efforts to dissolve cultural differences.
I absolutely love the forced togetherness and awkward poses of this shot, especially the contrast between the Japanese ladies seated carefully atop furniture, the aboriginal women squatted even lower than the standing Japanese boy, and of course, the dog splayed on the ground, front and center.
Vol II, p. 39 (Year 1913): “南投，臺中軍警討伐隊完成大甲，北港兩溪流域之屠殺掃蕩任務後，下山路過草屯，當地日警與眷屬列隊歡迎之鏡頭。” Japanese Expeditionary Force from Taichung marching through Nantou after mopping up a massacre at the Dajia and Beigang Rivers. As they descended from the mountains and passed through Caotun, the police administrators and their families lined up to welcome the troops.
And who stands in the middle of the pathway, in defiance of all this pomp and circumstance? A pair of naughty piebald tugou. I just hope they had the sense to move ahead, instead of getting kicked out of the way.
This shot, depicting “Savages of Outer Taroko,” is one of my favorites, because it is so layered, perfectly composed, and evocatively personified. The background scenery situates this in majestic nature — the steep, lushly forested cliffs make Taroko Gorge one of Taiwan’s signature tourist sites even now. Meanwhile, the building presents stark geometry, its sharp lines indicative of its rigid construction. The men are probably the most immediately eye-catching characters, scattered across the foreground in various poses of defiance. One guy even seems to be waving his sword? This was the year of a major incident in Hualian, and the aborigines were in no mood to be “pacified.” From the intensity of their direct stares, I definitely get the sense that the cameraman is intruding.
Yet, what is most fascinating to me is the canine detail, carefully set between two of the human characters in the foreground and quietly lurking somewhere in mid-ground, on the front porch of the building.
The flexed muscles and antagonistic stance of the man on the right is subtly offset by the casual posture of the dog lying in front of the door (I can’t quite make out what the other dog is doing). Now, hanging back and not approaching the camera may very well be the dog’s manner of expressing his disapproval. What I think is interesting is how perfectly those dogs fit into the gap between the foregrounded figures, as if this was a deliberate compositional choice. Or the whole thing could have been a happy accident, shot quickly just moments before the cameraman was charged and chased off the site. I have no idea. But this picture stirs my imagination in so many ways, I wish I had a large, sharp print to frame and hang and stare at every day.
Vol II, p. 83 (Year 1914): “力里社頭目在宅前處理剛獵獲的山豬，排灣族和所有台灣原住民一樣都愛狩獵，收押其槍枝，必然引發極大的風暴。” The chief of the Lili Society carves up a freshly caught mountain hog in front of his house. The Paiwan tribe, like the rest of the Taiwanese aborigines, love to hunt. Forced disarmament [by Japanese decree] inevitably caused a commotion.
You get a good sense of the size of the boar compared to the dog. The dogs were hunting partners and part of the tribe, and so naturally expected a share of the meat (the look on the face of the dog watching the butchering is so familiar). But it was the gun that brought down the animal, not the dog.
There’s more where these came from, but I’ll present them some other time. This is the fun part of research, after all — flipping through hundreds of pages of words and images, scanning for the traces of that which was deemed not important enough to index, but means the world to me. Sorry about the crooked frames and page glares. I had my choice of low resolution scans or higher resolution cell phone pictures, so this is what worked best for me at the time. Click on any of the pictures for a closeup.
During the plane ride over from California to Taiwan, I plugged through one and a half dog books and even a dog movie, which I’m just getting around to blogging now.
First is Emma Townshend, Darwin’s Dogs, subtitled “How Darwin’s pets helped form a world-changing theory of evolution” (London: Frances Lincoln Limited, 2009). Supplementing the explanatory tomes, this compact book tells a peculiar biography of Darwin through his life-long love of dogs. Townshend writes with rare sensitivity about Darwin’s family background, placing his upbringing in scholarly as well as domestic context. We know very much about Darwin as a Great Man, a naturalist who belonged to, was castigated by, and was eventually recuperated by learned societies. However, he was not merely a product of his institutionalized education and the scientific community. He was also part of the landed gentry, for whom home was a place from which to think, and to work.
And, as Townshend reveals, his home life consisted of many dogs who were, indeed, part of the family. Dogs were the Other Species that Darwin knew most intimately, from childhood to death. He possessed the mind he had because of his daily interactions with dogs. It is a pity that photographic evidence remains of only two dogs in the Darwin household, one being the terrier Polly above, whose drawing was prepared from a photograph. She died a few days after her master, following her favorite perhaps because she was his. (Darwin’s wife, meanwhile, survived her husband by 14 years, as Clive Wynne wryly pointed out in one of his 2013 SPARCS presentations.)
We know of Polly because she was memorialized graphically in Darwin’s last book, in his liberal use of her behaviors as examples, and in the more personal stories documented and exchanged by family members. Recovering the traces of other dogs took a bit more work, and this is where Townshend’s research skills really show. Poring over his personal correspondence, Townshend takes seriously the tender exchanges between Darwin’s family members about their beloved pets. When he was away, “How are the dogs doing?” was a real question that demanded reflection, not small talk. His sisters conveyed news of the dogs as “a way of speaking intimately” to their absent brother (18), not so much as displaced metaphors, but emplaced affections. That is, their brother connected to his sisters because they all shared in their love for the family pets.
Luckily, Darwin did not have to travel that long, relative to the trajectory of his career. As a young boy, he was away for school, an experience that apparently had negligible impact on developing his intellect. His “dissipated” attention and supposedly errant “passion for dogs and hunting were completely to blame” (34) for his inability to focus on his medical studies. It is not that Darwin lacked focus; his interests drew him elsewhere, to forge the connections with the sportsmen and breeders who would, many years later, assist his research. After medical school, he was also abroad on the HMS Beagle for five years, from when he was 22 years old. During this globe-spanning, historical voyage, he collected enough notes and experiences to last the rest of his life… but only because he was able to return to the comforts of home and let it all stew for a good, long time.
I am fond of biographical accounts in which brilliance demands its own pace, and ideas are allowed to ripen under unhurried circumstances. Taking a queue from Charles Lyell’s conception of deep time, in which “the geological processes that shaped the earth’s surface were incredibly powerful, but terribly slow,” Townshend deadpans: “In a million years, a lot could happen” (59-60). Of course, Darwin didn’t take a million years, but he did allow himself time to sharpen his critical acumen. He read the same bestsellers that others were reading, yet extracted different conclusions to fit his own idiosyncratic questions. He was frequently willing to exceed the limitations of sanctioned knowledge, seeking expertise from “practical men,” especially breeders, when he needed and wanted to understand something new. He knew how to ferret out information, even if he didn’t always know what to do with it at the time. Through it all, he took copious notes in “secret” journals.
It was 1837, shortly after the conclusion of Darwin’s voyage on the Beagle, when he began compiling the notes that would become the Origin of Species in 1859 — 22 years later! He sketched his first outline of his theory in 1842. Along the way, he published much safer, less personally satisfying work on barnacles. That work earned him respect amongst the scientific community, but did not expose him as an iconoclast and heretic-in-the-making. Meanwhile, he continued to love his wife (a first cousin, by the way), produce children (lots of them — not all of whom survived), acquire dogs (bred by friends and family and sometimes with only casual pedigrees), and communicate with intelligent company who didn’t always agree, but who spurred his thinking.
One thing that Townshend was very careful to put into context: while Darwin understood that his work flew in opposition to the writings of Genesis, putting him severely at odds with more devout and conservative peers, he dd not intend his work as an anti-religious missive. His issue was not with the status of God, but the status of humankind as a “perfectly” pre-formed entity. He could not believe in preformation, and he wasn’t the only one. But he had his own systematized ideas to replace prevailing convictions: “God’s perfectly formed Creation has disappeared from this account; in Darwin’s vision, nature is simply one huge and incredibly skilled breeder” (79). Townshend reveals how Darwin thought with great complexity about many things, big and small, moving rather effortlessly from religion to dogs.
- “The feeling of religious devotion is a highly complex one, consisting of love, complete submission to an exalted and mysterious superior, a strong sense of dependence, fear, reverence, gratitude, hope for the future, and perhaps other elements. No being could experience so complex an emotion until advanced in his intellectual and moral faculties to at least a moderately high level. Nevertheless, we see some distant approach to this state of mind in the deep love of a dog for his master, associated with complete submission, some fear, and perhaps other feelings.” (Darwin, Descent of Man, quoted in Townshend, p. 113)
He at least considered the mutual compatibility of religion and evolutionary theory, since the changes he imagined were themselves subtle, incremental, practically imperceptible differences. Thus, the science was not entirely in perceptible evidence, but also in what was imaginable with the benefit of knowledge and insight.
This, too, is what’s wonderful about Townshend’s biography. She reads closely and draws upon her stash of rich historical archives, but she pushes the material beyond its face value. There are really great analytical moments in her biography, but the insight she shares here is not necessarily her understanding of scientific theory, but of human personality. The ability to read people, especially from material text, is a rare skill that cannot readily be trained and not everyone enjoys.
Finally, I’ll add that I was pleased with the overall book design. Interspersed throughout are numerous animal illustrations and engravings pulled from the archives and Darwin’s published books, including most of the best ones with dogs. A flipbook dog trotting through the corners of each page animates the concept of individual creatures in motion. Clever.
Even though Darwin didn’t have all the answers, we can still learn from his inquisitive pursuits. Meanwhile, so much of our modern language and figurative speech is indebted to him. Progress itself is so often posed in evolutionary, developmentalist terms, with rather clear hierarchies marking “higher” and “lower” stages. He altered the way we think of change itself, a fundamental basis of existence. And of course, we can’t even talk about the history of dogs and engage in contemporary debates on breeding them without drawing upon the vocabulary provided by his work. The least we can do is turn back and take a good, close look at how he spoke of dogs in his own time.
I’m a terrible hoarder of library books… This is a real problem because grad students at my university don’t seem to have checkout caps on our accounts, and we can renew titles for up to three years. However, I’ve been making an effort to winnow down my stacks, typing and filing away notes so I can relinquish what I don’t absolutely have to keep on hand.
This one is so fascinating, it’s hard to let go. From Johan Gallant, The Story of the African Dog (Pietermaritzburg: University of Natal Press, 2002), under the section “Thoroughbreds with African Roots,” comes the following:
- My own experience with traditional Congolese dogs goes back to my 1957 travels in the country. My observation was that the dogs of the southern savannah were taller than those of the equatorial forest but were largely of the same type. Pricked ears and tightly curled tails were not a standard feature among either the savannah or the forest dogs. These details only became ‘fixed’ when the modern Basenji was selectively bred.
- My more recent field work in southern Africa has confirmed for me that virtually all traditional African dogs carry an ancestral graioid [greyhound-like] streak. They inherited it from their forefathers who arrived on the African continent 7000 years ago and brought these genes from the protodogs from which they had evolved. It seems misplaced, therefore, when the canine-fancying world promotes the show Basenji as the prototype of the African dog. To the contrary, this pure-bred Basenji is a typical example of modern cynotechnical interference with the gene pool of a naturally evolving land race.
- When, during the 1930s, Mpoa specimens were collected from the ‘natural’ dog populations endemic to the Congo forest, this chosen dozen formed the foundation stock for a new breed. Planned inbreeding within this isolated group ensured artificial selection towards set goals, defined (as is all too often the case) not by concern for the well being of the breed itself, but by fashionable standards of what is perceived to be attractive. The inevitable cost to the Basenji of such inbreeding within a small foundation stock has been the development of a host of hereditary defects associated with the breed. These have persisted despite the most dedicated efforts to eradicate them, for example, through the periodic introduction of new equatorial stock as recently as 1987. The American Kennel Club unfortunately since banned this practice.* The case of the Basenji is a sad illustration of the results that ill-considered genetic tampering can have. It seems that modern dogdom has simply accepted that this is the toll that modern breeds have to pay for their privilege of pleasing their eyes.
Gallant, p. 85, 87, emphasis mine
* Petitioned by the Basenji Club of America, the AKC has reopened the Basenji studbooks again, though for a limited time. More information can be found on the BCOA pages for the African Stock Project.
My random, scattered thoughts —
I think it’s interesting that Gallant was in the Congo at roughly the same time as Veronica Tudor-Williams was in Southern Sudan with her crew. It does not matter to me so much who was “first,” but that their journeys and motives overlapped even when their persons did not (or did they?).
It seems that Gallant does find some of the modern Basenji to be physically attractive. He acknowledges as much in a caption describing the 2001 Crufts winner and elsewhere in the book. But acknowledging their visual appeal is not enough to justify their production in a system that he finds thoroughly artificial, disabling, and disdainful (see, for example, his book S.O.S. Dog, which is fetching some unholy prices on Amazon for some reason, as is this book).
For Gallant, it seems that the only “true” African dog not only comes from Africa, but stays in Africa — breeding, heritage, and institutionally sanctioned notions of what it means to be thoroughbred are rather irrelevant. This, too, is a kind of purist’s stance that finds coherence in geography rather than genealogy. I think his words deeply wound those whose breed with romantic intentions to “preserve” what they regard as a “primitive” breed, while Gallant would argue that African dogs require neither preservation nor “cynotechnical interference” (I love that term), if one would just abandon the notion of a narrowly defined breed.
I don’t actually begrudge Gallant his harsh words. His agenda against kennel clubs is very clear. However, just as all our modern breeds, including our “primitive” Basenji and Shiba Inu, are configurations of historical contingency and contemporary fashions, so too do I think that ANTI-kennel club polemics can be located within particular circumstances.
The dog people I know who are invested in breed club activities find their efforts to be personally enriching, first and foremost, though they ultimately take pride in promoting or benefiting their chosen breed(s). Yet, the same, too, can be said for those who rally under anti kennel club flags. At the end of the day, I find the anti-club crusaders’ motivations to be just as deeply rooted in personal experience.
I don’t know enough about Gallant’s background to understand where he comes from, but I am indeed curious. Such deep convictions are not formulated overnight, after all.
I would buy a print of this if I could track one down.
Artist: Shih Ping-hsi [Shi Bingxi 施並錫]
Title: Sharing 兩者之間
The Chinese title is literally “Between the two.” I’m not sure that the dog with the meat in his jaws agrees with the English rendering of the title, either. That dog’s bristliness and defensive stance is something that multiple members of the House of Two Bows can relate to.
I’m not nearly as enamored by this second print, which I find horrifying in some ways.
Artist: Lin Shu-nu [林淑女]
Title: [Shar-pei] Dogs 沙皮狗（白描）
I can’t help staring, getting lost in the maze of wrinkles. Visually absorptive, yes — but I wouldn’t want it hanging from my wall. The technique is known as bai miao, Chinese line drawing with brush and ink. It’s a deft application of traditional technique on a “Chinese” dog to enhance its exaggerated physical features… though I wonder what the artist was going for by making the results so grotesque!
Both images were scanned from the collection Jia xu gou nian ming jia hua gou zhuan ji 甲戌狗年名家畫狗專輯 (Taipei: Nat’l Taiwan Arts Education Institute, 1994), dog art commissioned for 1994, the Year of the Dog.
I was flipping through Inu no Nihon shi : ningen to tomoni ayunda ichimannen no monogatari [犬 の 本 史 : 人間 と ともに 步んだ 一万年 の 物語] (Ed. Taniguchi Kengo 谷口 研語, Tokyo: PHP Kenkyūjo, 2000), a special volume on the working relationships between dogs and people, put out by the Hokkaido Museum of Northern Peoples. Contained within was relatively little on Japanese people and any of the Nihon ken. What was included, however, was a broad span of material on working and hunting relationships between humans and dogs from indigenous cultures of other continents.
This series of photos caught my eye.
Photographs 8 and 9 (from 1990) were contributed by ICHIKAWA Mitsuko 市川光雄, 11 and 12 by TERASHIMA Hideaki 寺島秀明 (from 1978), 13 and 14 (from 1983) by 丹野正 TADASHI Tanno. They are researchers whose work concentrates on the Mbuti (p. 28), the Aka (p. 29) and other hunter-gatherer cultures of the Congo Basin.
The dogs are not identified as “Basenji,” but as hunting dogs. Function, not breed, is the focus of this monograph. The diagram on page 29 depicts how Central African net hunters use their dogs and beaters (helpers who make loud noises, always women) to drive game into nets. And yes, the dogs wear absurdly large bells so that they can be heard (and not harmed!) in the thick of the action, since they don’t bark.
My favorite shot is P13, not for the naked natives but the plump, arch-necked basenji who can’t help but be included as an underfoot critter in this utterly domestic campsite scene. While the humans look self-consciously at the camera, the dog knows only to heed the shins of her people. Similarly, P14 is a nice shot, too. Perhaps the photographers had not intended to specifically capture the dogs in those photos — but they were there, a constant presence and ineradicable part of life.
P9 is a very close runner-up for favorite shot. Most powerful to me is the juxtaposition of the hunter’s muscular forearm, as well-toned as his dog’s. In this moment of sinew and flesh and the promise of meat, a snapshot conveys the very essence and history of action, with all its chronology and fluidity. And that is a dog whose alert posture, erect ears, and abundant figure commands a central place in the photographic composition. All this is counterbalanced by the child in the back right. The boy’s grip on his bow suggests that he’s no anomaly; he has full claim to this hunt, despite his youth. Yet, I suspect the dog has already seen more of the world than the boy has dared to dream…
Anyway, sorry for the low-quality scans… but not really. Alas, stuff has a tendency to circulate without credit on the internet. These photos should definitely be traced back to the source, so here’s hoping that my low resolution scans just might encourage someone to do so.
Been busy in the library lately. Might as well share some of the goodies.
I really like this watercolor by contemporary artist Yeh Fan 葉帆, entitled Plum Blossoms and Dog 梅花與犬. This piece was commissioned by the National Taiwan Arts Education Institute for a touring exhibition in 1994 commemorating the Year of the Dog, and appears in the collection Jia xu gou nian ming jia hua gou zhuan ji 甲戌狗年名家畫狗專輯 (Taipei: Nat’l Taiwan Arts Education Institute, 1994), p. 48.
I was flipping through a book on dogs in Singapore* when I came across this sorry example of a Shiba Inu in the first few pages:
Though the book does not purport to represent any of the breeds within standard, I would almost rather not see a Shiba than one in such shape. I was frankly taken aback by his girth, the large callus on his front elbow, his flattened rear pasterns and collapsed, faded ears. For all the good that this book is trying to do by imparting a sense of responsibility and important knowledge unto the Singaporean and Malaysian general readership, I could not help but think the authors were oblivious as to what a real Shiba should look like.
So I scowled. I sneered. I judged. I posted the snap to my Instagram, voicing my disdain. Several friends responded in kind, and we frowny-faced together, finding solidarity in our sadness for our maltreated Shiba brethren. “Looks like a typical puppy mill Shiba,” commented one of my friends. I admit that I thought the same thing.
Well I put the book down, returning to it at a later date. That’s when I found another picture that hinted as to where this Shiba might have come from.
Singaporean Film Director Eric Khoo [邱金海, Be With Me (2005), My Magic (2008), Tatsumi (2011)] apparently owned an eleven-year-old Shiba named Iiko. He is described as “rare” (like the first picture), and “gentle and loyal with his kids.” Iiko’s feet appear aggravated by allergies, his paunch is more pronounced from that angle, and his tear-stained countenance and droopy ears suggest that he’s not particularly pleased to be manhandled by the crowd of boys, despite the caption.
Though Iiko actually appears more decrepit in this second picture (the final photo credits confirm it’s the same dog), my criticism of the Shiba’s first representation immediately softened upon seeing him portrayed in this domestic setting. Here he was, somewhat dopey and dour looking, but nevertheless placed as “one of the boys” at the center of the family. Within a series of pages describing how to “Be a responsible owner” by properly socializing, training, and vetting a newly acquired puppy, the presence of this senior Shiba — older than the eldest son by three years — affirmed the idea that a pet is a commitment for life, through family transitions, poor health, and old age.
I felt sheepish for having been so judgmental based on the first picture. Truth is, both are only pictures, brief moments embedded in a cultural context that is unfamiliar (which is why I checked out the book in the first place). For all I know, Iiko sleeps outside on hard concrete and seldom gets actual human interaction… Or maybe he gets to rotate between the boys’ beds each night. That reality, whatever it may be, is not for me to know and judge.
As a pet, the authors of the book included Iiko in their annals of special Singaporean dogs because they found him worth documenting. Perhaps it’s just because he’s a “rare” breed and belongs to a famous filmmaker. Perhaps the authors wanted to highlight his simple canine essence by contrasting him to Khoo’s celebrity. Or perhaps it’s just because he’s old and has obviously seen better days. Frankly, this Shiba was still one of the unhealthiest looking dogs in the whole book, as even the local pariah dogs appeared more fit.
Still, he has a home and a family to call his own — the basic satisfactions of human and canine alike. Ultimately, it was more significant that this li’l dude was old than a picture-perfect Shiba. The authors knew what they were doing after all.
Lee, Koon Ann Lennie and Ilsa Sharp. Singapore Dog: K9 Facts, Figures and Fancies. Singapore: SNP Editions, 2003.
As a final tangent, one of the most fascinating entries in the book was a list of breeds approved by the Singaporean Housing and Development Board. Since the vast majority of Singaporeans live in HDB government-sponsored housing, this is essentially a form of breed-specific legislation that affects the general population. On the cover is a Jack Russell Terrier, a breed which is HDB approved. However, the JRT breed introduction takes exception to official recommendation, noting, “The authors do not agree with the HDB ruling and do not recommend this breed for high-rise and/or HDB apartment living.”
This is an amusing passage from Alan Beck, The Ecology of Stray Dogs: A Study of Free-Ranging Urban Animals (West Lafayette: NotaBell/Purdue University Press, 2002), a monograph about his field research in Baltimore in the early 1970s:
- I was present at a meeting of “Children Before Dogs,” a group of citizens organized by consumer advocate Fran Lee, when the police had to be called in to end the fighting between pet owners and others in the audience. It was sad to see people yelling, fighting, and at one point even throwing dog feces at each other. Dog feces were blamed for killing both the “Maxie” style skirts and children. (54)
Obnoxious poop machines indeed, infringing on human sartorial freedoms! Sadly, the fight for dog-friendly spaces has long been a steady campaign to mitigate the offenses of the few.
From the archives of KALX 90.7 FM in Berkeley…
Sebastian Speaks! Your Watchdog on a Disc.
Featuring Sebastian Von Willow, as trained by his owner, C. Brooks Whitfield
San Francisco: Grr-r Records (In-Sync), 1980
The notes on the back are fabulous. Click to enlarge and read in detail:
- Thieves — Beware of Sebastian!
Sebastian Von Willow actually lives in Woodside, California. He is the mainspring of a family of five active people plus two lesser dogs, a parrot, squads of cats and some horses down by the barn. Like many German Shepherds, he really is two dogs in one. He is the playful family companion, pal, clown, tease, and general nuisance. And he is his family’s sentry — always on the alert for the unusual — a noise that shouldn’t be, a stranger at the door or lurking nearby. Day or night, Sebastian is ON GUARD… ready to warn, protect, defend. […]
What this Record Is And Isn’t…
No, this record is not a burglar alarm. And it is not guaranteed to fend off burglars or intruders. But it will help you create an illusion that there is a watchdog — a Sebastian of your own — right there behind your front door or in the back of the house.
Here are some suggestions for putting Sebastian to work in your home: when you go out, leave Sebastian playing at a moderate volume (test for the right setting by listening outside with doors and windows closed). Sebastian’s volume level should suit the natural ambiance of your home. Your record player should be set on “repeat” or the record changer arm or grippers should be set so the cycle will repeat. Turn on a portable radio, too. Each time you go out, vary the radio settings — sometimes no radio, other times a different program or volume. Sebastian loves the radio — any program — and will stay with you, restlessly snuffling and barking as long as you’re away. […]
For variety, you can adjust your turntable or record player to 45 RPM, and PRESTO! You’ve got a convincing middle-size dog sound. Perhaps Sebastian Jr. won’t seem quite as huge — but menacing, nonetheless!
How to Care for Sebastian
Sebastian is the easiest watchdog to care for in the world! He needs no food, no shots, never sheds, is perfectly obedient, has no embarrassing “doggie breath,” requires no clean-up, no grooming, no flea collars. But there are some things you must do to keep Sebastian speaking: Remember, this is a precision recording. Scratches or dust on the surface might make the arm stick. […]
How This Record was Made
Sebastian was recorded live, at work in his own home. No stand-in dogs or sound effects were used. Approximately 30 minutes of original material was prepared on a master tape, then sent to the sound studio. There, careful editing was done to achieve natural built-in pauses, barks, and growls of varying intensities — from faraway noises to up-close snarls! Don’t be surprised that you don’t hear wall-to-wall barking on this recording. That would be unnatural… and Sebastian Speaks sounds like the real thing, naturally!
This is why I love DJ’ing at a freeform radio station where they let you play just about anything you want. Sebastian speaks and lives… forever!