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This column was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on August 19, 1998. All rights reserved.
Between the Lines: Canine Companions
Dog owners can get very excited when you promise to publish a picture of their pet. We at U.S. 1 wouldn't normally get such a publishing opportunity, but then along came Ed Tenner, with his "Citizen Canine" essay coinciding perfectly with the "dog days" of August (which actually refer to the celestial configuration and have nothing to do with four-legged creatures).
Our problem was how to illustrate Tenner's piece. The solution came from U.S. 1's Tara Murch, who helps deliver the paper on Wednesdays. What about all those dogs in the offices, Murch wondered. To find subjects we needed only to search our database, in which our delivery team compiles detailed notes about how to successfully reach more than 4,000 destinations. Here we found notations that range from "Caution: Big Dog!" to "Old dog here, he's really harmless."
Craig Terry photographed five of the six dogs used to illustrate Ed Tenner's story, which begins on page 14. Some potential subjects were on vacation: Patti Lang's English black Labrador at International Book Marketing on Nassau Street, John Hedberg's Lab at Princeton Business Park, Helga Deaton's black Bernese mountain dog "Mycroft" at Kwela Crafts in Kingston, Marianne Murphy's white Maltese at Research Park, and a mutt named "Jones" at the Platypus warehouse on North Center Drive in North Brunswick.
Michael Graves's celebrity dog "Sara" has recently been photographed for the New York Times, but her master was traveling on the day of our shoot. She kindly sent us a photo taken by Marek Bulaj.
Several dogs who assist beauty parlor operators had to withdraw from consideration because they need to keep a low profile with the state health department. And some of the dog-model wannabees were too far west, including the two yellow labs that come to work with Haskel Zeloof (owner of Diversatech) and his wife (Beth Deene of Full Circle Graphics) at their new building on Reed Road.
Regrets go to Winston IV, the black lab who works on Everett Drive for food importer Sigurdur Sigurdsson of Cooking Excellence. Winston's shoot was canceled at the last minute, but he was able to contain his disappointment.
Of the pooches that did make the big time, the glam/ham is Cover Dog "McKnight" of Framesmith Gallery in Windsor Green. He starred in Princeton Opera's "Camelot" and likes to sing duets that can sometimes be identified as "Happy Birthday." Owner Paul Smith describes McKnight as a "Scandinavian Snowball Hound" and is careful not to use the word "mutt" in his presence. But because McKnight has what can be termed "melded blood lines," he represents Tenner's All-American ideal. Happy Dog Days of August to all working dogs, purebred and otherwise.
An incorrect phone and E-mail address was printed for Richard Lipsey's new business last week. The number for Sporting Goods Research Network Inc. is 609-921-8599. The E-mail is Richard@sbrnet.com.
The cover story written by Edward Tenner -- except for the introduction below -- is not available on this website. It was printed in the Wilson Quarterly. All rights are reserved by Edward Tenner.
Often I walk or run around a half-mile path near my apartment, a simple asphalt loop encircling soccer and baseball fields, playgrounds, and basketball courts. Morris Davison Park is the green of a global village. Professional urbanists and cultural critics may deplore our landscape of garden apartment complexes (like mine), housing tracts, and shopping centers, but my neighborhood travels show that families from all over the world love it. People with origins throughout Europe, in East and South Asia, in the Middle East, in the Caribbean and Central America all happily gather to walk, talk, play, and rest here. To see their cosmopolitan soccer teams on a spring or summer afternoon is to witness the beginnings of a fresh transformation of American identity.
Bigotry and ethnic tensions are not dead, and Plainsboro, New Jersey, is no utopia, but the congenial scene at my local park is confirmation of what modern genetics has revealed, the unity of the human species. The dogs that accompany my fellow citizens are also conscious that they form a single species. They vary far more in size, color, and temperament than we people do, but in their vivid and seemingly indiscriminate interest in one another they betray no apparent breed consciousness. (Chihuahuas are said to prefer their own kind, but it is more likely that they are simple, and sensibly, most interested in other small dogs.)
Many of my foreign-born neighbors are already Americans, and still others are well on their way to Americanization. Already the children speak to their parents and among themselves in English. We say that these families are becoming "naturalized." Their dogs are newcomers, too; indeed, so are all dogs with owners, even if the dogs' ancestors have been on American soil for a century or more. The dogs, however, will never be entirely naturalized. They are, in a sense, perpetual newcomers.
For all their emotional intimacy with owners and their families, dogs remain conditional citizens. Americans without criminal records need not register with the authorities, as Europeans often must, but in most places they do have to register their dogs. It would take a four-legged Foucault to anatomize our elaborate regime of surveillance over dogs -- the taxes, the tags, the inoculations, and above all the human control of reproduction that has made possible the profusion of canine physical and mental traits.
The dog's conditional legal status is only the beginning. Like any greenhorn, it must learn, often painfully, the ways of its hosts. It may be spared the need for table manners, but it must learn human conceptions of appropriate behavior. It is expected to modify its innate concepts of territoriality to suit the human propensity toward sociability, to refrain from jumping on dinner guests, and to respect the otherness of the postal carrier's uniform instead of considering it a provocation. When we pet some adorable puppy, we are also educating it. Reared in isolation, many dogs become aggressive or shy, or indeed both at once.
The burden of learning does not, however, fall only on the dog nation. Children equally learn the ways of an alien folk. Children must come not to fear dogs, yet they also must learn rules of caution, such as not approaching an unfamiliar dog without asking the owner. They must avoid running from a dog. When they are older, they may learn the disconcerting fact that the sight of a running child may trigger a hunting response in dogs, including some, small, cute breeds. Of course, they may also learn how much cleaner a dog's mouth is than a human mouth. The worst bite is a human bite, my mother said. Science has proved her right, as usual.
Humanity, unlike dogdom, has not been satisfied with the distinctions between the two conjoined species. In the last hundred years or so, it has increasingly mapped its own political and ethnic identities onto the nation of dog. Out of the variegated world of dog breeding and training, it has extracted symbols of history and character.
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