Today, I posted a give-a-way on my blog for a boxed set of notecards featuring collages of “Girls and Dogs.” I was surprised by the comments I received both on the site and privately in e-mail because they seemed to touch a chord. Many people shared with me that they had been dog owners since they were little girls or told me they collected prints of girls and dogs. Collette wrote that she has “one daughter and always several dogs.” Peggy told a whole story about begging for a new puppy after her dog had died. I am reposting it below. Many found the notecards poignant, whimsical, and innocent. I think the traditional image of a boy and his childhood dog conjures images of innocence as well, but there is something to be said for the sweet image of little girls and their dogs.
As many of you know, I frequently photograph young girls and focus on them in my collages. I believe that when you watch girls at play you often can catch glimpses of the women they will become. Perhaps you can see some of this in the way they interact with dogs as well. When my niece Catherine was a toddler, she used to cover my old pug Buffy up with towels or small blankets when she came to visit. She would kneel by her on the floor and delicately spread the piece of cloth over Buffy’s body, pulling it up to her neck and murmuring to her as she smoothed the wrinkles. I was surprised a few years later when my pug Vader had aged and was also feeble. My niece Tori, who was too little to have observed Catherine’s ministrations years earlier, repeated almost the identical ritual with Vader, frequently visiting and spreading a dishcloth or baby’s blanket over him, talking quietly as she did so. They both nurtured in a way I could imagine them doing in the future should they become mothers.
My nephews love my pugs as well. They visit and let them out back where they throw balls for them, toss sticks and play games of chase. They frolic and laugh, but there is a different sense of more intimate interplay between my nieces and the dogs. I have witnessed my niece Tori, “training” her family’s Akita Miley, instructing her to “sit” and demonstrating the maneuver with gentle authority. Again, I can envision her as she may be as a woman, strong and authoritative, but also clear and instructive. My 16-month-old niece Ellie met my brother’s boxer Sophie for the first time the other day and acted positively coy. My sister-in-law Leah was worried that Sophie might bother the toddler so she had locked her in her crate, but Ellie was nonplussed. She went over to the crate, stuck her face to the bars and said “Dawg, Dawg.” Later, when they let Sophie loose, my mother spied Ellie playing hide-and-seek with her. At turns coy and giggling, I could picture her years later as a teenager flirting and giving the boys a run for their money.
It seems to me that dogs, which so easily read and play off our emotions, have a lot to work with when it comes to girls and their rich emotional lives. This is not to make less of the emotions of boys, who I know have hidden depths. But so often the interplay between little boys and dogs seems so genuinely simple – happy lugs loping side-by-side through childhood. The relationship between girls and dogs seems to require more inference on the dog’s part. They seem to look to the little girl and ask – what does she need: a doll to dress, a baby to mother, a playmate to tease, a companion on which to practice her blossoming flirtations? The dog, an expert at reading emotions watches and assumes the proper role, the girl finds a willing partner to act out the faces she will one day wear. There are of course exceptions, instances when this isn’t true, but for many little girls, dogs were their first great audiences and mirrors – observing their emotions and reflecting back their many facets. My collages try to capture this complex interplay – a secret world that is a precursor to the world to come, where girl becomes woman and the playmate of childhood evolves into steadfast companion.
I’d love to hear from more from female readers on what dogs meant to them as children or to any little girls they know now? What is the role of dogs in the life of a little girl and do you think that manifests itself differently than it does with boys? Please leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know.
And, below here’s Peggy’s wonderful tale:
I think that I am likely the most “original girl and a dog.” In 1970, when my parents decided to move to Wisconsin, from Illinois, I was 12 years old. My German Shepherd, Blackie, who my parents bought about 6 months before I was born, had died the day before we left WI. My mom was trying to herd 4 children into her 1966 Plymouth Fury to get us to Wisconsin. The eldest, me, would not leave….not until I got the promise of another puppy.
The conversation went something like this:
Mom: “Get in the car.” Peggy: “Nope. Not until you and Dad promise me another dog.” Mom: “You can have your own room.” Peggy: “I already get that. I’m not leaving without that promise.” Mom: “You can do WHATEVER you want to the walls. Get in the car.” Peggy: “I know that, too. Please promise me another dog.” Mom: “Get in the car, it is time to go.” Peggy: “Okay. But I promise you that if I do not get another dog, you will get no grandchildren.”
So…I got into the car and off we drove to another life in WI.
I find it very synchronistic that I would come to this website (probably from a link to something else) and see these very imaginative and amazing cards that truly speak to a young girl’s love for dogs and that age of innocence.
I am an avid thank-you note writer and I find that these would be an amazing addition to my collection of thank-you cards for those “special” friends that deserve a nice pick-me up.
Now….almost 43 years later, my mom’s home just sold which is most excellent, but the doggy wallpaper that I made them put up in my room still remains. The whimsical wallpaper with such phrases as “wanna go out?” “Let’s go to the vet” still remain in that lovely old Victorian home that I spent most of last year cleaning out for my mom.
While I never had any children, I did fulfill my dream of raising and showing dogs. With almost 30 years of loving and owning Gordon Setters, I still love life and fondly recall the joys of being a young girl and LOVING dogs.