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Gallery Dogs

An affectionate letter to our best friend

by Steve Rockwell

Wolves and wild dogs, ancestors of the domesticated dog, provide convenient models for the study of canine societies. Historically, in Europe and elsewhere, the wolf came to represent evil and licentiousness. It served as a template for nature's baser instincts. When a girl loses her virginity in France, she has 'seen the wolf'. Moreover, the wolves' hunting skills, are denigrated because they hunt in packs. The efficient kill, is deemed cowardly when carried out by a gang.

Just as European societies feared and despised the wolf, the indigenous peoples of North America admired and emulated it. In the Old World the wolf was all but rubbed out, while many Indian tribes viewed the killing of a wolf as a bad omen. Their close identification with nature gave them an insight into the keen hunting intelligence of their canine cousins. Pack mentality was also good survival medicine in an often hostile world.

Recently, scientists have successfully infiltrated wolf colonies through imitative scent, vocalisations and food, and have found the wolves highly affectionate and considerate to one another. They even have what one could call a pension plan to care for those who are too old to take part in the hunt. Their food is shared.

Domestic dogs fit nicely into human society. They are genetically predisposed to hierarchies, ranking, and leaders. The cynical human view, of course, places the dog somewhere at the bottom. That's not how the dog sees it. It's about expediency, and they know that ranking is necessary for survival. They know instinctively where they are situated in people society. No domesticated animal accepts the role of team player with as much gusto and slobbery fervor as the dog. It's our best friend.

Guarding, herding, hunting, companionship, or whatever, the dog is there for us. Diana Smith from the Tatistcheff/Rogers Gallery in Santa Monica said about Sparky, the dalmatian, "Sparky's the general gallery dog. He does everything you ask him to do!".

Should we begrudge a little pampering for all those centuries of loyal service to humankind? Case in point: when Truman, Manny and Jackie Silverman's wirehaired dachshund, was denied his fluffing because the dog grooming truck broke down (and it's not easy fluffing a wirehaired dachshund), he was deprived of something it rightfully deserved. The transmission on the truck gave out, and it never got to the West Hollywood gallery. A dog is more reliable than a truck.

The effusiveness of the friendship with the beast often gives way to tawdriness. I suspect that the dog completely overlooks and forgives this because of its deep loyalty,. Even in New York: Jackie Littlejohn's Norwich terrier, Samantha, in her own dog way, winks at the little suggestive joke that came out of her name. Someone had called her Samantha Fox, and Jackie had liked the sound of the name. Two years later someone said that it was the name of a porn queen.

At some distant point in the past, when the first wolves crossed over the line that divides animal society from human society, they had already evolved a highly developed intelligence. A wolf howl is audible over several miles, an instant and effective communications link. Wolf packs manage and control vast tracts of wilderness, through a sophisticated network of trails marked by their own scent.

This territorial instinct was expressed the first time that I visited the Regen Projects gallery in West Hollywood a couple of years ago. As I turned into the North Almont lane, the dog Gordo was already observing my approach. When I got there, Chip told me that "Gordo is like the symbol of the gallery. He'll lick you to death." Gordo jumped up on me. Chip said, "Down, Gordo! Down".

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