Originally published in Un Magazine, 2017
by Anastasia Klose, Jan 2017
I haven’t always loved dogs. I used to only love art. That was my main love. But things changed when I met Farnsworth.
When I met Farnsworth, everything changed. My partner Matt and I had driven up to Buff Point, on the Central Coast of NSW to see him. Farnsworth was staying at a friends place until my partner found new digs. Poor Farnsworth, a middle aged basset hound, wasn’t having a great time. Another larger dog called Shadow dominated the yard and he was always in the background, being small, being third in line. We arrived at night time and the friends were asleep. We snuck out to the back garden to see Farnsworth. We placed Shadow swiftly inside as Matt wanted us to see Farnsworth in peace, for he is a timid hound and easily pushed aside by more energetic types. He needs things to be calm before he can relax. The night was warm and black. A strange looking short dog placed his chin on my leg. I patted his small, narrow, boney head. It was Farnsworth and I fell in love like a mother does. He was vulnerable.
This love changed my life, our lives. His smell was beautiful, his fur was all over me. This big, big love made me feel a deep connection to him and other animals. According to an old friend, this is when I ‘lost it’ and went crazy and somehow fundamentally changed. Personally, I think loving Farnsworth finally made me grow up. I finally loved another living being more than myself. The change was chemical. Farnsworth taught me how to love, care and attend much more to the animals in the world.
Emotionally, things had started going wrong (or right?) for me in summer late 2014. I noticed it happening at Farnsworth’s Republic, the offlead dog park I made at ACCA. A curator – actually an old acquintance of mine - walked in to the dog park with two elegantly dressed men. ‘Overseas’ curators they were, in Melbourne to see the sights and meet some ‘key artists’ (usually recommended by the curator at Gertrude st or another vip). As I watered the hired plants, sweaty and frazzled in 30 degree heat, these three coolly surveyed me. “Have you seen D_____? I want to introduce him to G_____and F____” asked the female. “I was meant to meet him around now at the Malthouse.” “I don’t know. No, I don’t think I have.” At this, the three wandered off and I stood there feeling vaguely crap. Why wasn’t I important enough to meet? Why didn’t I ever get a gig when I did meet up with those overseas types (not often, granted). I must suck and be somehow crap, after all this, after 10 years of toil exhibiting and performing. These feelings increased the next day when a gallery director was supposed to meet me at Farnsworth’s Republic to discuss the donation of the dog kennels ACCA had constructed. He was a no show and didn’t bother to contact me. Normal events I know. But these thoughts occurred to me: ‘What the fuck am I doing this for? Why the fuck am I an artist? Who even cares?”.
These were frightening questions and I couldn’t unthink them. They began to niggle in the back of my mind, manifesting first as flippant comments to friends re: the actual value of art, and later the joke of my failed career as a statement of fact. It was as if every bad experience I had gone through in the art world over the years had been quietly chipping away at my confidence and my identity. I hadn’t noticed it. But it was like a tap that doesn’t stop dripping - those rejections, snide comments, blog posts, things people said that got back to me etc, were like drips that eventually wear the surface beneath down. A sort of ‘death by one thousand cuts’ had been occurring over the years, and I couldn’t reverse the process. A psychologist would call this ‘professional burnout’.
Getting off the couch
I had moved to Sydney in early 2015. Away from friends and family, I watched ‘Sons of Anarchy’ everyday to pass the time. A larger bunch of art rejections had trickled in than usual, which made me feel quite down. Art had started feeling like a fruitless pursuit – I felt I wasn’t getting anywhere and I wasn’t selling. Attending exhibition openings had always been hard and boring and I didn’t feel I connected with people. I had stopped going to them altogether in Melbourne and carried on this way in Sydney. It just enhanced my sense of disconnection but I was never very good at openings. Shy etc. There were nights I shed bitter tears, regretting my decision to be an artist – something I had never done before or even imagined was possible. But I felt I had more to contribute to the world than my own sense of failure.
Sitting in the loungeroom everyday, the internet and social media had taken over my psyche. But homeless dogs in crisis was real. Real lives existed just beyond my laptop screen. What was I doing sitting at home, staring at facebook. What a non-reality I lived in – it was time to leave this place and enter the tangible, physical world, where people and animals lived and died, real shit happened and events unfolded in realtime.
Thus, I sought to put my useless body and mind to constructive purpose.
Perusing the internet, I saw an ad on seek.com about volunteering as a Foster Care Coordinator for Maggie’s Rescue, an inner west no-kill, foster based rescue in Marrickville. 8 hours a week, the job sounded reasonable. Maggie’s had no shelter, instead, all the animals lived in foster homes and were adopted out via promotion on FB and Instagram. I signed up and before I knew it, I was in deep. I began regularly doing homechecks for people who wanted to foster a dog or cat. Liaising with Head of dogs or Head of Cats, I then organising for a dog or cat to be placed with the most reliable people I had homechecked – homechecks are a sort of interview where you ascertain whether the person is capable of fostering without flipping out. Most people are great with cats, but dogs can be extremely challenging to foster. I caught the train all over Sydney doing homechecks, and it proved to be a good way for me to get to know the layout of the place. In terms of foster carers, I found the best ones were generally mothers, as they were used to responsibility, organised, unfazed by bodily fluids, were good with administering medication, and coped when things being a little bit stressful. I met some great folks who were wonderful carers who continue to be my friends. Within 6 months I found myself ‘Head of Dogs’ for the rescue. This position enabled me to take dogs straight from the pounds as well as the community, and place the dogs directly into foster care. However the pressure increased. The role was 24/7 and there was only one me. I didn’t drive and I wasn’t as dog savvy as some. I was responsible for dog selection, dog foster care coordinating and pretty much everything dog related. And we were a no-kill rescue. Options were very limited for a dog who bit or who was hard to rehome. If I picked the wrong dog, the perennial question of where they would go was seared on my soul. In truth, there was nowhere.
Rescuing a dog from a pound appears simple. A dog is a dog, and just needs food, a bed and a walk, right? But the truth is, rescuing a dog is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you are going to get! Mostly, it’s wonderful things. But you don’t know anything about the animal and why it was surrendered, nor is the pound likely to provide much information. The dog may behavioural problems, it may be aggressive towards other dogs or people, or it may have health problems. I rescued dogs on instinct, as I am not a trained behaviourist. The dogs I rescued I had to envision finding a loving home. Kind of like talent spotting, I had to believe in them. Every rescue group will take in small fluffy dogs, as these are easy to rehome. Even if they bite (which smaller dogs are more prone to do than larger ones) most rescues will take the gamble and take a small dog in. Big, strong dogs were less appealing to rescues as they were challenging to foster and rehome. Frequently it was the big dogs and the staffies left sitting on the urgent list at the pounds such as Renbury Farm in the outer west of Sydney.
Mudflap and Enid
I love big dogs. And I tried to make sure Maggie’s Rescue had a steady flow. My favourite big dog rescue is the tale of Mudflap and Enid and how the came to be alive today. I saw Mudflap online, on the Renbury Farm Facebook page. Renbury Farm pound is well known in rescue circles because they kill animals every fortnight if they haven’t been adopted or reclaimed. The lists of urgent animals were publicised on their website, and Muddy was on it.
Mudflap According to his profile, he had 3 days left until euthanasia. I could see from his photo that he was a large brindle bloodhound hound mix – maybe a mastiff cross bloodhound? Renbury Farm had named him ‘William’, and I knew I had to rescue him. I love bloodhounds, and they are very rare in Australia. It felt like destiny! I caught the train to Renbury Farm (an epic 2 hour trip into the deep west, wandering down country highways and getting tooted at by truckies) and there I met William (aka Mudflap). William was giant, Great Dane sized and so friendly. Over 50 kilos, he sniffed the ground like a bloodhound and had a wonderfully goofy demeanor. He also had the ‘psycho eye’ as Matt and I laughingly call it, glowing amber eyes which look alight from within. The woman who worked at Renbury said William was bonded with Serena, a smaller staffy mix who had clearly recently been a mummy, and they inferred that it would be cruel to let William go without Serena. Maybe Serena was William’s mummy?
So it looked like we were rescuing two dogs. We could put them in the backyard and keep them separate them from Farnsworth and Biggie (our dogs) who could could use the front yard instead. They would be fine sleeping outside at night because it was summer and warm, right? Three days later, Matt drove out to Renbury to get them. He managed to wrangle them into the back of the volvo and get them to the vet for desexing and vaccination. How he did that, I will never know, as these dogs were strong and timid. Honestly, he could have ended up with a bite, but so much about rescue depends on bloody minded determination in the face of reality, and in that way it has a lot in common with making art. Matt named William ‘Mudflap’ and Serena ‘Enid’. After a stay at the vets, Muddy and Enid moved into our backyard.
It was 2am that night and I woke to howling in the yard – it was earsplitting. Bloodhounds have the biggest howls and bays in the dog world. We had rats in the yard. Muddy was baying at them, and then Enid was chiming in. Their barking was ear splitting. It was 2am – they were so loud they must have woken the neighborhood. I went outside to put the dogs back to sleep. They curled up on the purple faux fur underneath the verandah as I rubbed their backs. They passed out like little children in the dark. This happened on average three times a night for a month. Neither myself nor my neighbours slept in that time. Thank god no one complained to council.
In truth, Mudflap was a big jerk. He was extremely pushy with Enid and hadn’t been socialised with other dogs at all. He used to eat Enid’s food first, so she couldn’t even get a bight in, and then move on to his own (but only if he felt like it). Enid was one of the most gentle and submissive dogs around and got along wonderfully with other dogs. Together the two were Jekyll and Hyde, and they quickly got to work decimating our garden. I don’t know why, but all the ‘troubled kid’ dogs I have fostered love digging up plants and chewing off leaves. They can turn a yard inside out within a few hours. Muddy and Enid totally re-landscaped our backyard and killed off all the plant life along the fence, as well as any grass underfoot. The garden has never fully grown back. Every morning they would race around the yard at full speed. I could hear the thundering of paws and snorts from my bed as they raced fullspeed past our bedroom. I was always terrified Muddy or Enid would crash into the house or the gate and injure themselves. But they never did, or if they did, it didn’t hurt them too much.
But the 2am barking was driving us slowly insane. I had tried to introduce Mudflap to Farnsworth and Biggie with the hopes of integrating the pack and bringing them all inside to sleep at night, but it had not gone well. Farnsworth and Muddy got in a scuffle, the fools both thought they were boss (there’s only one boss, and that’s Farnsworth). Muddy could injure or even kill Farnsworth with his strength, so I knew I had to find another foster home for Muddy, one with no other dogs. A wonderful new carer called Scott said he would foster Muddy, so off Muddy went to posh Rozelle to live a life of luxury on the couch. Scott used to walk the streets with Muddy and I am sure everyone would have been terrified. While Muddy was at Scott’s he continued on with the trail of destruction he started at our place, and ate Scott’s housemate’s designer glasses, almost ran through their glass door, stole items from around the house and hid them in his blanket, scuffed their polished wooden parquet floor and barked at every stranger he met. A tough case to rehome!
According to Renbury Farm, Muddy and Enid were dumped in a state forest together. There had been multiple sightings until the council ranger managed to catch them. Muddy was a particularly resistant charge and had thrashed about like an alligator when he had to go into his pen at the pound. It made sense. While Enid coped a lot better with the transition into household suburban life with my two dogs, Muddy had struggled as an only dog in Rozelle. He was afraid of unfamiliar people and big noises scared him. He was likely bred by someone out west to be a ‘pig dog’. Some rural and semi-rurally located people breed these dogs (usually bull arabs or wolfhound mixes) to track and kill wild boar. Hunting dogs are classified as ‘dangerous dogs’ and are technically unable to be rehomed legally, however there is a thriving trade on gumtree and other sites for these dogs. Muddy was no hunter, but he was a scary looking dog. And a frightening looking dog who is scared is not a good combination. People could easily look at Muddy and be terrified without him doing anything at all, but that he was timid and barking at people, that was tough. We called in Nathan Williams the dog specialist, who spent 4 hours with Scott and Muddy, teaching Scott how to encourage Muddy to be confident rather than afraid. But how to rehome him? Not many people want a big (but charming) looking dog.
Mudflap was adopted by a family who live on the central coast. Literally as Scott and I chewed our nails wondering how we would rehome him, I received a facebook message from a young woman from the central coast keen to bring her mum down to meet him. She described herself and her mum as “dog people”. This sounded good. No unrealistic expectations. They came down the very next day to meet Muddy. Of course he barked at them and refused to be patted by them for one whole hour! But next weekend they came back. They wanted to give him a chance. He remembered them and greeted them – amazing! Muddy had a very good memory. The weekend after, they took him home to the Central Coast. He is very happy there with Booma, the resident pointer. Muddy’s desex has kicked in and he isn’t such a jerk.
After some months living with us happily alongside Farnsworth and Biggie, Enid was adopted by a lovely woman in Panania who owns Drools dog grooming. She already owned a Renbury dog called Boris. Boris and Enid get along like a house on fire, and Enid is very happy.
During my time with Maggie’s Rescue, we rescued around 50 dogs. I fostered 3 or 4. Every dog had a story, and I loved them all. I assisted the foster carers who worked with me to rehome the dogs, and I promoted the dogs online. Late last year I resigned from Maggie’s as I was offered a job at Animal Welfare League NSW. Now I work there, promoting their shelter animals online and sharing their stories. I love it. I still make art, and am currently working on some large drawings.