Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Fears of a Shy Dog

1984 was a big year for me - I turned 30, I made my first solo trip overseas when I went to work in Oslo, Norway for four months, and I got my first dog that was entirely my own.  I found Fante through an ad in the Los Angeles Times classifieds. He was a purebred Shetland Sheepdog that was being sold at a discount by his owner, a Sheltie breeder. To make a long story short, when Fante was born, the breeder originally chose to keep him for his markings, thinking he would be a beautiful show dog. But as he got a little older and his personality began to develop, the breeder discovered that the puppy was much too shy and introverted to ever be a show dog. So he put him up for sale, selling him for the cost of the shots that he had already invested in him. I was warned when I got him that he would never be a completely normal dog, that he would probably not be good around kids. I felt sorry for the poor little guy. After all who would want a dog like that? What would happen to him if I didn't take him home with me?

Fante (the name came from the author John Fante who I had been reading a lot of that summer while in Norway), did eventually come out of his shell, but it was a long process that required a lot of patience on my part. Every night I use to put him up on my bed and try to get him to play with me, to wrestle with my arm. After months of doing this, one night he finally seemed to get it - he took my wrist in his mouth and from a new gleam in his eye, I could tell that he was trying to be feisty, a character trait he had never shown evidence of possessing. He remained suspicious of strangers for a good part of the 13 years that he lived, but he did later develop a curiosity that I never could have foreseen during the first year I had him.

While going through some of my old sketchbooks, I came across a series of sketches that I did during that first year that Fante and I were getting acquainted. First, a little background on where I did these sketches. In the fall of 1984, after returning from Oslo, I got a new job at a video post-production house in Hollywood called Pacific Video (I think they're still around, but now called something like Laser-Pacific). My job was to operate the vidifont machine, a computer graphics console that was primarily used for titling and putting the end credits roll on shows like "Star Search," "Solid Gold," "Falcon Crest," "The New Twilight Zone" etc.  I would be given a list of credits to type up and then, when I was done, I quite often had to wait for several hours before I would be called on to roll the credits for the editor who would then transfer them to the just edited videotape.  Because I had so much free-time, I often would pull out my sketchbook and doodle, or sketch. Fante was on my mind a lot, I often worried about how he was doing at home, all alone during the day, so I created a series of sketches that were based on my idea of what some of his fears might look like.  He often used to sit or stand very rigid, staring at something that I couldn't see. What was going on in his mind? These sketches are some of the things that I imagined he might be seeing (including the floating spherical monster in the above sketch).

As I mentioned above, he was very shy around people, especially during the first year or two of his life. He spent much of his time hiding under my bed.  Here I've imagined what he must have felt like when people were around - surrounded by a gang of hooligans and punks.

Here I'm trying to coax him to come upstairs, but he seems frozen and doesn't want to pass by a certain spot in front of the sofa. Often, there were times when he seemed to be afraid of a certain object or space that he would not go near. In this sketch, I imagined he saw a scary skeleton spread on the floor, blocking his way.

Here, I'm waiting in the shadows at the base of the steps that led up to my backdoor, waiting for him to get the courage to run up the stairs.

Later, when I entered into a relationship, I imagined him watching me and my new partner from a distance. The changes that my new relationship brought about must have felt to him like an eruption of our quiet home life, like a volcano blowing its top.

The real Fante, photographed on the backporch of my Silver Lake apartment, in October of 1984, shortly after I got him. He died in February of 1997 in Washington state where we moved in 1993.  I buried him on our 1 acre property with a headstone that read "Fante, My Little Fella."  I still think about him, my poor little dog with all of the fears.


  1. Fante was a cute looking dog. Sorry that he seemed frightened most of the time but at least you gave him a good loving home. I like your drawings and the idea of seeing things from a dog's point of view. Thanks for sharing this.

  2. Yes, thank-you for sharing this wonderful story of patience, love, and acceptance.