The Portraitsphere: Unchained

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Remember the Portraitsphere, where all manner of media is used to capture a canine likeness? A while back I came across these incredible life-size sculptures of dogs made from used bicycle parts. The artist is Israel-based Nirit Levav and I think her series Unchained is amazing. It’s another example of art that uses found materials, similar to the work by Sculptor Jonathan Bowling where the final piece transcends the materials.

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She really captures the essence of a dog in her work. I think it takes some extraordinary vision to create something so refined from a bunch of old bicycle chains and other junky parts. Here is what Nirit has to say about her work:

“Chains are rather versatile; it is a material which can be very soft and flexible or very stiff, long or short. As for the dogs–there are so many species and breeds, and each one of them looks so different and allows numerous possibilities for creation. There is a wide range of shapes, heights and textures that characterize dogs, unlike other animals. Take the elephant for example–they all look sort of the same. Furthermore, it is definitely my favorite animal. Dogs speak with human beings without actual words.”

I think she’s right about the versatility of the bicycle chains, but still…who could imagine they’d convey a sense of fluffiness in the end? Or sleekness? Or dogginess? But in her hands they certainly do…

Lola

Koka

Maxine

If you would like to see more examples of her work or commission your own glorious bicycle-ish sculpture, you can visit her website here.

All photos from unchaineddogs.com.

Erica Preo is CEO & Creative Director of Pantofola, pure luxury Italian goods for dogs.

Weekend Dog Watching in Italy

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After a pretty long hiatus from blog posts, I’m back! When I first started this blog I posted every day, then gradually started tapering off. I was busy launching Pantofola, my brand of dog accessories that are made in Italy, but in the back of my mind I kept thinking that I really need to resume my blog posts. There were some blogs I followed and when those posts started dwindling I always felt sad, and wondered what happened?! So if anyone has wondered that about me and/or felt sad, I promise to get back to some regular posting.

A few weeks ago I spent a week in Italy meeting with my factory for some new items and collections, and also to attend the semi-annual mega leather fair in Milan. I always try and attend the fair because it’s easier than traveling all over to visit tanneries and other suppliers. Anyway, the first part of my trip was getting over jet lag and becoming reacquainted with life in Italy. It seems I’ve made the city of Varese my home away from home, and since I prefer smaller cities it’s become quite comfy. My first post about Varese can be found here.

One of my favorite things to do is stroll around the center of the city and since I was there over a weekend I was able to do a lot of people watching, and dog watching of course. It seemed as though everyone was out, meeting and greeting. This sweet Golden Retriever was more than happy to get neck and belly rubs from passersby…

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And these two guys were happy to check each other out, although one seems not quite as thrilled as the other…

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Of course there was no shortage of kids, and kids and dogs just seem to go together…

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This one I especially liked because he looked a lot like my dog Chappie, who I was missing already…

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Big ones, small ones, no one can escape the crazy American dog lady with her iPhone camera in hand…

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Of course there were other things going on during the weekend. There were markets both days, with everything to eat that you could possibly imagine. From the point of view of the dogs that were strolling around, I suppose this seller would have been a popular hangout…

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…and wouldn’t it be so easy just to quickly help yourself to some wild boar sausage or a slice of prosciutto on a Saturday afternoon? Why not? It’s la dolce vita after all.

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For me, I prefer something more along the lines of this seller…

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Actually, the best thing of all was already on my radar: the famous gelato chain Grom has opened a Varese location which was very close by. So, like a moth to a flame I went…

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That was Salted Caramel and Coffee together. It was so tasty, the next day I went back for a cup of Salted Caramel and Nougat because, when in Rome…or Varese…

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Not a bad way to spend the first few days in Italy, enjoying a weekend in a lovely city and strolling along with the locals. I’m sure that I blended right in, apart from that pesky iPhone camera.

Erica Preo is CEO & Creative Director of Pantofola, pure luxury Italian goods for dogs.

Phoebe. And Hadley.

Phoebe and Hadley

A few months ago we decided to try and find a friend for our dog Stella. If you recall from the post about adopting her, I said she’s a star. And she’s still a star, but she’s become quite a pudgy star and our other dogs just aren’t interested in hours of playtime with her. You know, that nonstop young dog play that’s often ridiculous but necessary. George, after all, is about fifteen now. Sally only wants to stare at rabbits. And Chappie would still rather close himself in the bathroom for his quiet time. In fact, recently my husband quipped that Chappie is the dog equivalent of Walter Matthau and I would agree.

It’s always nerve wracking and gut-wrenching when trying to choose a new dog, hoping to get the “right” one. And there are other things, like telling people that you’ve gotten another dog. Or, in this case two new dogs, which puts us at six. And the only people with six dogs are crazy people or celebrities or crazy celebrities. I haven’t even told my mom yet, because when she learned I’d adopted Stella she whacked me with her cane in front of everyone on Thanksgiving at my sister’s house. And while she’s no longer using a cane, there’s always a wooden spoon nearby.

I began by looking at Facebook posts of dogs in shelters that were running out of time. There are so many high kill shelters so that’s where I target. Eventually I settled on a litter of 6-month-old puppies that were kind of German Shepherd/Husky-ish and I was having a difficult time choosing between a brother and sister. I drove the three hours to the place, warning my husband in advance that I probably will come back with both of them. When I arrived and met them I thought they were very sweet but also very subdued, even in the outdoor play area. But also we just didn’t connect. The shelter director informed me that a local rescue group had just committed to pulling the whole litter so if I didn’t take them they would still be okay. When I told her that I was really looking for a playmate for Stella she offered to show me a 7-month-old female smooth-coat Collie mix who had been dumped the week before because she had “too much energy”. A minute later her assistant burst through the door with this crazy thing that was more thoroughbred than dog.

At first I thought no way, she’ll knock poor old George off his feet. But then I watched her jolly up the timid female I’d been considering, she seemed to be saying “you WILL play with me!” and it worked. Her enthusiasm was infectious, her spirit couldn’t be contained, even after being abandoned by her owners and spending time in a chaotic shelter. Right then I just had a very strong feeling come over me that yes, this was the one.

And we were off.

Phoebe leaves the high kill shelter

Since then, we’ve found out that Phoebe is a very smart girl and she loves to talk. She also loves playing the squirt game with the hose. Yes she has lots of energy, and that’s just fine with us. And with Stella.

Phoebe and the water hose

So remember I only wanted one dog but figured I’d end up with two? A few days after adopting Phoebe, my husband was on his way home when he spotted a scrawny tick-infested puppy that had been dumped and was desperately chasing cars. Meet Hadley.

Hadley the pup in the catbed

Life has a funny way of working out, that’s for sure. And it doesn’t take long to reach the point of not being able to imagine life without the new additions, I guess that’s when you know they’re really part of the family.

Phoebe, Hadley, Stella

Erica Preo is CEO & Creative Director of Pantofola, pure luxury Italian goods for dogs.

The Name is Bug…Ladybug

Photographer Amanda Jones' dogs Ladybug and Benny

No matter what your parents do for a living, you benefit from it. Not just because they bought you socks (in my day) or bought you an iPhone (these days), but because their career experience directly benefits you. For example, my dad was an aircraft engineer so whenever flying gives me the willies, I call upon the knowledge and reassurance he provided over the years (turbulence is really nothing, flying is safer than driving, etc.). Of course back then, a candy maker or baker dad might have made me happier. As it turns out, a dentist parent also would have been handy.

Now if either parent happens to be a professional photographer, you’re going to grow up with every moment of your life beautifully documented. This benefit, of course, extends to our four-legged friends. In the case of rescue Ladybug, at left in the photo above, you hit the jackpot: a loving home AND professional photographer Amanda Jones as your mom.

A few posts back, I announced the launch of my own brand of Italian-made luxe dog accessories, Pantofola. I was very fortunate to have crossed paths with Amanda thirteen years ago and I’ve been a huge fan ever since: Amanda’s beautiful work is featured on my website, dogs of all shapes and sizes modeling Pantofola collars. I hit the jackpot, too.

Photographer Amanda Jones' dogs Benny and Ladybug

Recently Amanda started sniffing around for a new addition to her family, a sibling for Benny. Thanks to Instagram, she spotted Ladybug who was being fostered by a rescue group in the New York area. She had actually come from Oklahoma, a long journey for a little dog who was looking for her perfect home. Thanks to the network of rescues and fosters, she definitely found it. She’s all settled in, these photos were taken just 3 days after being adopted last weekend. Benny is performing his due diligence and checking her over to be sure she’s not a spy or anything like that.

We think she’s perfect—definitely not a spy—and wears our Pantofola collar well. You’ve come a long way, Bug. Welcome to the big time!

If you’d like to see more of Amanda’s work, or schedule your own session with her please visit her website here. She will be in these cities over the next few months:

Houston, TX | April 8
Tucson, AZ | April 11
San Francisco, CA | April 25 – 26
New York, NY | May 9 – 10
Chicago, IL | June 9 – 10
Nantucket, MA | June 20 – 21
Portland, OR | July 25 – 26
Bend, OR | July 29 – 30
Seattle, WA | August 1 – 2
Denver, CO | August 22
Vail, CO | August 23

Erica Preo is CEO & Creative Director of Pantofola, pure luxury Italian goods for dogs.

Photos courtesy and copyright Amanda Jones Photography.

Hachikō and the Professor Together Again

New Hachiko and Professor Ueno Sculpture

There’s a brand new statue of Hachikō, but this one is even better because in it he is reunited once again with his master Professor Ueno. It captures such a happy moment, the one that was repeated each day at the train platform when the professor returned from his day at the university…until the very sad day when he suddenly passed away. That day marked the beginning of nine years that Hachikō continued to wait without fail.

Detail shots of the new Hachiko and Professor Ueno statue in Japan

I think this new statue is super, because this is what we all wanted to see…the two together. Even as an artist’s interpretation, it’s exactly as it should be: bright smiles, kind eyes upon each other, a briefcase set down while Professor Ueno’s complete attention is given to faithful Hachikō before beginning the walk home from the station. Captured in bronze, it crystallizes the moment and triumphs the sad solo Hachikō.

Hachiko and Professor Ueno statue in Japan

If you’d like to visit the new Hachikō statue, you can find it at The University of Tokyo campus for the Graduate School of Agricultural and Life Sciences/Faculty of Agriculture, website here.

Photos courtesy and original story from Rocket News 24 can be found here.

Erica Preo is CEO & Creative Director of Pantofola, pure luxury Italian goods for dogs.

I am Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln, 1863

Okay, that’s not true. I’m definitely not Abraham Lincoln. And this post isn’t about dogs…or is it…?

Today I heard about a book by author Brad Meltzer, actually a series of books, that teaches kids important lessons and gives them some better heroes. The series is called Ordinary People Change the World and the names are familiar: Abraham Lincoln, Rosa Parks, Emilia Earhart, Albert Einstein. But they aren’t portrayed in the way that we normally think of them, they’re kids. And they’re cartoons, like this:

Brad Meltzer's Lincoln as a kid

The lessons are basic, not only schoolhouse facts like the Gettysburg Address, but other fundamentals and inspiration that’s not typically served up to kids these days. Concepts like determination, pushing boundaries, exploration, and in the case of Abraham Lincoln, fairness.

The reason I chose to feature the book about honest Abe is that it shares a true story about the importance of treating animals with fairness, and that includes dogs. There is a direct correlation between kids that abuse animals and then grow up to abuse people as adults. Domestic violence experts will tell you this is absolutely the truth. But besides that, teaching kids at an early age to respect animals and show them fairness might just filter down to what’s going on at home. Kids can be great little ambassadors to correct mom and dad or other adults that might not have a pet’s best interest at heart with cases of neglect, abuse, abandonment, and the need to spay or neuter. Schools did a great job with teaching kids about recycling and they carried this message home, passing it along. This can work in the same way.

In the story, little Abraham Lincoln comes upon some other kids playing with turtles. At first he’s thrilled because he loves turtles, but then he realizes that they’re putting hot coals on their backs so he speaks up and immediately puts an end to it. This was a moment that began to define who Abraham Lincoln would become, eventually abolishing slavery.

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Brad Meltzer Lincoln Spread

Last year I attended a fancy dinner hosted by one of the largest animal rights organizations in America, and afterward I was able to meet the president of this group. Given that my business is selling luxury dog collars with the goal of donating profits to saving dogs, I wanted to ask him if he felt that educational programs for kids would be a good investment. His answer surprised me: he said not really, because it would take 20 years or so to see a return on the effort. I don’t agree. I think that every day that passes is a missed opportunity to begin teaching kids about respect and kindness toward animals. And people.

An interview with Brad Meltzer about his book series can be found here.

Images courtesy and copyright author Brad Meltzer and illustrator Christopher Eliopoulos.

Erica Preo is CEO & Creative Director of Pantofola, pure luxury Italian goods for dogs.

Maddie’s Fund Pet Adoption Days

Maddie's Fund saved pets

I’m dedicating this post to a dog I never met named Similee. At the end, I’ll explain why.

This weekend is the 5th annual Maddie’s Fund Pet Adoption Days in 9 states here in the U.S. It’s an incredible opportunity for people that are considering adopting a dog (or cat!) from one of the participating shelters without any cost. The shelters win because not only do they find great homes for these guys and reduce their numbers, Maddie’s Fund will donate between $500 and $2000 to the shelter for each adoption. For healthy adoptions, $500 is donated, but for medically treatable and senior animals the amount rises to $1000 and $2000 respectively. Amazing. The number 15,154 above represents just how many dogs and cats they’ve placed in just 4 weekend events since 2010.

If you’re not familiar with Maddie’s Fund, it’s a dream organization funded by wealthy entrepreneur Dave Duffield and his wife Cheryl to the tune of 300 million dollars in memory of their special pup Maddie. I recently read that their goal is to have America kill-free by 2015. That’s just around the corner, but if they think it’s possible then that’s incredible news. Over the next two days, their goal is to find homes for 10,000 dogs and cats. I love it when people use their power for good.

And now, back to Similee. I saw Similiee’s photo in my news feed on Facebook two days ago, a shelter dog that was being labeled “invisible” because she’d been there since April without any interest. She was beautiful. She was young. She was black and white. She had a lovely smile, a happy face, despite being unnoticed and left too long in a shelter. She reminded me of my dog Stella, the sweetheart that I adopted from a shelter in the same area. At some point in the last 24 hours, the Cleveland County shelter in Shelby, North Carolina killed Similee to make space. If Similee could have been included in a Maddie’s Fund Pet Adoption Days weekend, she would have been snapped up immediately. What happened to her should NEVER happen.

If you’re interested in adopting a wonderful dog or cat, start by checking out the Maddie’s Fund Pet Adoption Days website here. You can preview the lucky ones that will be available for adoption on the site as well.

Erica Preo is CEO & Creative Director of Pantofola, pure luxury Italian goods for dogs.