A new book from the University of California, Berkeley’s Bancroft Library now hitting the holiday bookstore shelves gives fresh meaning to the term “dog days” by celebrating the powerful connections between people and their canine companions.
The idea for “Everyday Dogs: A Perpetual Calendar for Birthdays and Other Notable Dates” (Heyday Books) arose unexpectedly in 2005 when Mary Scott and Susan Snyder were sifting through the vast Pictorial Collection at The Bancroft for images for an exhibit on California women.
“By chance we began finding some wonderful photos of dogs with their people,” said Scott, graphic designer for the campus’s Doe and Moffitt libraries. And they found more, and more.
Among the hundreds of photos discovered by Scott and Snyder, public services director at The Bancroft, those chosen for the 152-page book had to relay “a still palpable connection between the people and their dogs,” said Scott. “That’s what a photo needed to make the final cut – be it a crusty old prospector or a famous newspaperman,” she said.
The cover is a professional photo by noted 19th-century California photographer Carleton E. Watkins, of a dog named Guardian peering alertly from a wicker carriage, but the book contains snapshots, too. Altogether, the book contains 75 evocative black-and-white photos taken between roughly 1870 and the 1940s.
The images are of ordinary and extraordinary people and their pooches at home, in the wild, on the farm, atop a Yosemite waterfall, and occasionally even in a formal photo studio.
There’s a 1891 shot of a boy dressed in a suit of short pants, jacket and tie with his arm draped over the neck of his “best buddy Spaniel,” who seems to be mugging for the camera. In another, media tycoon William Randolph Hearst sits with his dachshund Helen by an elegant fountain at his castle in San Simeon, Calif. A snapshot shows a boy standing in front of a fence, with a dog almost as big as himself. A few images show 1906 San Francisco earthquake victims in their makeshift tent cities, family dogs in tow.
Accompanying the images are literary tributes and warm, often humorous and insightful observations and quirky quotes – also found in The Bancroft collections – about the human-canine relationship by letter writers, journal keepers and famed scribes such as California poet Robinson Jeffers (owner of Haig the House Dog), Gertrude Stein (pal of Basket) and Jack London (companion of Rollo and creator of the legendary “Call of the Wild” sled dog Buck).
A sampling of quotes and proverbs includes:
“My goal in life is to be as good of a person as my dog already thinks I am.” Anonymous.
“Dog. A kind of additional or subsidiary Deity designed to catch the overflow and surplus of the world’s worship.” Ambrose Bierce.
“All knowledge, the totality of all questions and answers, is contained in the dog.” Franz Kafka.
“No matter how little money and how few possessions you own, having a dog makes you rich.” Louis Sabin.
“Where can man find in the animal kingdom a truer friend, a closer companion, a more faithful guardian or a more efficient and braver ally than the dog?” San Francisco Call, Nov. 12, 1911.
Scott and Snyder didn’t initially plan to include much text in the book, but uncovering terrific written material in The Bancroft’s collections of Jack London papers along with boyhood photos of him with his dog spurred them to search for and add more.
And a calendar/birthday book format seemed ideal for the material – “light and fun, but also useful and lasting,” Scott said.
Snyder, who loves “mucking about in the stacks” at The Bancroft, is committed to making the general public aware of the wonders and joys of the library, particularly The Bancroft. That spirit is reflected in her other books, including “Past Tents: The Way We Camped,” (2006), “Bear in Mind: The California Grizzly” (2003) and the just-released “Beyond Words: 200 Years of Illustrated Diaries” (2011), recently selected as Oprah’s Book of the Week.
The enthusiastic reaction already greeting “Everyday Dogs” is just what Snyder and Scott hoped for. “You don’t really have to be a dog person to appreciate the book,” said Snyder. “People have these wonderful relationships with animals, and that’s what we tried to show. I think dogs speak to people and do it nicely.”
But cat lovers take heart – captivating feline images and literary references also exist in The Bancroft’s archives. Scott and Snyder say a cat version of “Everyday Dogs” already is in the works.
• Go online to order a copy of “Everyday Dogs,” or call (510) 549-3564, ext. 304.