ESSAY: Every Gallery Needs a Dog, and Every Dog Needs a Gallery
Dogs. So many of us have experienced their unconditional love and affection.
I grew up in New York City and through all my pleading to my parents that we needed a dog, still we only had a cat. OK, the cats did their best to cuddle and make us feel needed and loved, but of course it was on their own terms. So when my husband and I had our own family, we finally got a dog. In fact, at one point we were up to three dogs, three cats and four kids, which made for quite a chaotic household, lots of fur and muddy boots… but lots of love.
It was at the point when we already had two dogs that I found Utah. We were at the La Plata Humane Society where we adopt all of our animals, finding our youngest son a kitten for his birthday. It’s pretty hard for so many of us to get anywhere near that shelter without walking out with a couple new furry friends; they all do their best to melt your heart. As the rest of the family looked at the kittens, I couldn’t stand it any longer and gave into the pull… saying. “I’m just going to check out the dogs, I’ll be right back.”
My husband already knew what was coming next.
I entered the dog room, and there he was. The dog I had always wanted. That large cuddly mellow dog standing calmly, smiling at me. Dogs can smile, you know. While all the other dogs were on their hind legs, rattling their cages and barking “Take me! Take me!” there was this fully grown big guy quietly talking to me, saying, “You know I’m the one.” And I heard it. That big, furry Malamute mix.
Of course we didn’t need another dog — we already had two, and my husband sensibly reminded me of that. But, I couldn’t get him out of my mind. I’d always wanted a horse, but this very large dog would do. His name was Bubba. So, against my better judgement I went back to visit Bubba. He wasn’t available for me to take home because he hadn’t been at the shelter for the required seven days, just in case the previous owners came looking for him.
I called every day. But no one came to claim him. How could no one miss this dog? On day 6 1/2, I pleaded and they let me bring him home.
As I stood by the car with Bubba on a leash in front of our house, my husband just said, “You didn’t.” And I said, “I did.” Bubba became Utah, and very quickly a valued member of our household. It didn’t take long for me to peek around the corner of the house to find my husband scratching Utah’s ears and looking into his eyes and telling him he was a beautiful boy. Those eyes. There was an old soul in there. The veterinarian guessed he was about 1 1/2 when we adopted him, but there was something about him. Even the vet fell instantly in love with him.
Our cats, however, couldn’t really appreciate what we saw in him. For them, it was “Oh great… another big, dumb dog.”
Utah camped with us, climbed 14ers with us and traveled with us in his younger years, which were many. It seemed like he was going to go on forever. So when he got older, we gave him a job. At 14, he became “Gallery Dog”. He thrived there. It was almost as if he had become younger again. His job was to greet people as they walked in to the Open Shutter Gallery and make them feel loved, and he did. With his big old Malamute fur, he loved the cool wood of the gallery floor, but mostly he just waited for the people to come in. Sure there was fur everywhere, but we managed to keep it out of the picture frames. The floor had to be mopped a little more often, but it was worth it. He became a fixture at the gallery.
As Utah stretched out on the floor, you could see his eyes looking through the glass doors following the the people as they walked by. When a group or an individual customer walked in, they were greeted by that big old mellow guy, some admitting shyly that they had just come in to pat the dog. This wasn’t just the kids either. It was amazing to watch the adult dog lovers get down on the floor to look into Utah’s eyes and receive a few wet kisses with that big pink tongue.
This dog was different. He is the only dog I’ve ever known that I could trust when a child put their face directly into his face. It’s not something I encouraged, but is was so tempting because of the way he could draw people in. I think there was actually a person in a dog suit sitting sitting on my floor. And as he got older, he couldn’t sit anymore, he was either lying down or standing. He did still get up to greet the smaller children, or adults acting like children. Most of the time Utah got a good scratch behind the ears or a butt rub and you could see the smile on his face, that was the ultimate pleasure. Doggie treats were good too. The mail man or the water cooler delivery guy, and some of his regular visitors were always good for a chicken or beef treat.
He could provide therapy, too. So many of the tourists in town were missing their dogs at home, and Utah was happy to receive their affection, while filling that void. This is what he lived for. It’s why he lived to be 16 years old. At home, in the mornings, he would watch me make my breakfast and get ready to go to work, while in his usual position with his chin on the floor. It was when I opened the kitchen drawer and took out the car keys that he stiffly got up and actually pushed past me to the front door with the anticipation of spending another day at the gallery.
I never intended to have a gallery dog, but now I’ve become used to that presence that brings a softness into the experience of shopping, especially at a gallery which can seem intimidating to some. A certain kindness and a reminder that brings out the warmth in each person. Of course, it has to be the right dog, but many of the shops on the Main Avenue have a furry greeter. Shoppers tell me that they and their kids are stopping in to say hello to the many “shop dogs” on the street. I’ll admit, I can’t resist going into a store with a canine greeter.
We had to let Utah go last Monday; it was clearly time and the right thing to do for such a dignified animal. He lives on in the memories of so many of the people he has come into contact with. He was a happy dog, and we were happy to have been part of his life.