Dogs and the Man


By Editors

In their groundbreaking book, Paws and Reflect: Exploring the Bond Between Gay Men and Their Dogs, authors Neil Plakcy and Sharon Sakson have interviewed subjects range from Edward Albee to Charles Bush along with twenty-three others. Below is an excerpt from their introduction to and interview with filmmaker Jonathan Caouette.

Jonathan Caouette is the groundbreaking filmmaker whose award-winning documentary, Tarnation, tore through critics' assumptions of what documentaries could be. There have been several dogs in Jonathan's life, as I learned when I spoke to him between his trips to Mexico, where he was screening his film.

I've loved dogs since I was about four years old. In general, my memories are tied to two things. A lot are tied to what music was on when a certain thing happened. I think a lot of people associate like that. But also, when a memory comes to me, I'll remember the dog I had then. They were always a poignant part of my life.

My first dog had two names, Sport and Christy. What name we called her depended on what kind of mood we were in. Sometimes she was Sport; sometimes she was Christy. She had come around during a time when there was a lot of tragedy going on in the family. The family circumstances were very bizarre.

My Mom had gotten very sick and had to go into the hospital. She suffers from severe bipolar disorder. Just before that happened, my mom got this dog from one of the neighbors. She was some kind of terrier, a dirty-golden color. I don't know if she was a purebred or not, but she was a beautiful dog. I have this great picture of her with me when I was about four years old. She's sitting with me, and I have my arm around her. I never wanted to go anywhere without her.

There was a lot of drama in our house. That's what happens when you have someone who's bipolar and schizoid. On those occasions, I would retreat into our backyard to my Slip 'n' Slide or swimming pool. We had this really great overgrown fig tree. I would hide in the fig tree with Christy and pull the branches over us.

I would sit alone with Sport and try to communicate with her psychically. I was trying to see if I could read her thoughts. I still do that every once in a while. You know, dogs are so hypersensitive to whistles and sounds. What would be so strange if they could actually, if not read your thoughts, read your body language? Even if it's just a subtle look in your eyes or a changing of your face?

I would be sitting and Sport/Christy would come up and look at me as if she was trying to tell me something. Or warn me about something, maybe. She would look me in the eye and I would get the sense of a thought, and I would sit still and try to understand what she wanted to say' and then someone would call me. Or I'd hear my mother screaming. Or my grandparents would come over to me. And the moment would be broken. I never got the message.

My grandfather and grandmother were raising me. My grandmother had a hysterectomy and took a long time to recover. My grandfather had to work to pay the bills, so there was nobody available to take care of me. Children's Protective Services got word of that and yanked me out of the home. I had to go into the foster-home system.

When I remember Sport/Christy, it seems to me that she represented the last vestige of normal family life. I was four, almost five. When the foster home happened, I never saw Sport/Christy again. It was devastating. I'll always remember her. She was an amazing animal. After her, stuffed animals had to take over for a while.