Hound for Glory
Geoff Hansen’s new picture book is a ruff guide to a dog’s life
Who hasn’t bent Fido’s ear at the end of a long, bad day? Nobody listens better, or cheaper, than a devoted pet. But what if our creatures talked back, about their own adventures? In My Life as a Dog, a new canine character study by Valley News photographer Geoff Hansen, the protagonist is a pooch. Lucy speaks for herself in 45 mood-swinging photos that document the emotional range of a beagle. At the end of the dog day, you’ll love Lucy almost as much as Hansen does.
With his new book — and its cover blurb from artist William Wegman — Hansen takes his place in the pantheon of professional photographers devoted to dogs. But unlike Wegman, who outfits his dogs in human attire, or Elliott Erwitt, whose focus includes pet owners, Hansen is not particularly interested in the relationship between humans and their animals. Compelling as they are, his portraits do little more than suggest Lucy has a complex personality. Heck, she’s deep.
On the recommendation of his publisher, Hansen and his writer-wife, Nicola Smith, came up with a simple narrative to explain the emotions evidenced in the five-year photo project he subtitled “the many moods of Lucy, the dog of a thousand faces.” “I hurt” is the caption on her post-op shot, which captures Lucy looking positively tragic in an Elizabethan collar. By the next frame, titled “I flirt,” she is fully recovered, licking the face of a Japanese tourist. The busy beagle cowers, towers, shakes, bakes and muses in the small, attractive book that sort of rhymes — and fits perfectly into a Christmas stocking.
Man’s Best Model? It sure looks like it. Lucy loves the camera, Hansen says, even without a peanut biscuit bribe.
Hansen started taking pictures of her on weekends and days off from the paper, where he has worked for a decade and still serves as photo editor. The chemistry amounts to no more than “having her in the situation and me with a camera,” he explains. Initially, he sent the pictures to friends as postcards. When enough images had piled up on refrigerators across the country, someone suggested doing a book.
It took Hansen a few years to put a proposal together. But within a week of sending it out, he had a deal with Andrews McMeel. No doubt the publisher, which packages “Dilbert” and “Far Side” cartoons, recognized the book’s potential appeal to photophiles, dog lovers and, of course, kids. Other than a few challenging verbs like “vamp” and “kvetch,” it’s easy reading.
“Seeing little kids clutching my book really made me feel great,” Hansen says of a recent signing in Québec, where he also distributed self-designed “barkmarks” and other pun-filled merch to market the book — look for “The Beagle Has Landed” bumper stickers on Vermont vehicles next to the enduring “Spread Fred.” Otherwise, Hansen is a fairly shy guy who does not excel in self-promotion. He leaves that to Lucy, who handles the meet-and-greet at all of his signings. The cover canine is a master of public relations.
She is no less enthusiastic about visitors to her Hartford home, barking incessantly as she “spars” with her younger beagle brother. Although he doesn’t enjoy the celebrity as much, Chester is all over My Life as a Dog, both in pictures with Lucy and standing in as her “stunt double,” as Hansen puts it. “He does the dangerous things like licking plates,” he says, referring to the photo titled, “I swab.”
My Life as a Dog also covers snacking, driving, dreaming, sniffing and the humiliation of wearing a Happy New Year tiara. But one thing left out of the book is Lucy’s less-than-ladylike habit of taking Chester’s head between her back legs and humping it. Or the corresponding first-person confession: “I lust.”
“Fortunately,” says Hansen, “she only does it to dogs.” Hey, every dog diva has her dark side.