Friday, January 12, 2018

More evidence of the wonderfulness of doggos

Every once in a while, amid all the bad or unfathomable or annoying news, there’s a smile- or tear-inducing human or, in this case, canine- interest story. The current Boston feel good story is about a dog who’s in training for a swell new job at the Museum of Fine Arts. Oh, the job may not pay well – or pay anything, for that matter. But how great is this:

Riley, a Weimaraner puppy, was recently acquired by the Museum of Fine Arts on a volunteer basis to detect insects and other pests that might be hiding on existing or incoming collections at the gallery. (Source: Boston Globe)

It’s like a William Wegman photo shoot made real.

Dogs, of course, have a superior sense of smell, which is why they’re used to sniff out drugs in airports. And why pups have been known to detect cancer in their owners. So why not train them as sleuths to determine whether moths or bugs that can do great harm to “certain types of artwork, like textiles, wood, or organic materials”?

“We have lots of things that bring, by their very nature, bugs or pests with them,” said Katie Getchell, chief MFA puppybrand officer and deputy director of the Museum of Fine Arts. “If he can be trained to sit down in front of an object that he smells a bug in, that we can’t smell or see, then we could take that object, inspect it, and figure out what’s going on — that would be remarkable in terms of preserving objects.”

The museum already checks for these types of problems, but with Riley, it’ll have “an added layer of protection.”

And an added layer of cuteness. Weimaraners are pretty darned cute in general, and Riley is pretty darned cute in particular. Other than in William Wegman art, you don’t tend to see all that many of them. In my neighborhood, there seem to be a preponderance of Labs and Frenchies, with a few terriers, bassets, and shepherds thrown in. Occasionally, I see a Weimaraner, but not all that often.

My Chicago grandmother had a succession of Black Labs – Midnight, Thunder, and Lightning – but her next door neighbors, the Baumgartner sisters, stuck to their German roots and had Weimaraners. And on our biennial trips to Chicago, we’d get to see them hanging around and playing with Thunder and Lightning. (I think Midnight went to doggy heaven before my time.)

I actually don’t know why Grandma Wolf had dogs. She was a cleanliness fanatic. You could eat off the floors of her whitewashed basement. And surely she must have been bothered by some of the behaviors and antics of dogs.

Plus my grandmother had absolutely no sense of humor, which seems to me one of the essential qualities for someone who wants to have a dog.

My Uncle Bob and Uncle Jack were both hunters, so Labs – those duck retrievers – might have made some sense. But what kind of hunters were they in the 1940’s, when Grandma acquired Midnight? Jack was born in 1930, and Bob in 1940.

Or perhaps it was that Grandma recognized that dogs are worker bees. Just like she was. If anyone I know can be said to have worked like a dog, it was my grandmother. When she came to Worcester for her biennial trip – we switched off years, with respect to who went where – my parents would save up chores for her so that she’d be happy. Put in a row of hedgerows! Whitewash the basement, so it could at least somewhat resemble hers!

Yes, dogs are workers.

They’re retrievers. They’re hunters. They’re ratters. They’re sniffer-outers.

And even if they’re not gainfully employed, they have those innate skills. Not to mention that they have superlative skills in terms of companionship, affection, cuteness, and emotional intelligence.

Honestly, I didn’t need any more evidence on the wonderfulness of dogs. But reading about Riley, well, talk about frosting on the cupcake of life.

Best of luck to Riley. Even if the job at the MFA doesn’t pan out, I’m guessing he’ll have plenty of opportunities in the normal doggo world.