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From the Vault of Art Shay: Animals

By Art Shay in News on Dec 7, 2011 8:00PM

(Legendary Chicago-based photographer Art Shay has taken photos of kings, queens, celebrities and the common man in a 60-year career. In this week's look at his photography archives, Art takes a look back at some of his favorite photos of animals.)

The dashing poet Robert Browning, who helped dognap Fluff (who was a happy witness to his once-a-week dorking of the invalid Elizabeth Barrett at her London home before he made off with both females from Liz's cruel daddy's custody) dashed off a couplet beloved of non-atheistic pet lovers:

"God made all the creatures and gave them our love and our fear, To give sign, we and they are his children, one family here."

Florence and I have always agreed that our friends with pets go ga-ga when company comes. The pet, whatever its size, becomes the 800-pound gorilla in the room. A fellow Washington correspondent said it took him months to get invited to dinner at the Johnson White House and, when he finally did get invited, the President spent 15 minutes explaining why he liked to pick dogs up by their ears. "They love it," he said, aggressively defensive. My friend added, "as Johnson leaned over, I noticed he had these extraordinary large ears. I wondered..."

Doing a Life story on the golf comedian Johnny Revolta, I soft-heartedly agreed to save two ducks he sadly explained were doomed to be executed by the country club chef. We had a small house in flood-prone Des Plaines, IL and only three small kids at the time. What joy I brought home in that shoe box! The kids named them Lucky and Ducky and fed them crackers and greens and peanut butter. They doted on them and changed the crapped-up water in their blue plastic swimming pool.

Within two months, our clean little house was smelled of and was stippled with duck shit, and duckless visitors asked endless duck questions; two brought duck tape. We had a five foot basement flood and the first thing the plumbers saw was Lucky and Ducky floating over the furnace.

I returned them to their golf club, weathering charges of cruelty to children and base parenthood. It beat pellets of black duck shit everywhere, even in my 1954 yellow Hudson Jet.

This eventually led to Steve's skunk, Barney (a female); Lauren's skunk, Poppy (ditto); Steve's first dog, Zippy; and a succession of poodles under Jane's capacious LA roof — newsy Max, intemperate Dewey, then Jeep, who heartbreakingly kept looking for his pal, Jane's affable husband Eliot for years after he was gone. (Eliot wrote some of Richard Pryor's movies and Dunston Checks In, still viewable on all-night TV.
Like Jane, Eliot loved animals too.)

When Steve moved to Seattle, he wrote and photographed a series of articles for the Chicago Tribune on living on his 33-foot boat with his complacent labrador, Alice.

I suddenly remembered the provenance of a mysterious bill for $220 I paid some Chicago veterinarian. It was to splint the forelegs of Lauren's skunk, Poppy, that she kept too near her North Side window sill when she moved back here from NY. Poor thing fell out of the window. If you never saw a skunk with a limp, we had one in our extended family.

If you can't wait until this time every Wednesday to get your Art Shay fix, please check out the photographer's blog, which is updated regularly. Art Shay's book, Chicago’s Nelson Algren, is also available at Amazon.