This past winter artist and author Stephen Huneck was a guest at a gathering of both human physicians and veterinarians who treat cancer. “They inspired me,” he says.
That’s why he decided that Sally’s next trip would be to see the vet, following his incredibly popular books “Sally Goes to the Beach,” and “Sally Goes to the Mountains.”
Sally is an increasingly popular black Labrador retriever, based on Huneck’s real dog.
Huneck creates whimsical images of Sally in wood cuts, and Sally is everywhere these days. If you’ve seen a t-shirt, lithograph, tote bag or other merchandise depicting a black Lab lying in bed between two people with the line reading, ‘Menage a Trois,’ or an angel dog with wings flying toward the stars wile holding a shoe in her mouth, and a line that reads, ‘Dogs Have a Soul,’ it is the work of Huneck. It was Huneck who depicted a dog licking his, private area, with a line reading, ‘Because they can.’
In “Sally Goes to the Vet” (Harry N. Abrams Inc., New York, NY, 2003; $17.95) Sally is outdoors romping with her friend Bingo the cat. Sally trips and falls over an exposed tree root. She’s told she has to go to the vet.
In real life, Sally suffered a similar mishap, except she wasn’t chasing Bingo, she was playing chase with Huneck. In both real life and in the book, there’s a happy ending, thanks to the veterinarian.
Huneck says, “Veterinarians are amazing, they have to figure out what’s going on with patients who can not speak to them. You sure don’t become a vet to make big bucks or for glory, you do it because you are all about animals. I think being a veterinarian is one of the best things you can be.”
Unfortunately, even his own veterinarian could not save his real life Sally. Only recently, Sally suddenly began to have seizures. Huneck happened to be right there, and ran to his friend to hold her. “She died, in my arms as I was hugging her,” he says, becoming emotional as he talks. “I can’t really talk about it. At least the other dogs were there ” I think they were curious and in some way understood. And I’m grateful I was there to say ‘goodbye.’ The thing is, well, I wasn’t ready to say goodbye.”
Later he learned Sally had a brain tumor. She was nine years old.
Sally is among the thousands of pets memorialized at the dog chapel in St. Johnsbury, VT near where he lives. He built and designed the chapel as a spiritual refuge for anyone who wants to visit, remembering and celebrating the life of their own pet. You can also send a tribute and attach a photo of a deceased pet online at www.huneck.com.
Huneck quotes on of his own memorable lines, “Heaven is people smiling and dogs playing.”
Hunecks’ art work has been featured in galleries around the world. A recent show in Japan was especially memorable.
He says the person who put on the gallery show continually spoke about her dog. Finally, one day she brought her dog to the gallery to meet Huneck. Her dog was a robotic dog. “I didn’t know how to respond,” says Huneck. “She wasn’t kidding. I didn’t think this woman was crazy, but a robot? She really expressed love to this dog, acting like it was real.”
After he returned to the U.S., as a gift to his Japanese host, he created a woodcut of Sally sniffing at an AIBO dog (the Sony robotic dog with artificial intelligence). Huneck says, “The Japanese woman flipped out when she received it, she loved it, and showed the woodcut to the president of Sony.”
As a thank you, Sony sent Huneck an AIBO dog. “Now, you might think I’m a little crazy ” but I can see how people treat this thing as if it’s real,” he says. “It nearly is real. It comes with a little ball to play fetch with, it scratches, it falls over and gets up ” it’s like a real dog ” I’m telling you!”
Huneck says the AIBO is truly considered a pet by many in Japan, especially seniors. “Well, I must say I don’t have to spend much money on pet food. And this is one dog I don’t have to pick up after. And my dogs love the AIBO because it never wants to eat their food.”
Soon, Sony will provide a link to Huneck’s website, and AIBO robot dogs will even respond to postcards depicting Sally as if she if they were seeing a dog friend.
Aside from working with dogs with artificial intellegence, he’s preparing his next book, “The Art of Stephen Huneck,” a coffee table compilation of his work due out later this year.
For all his successes, he has one problem. Huneck pauses, “I’ll forever miss Sally.” But then, through his books, Sally will live forever. “More important is making a difference for animals, and making people smile.” Indeed, Sally has made millions smile, millions who never met Sally, now feel like they too have lost a friend.
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