ENCINITAS — Just because your German shepherd comes when he’s called doesn’t mean he necessarily enjoys it. He could even be harboring a resentment, muttering under his breath like the rest of us when we’re told to do something.
So says dog pundit Heather Kinch who gives voice to shepherds, pit bulls and others through her sassy Opinionated Pets art, which is on display at the Encinitas Library through Jan. 13. While many of the comments attributed to dogs seem flip, there’s a lot of thought that goes into distilling the essence of each breed.
“I do deep research on humor, personality, behavior and folklore,” she explained. “There’s no banal cliché about border collies with sheep. This is not my approach.”
Kinch’s approach is to capture the personality of the breed, in both caricature and verse, and make people laugh. Here’s how she personifies the attitude of a German shepherd toward humans: “Man can be trained to perform many services.”
In penning the verse, Kinch said she adapted a quote attributed to British author Jilly Cooper, “The male is a domestic animal which, if treated with firmness and kindness, can be trained to do most things.”
“I adapted it for use with the German shepherd because it’s the dog of choice for so many service dog jobs,” she said. “And yet, anyone who has trained a dog understands that an equal amount of training is being performed by the dog on their person.”
She comes to the defense of the misunderstood pit bull (American Staffordshire Terrier) this way: “Whenever I go for a walk, the neighborhood goes into shock, I don’t comprehend why their hair stands on end, when I simply ask, ‘Can we talk?’”
Kinch explains that pit bulls are among the most lovable dogs and blames bad breeding and bad owners for isolated attacks against humans.
“These well-publicized attacks have made most people wary of the breed, choosing to give them a wide berth,” she said. “So I took a well-known comedienne’s (Joan Rivers) equally terrifying interview question, ‘Can we talk?’ and put it in the mouth of the AmStaff, who, unaware of her ferocious reputation, simply wants to be friendly and start up a conversation.”
In creating a limerick for the Doberman, Kinch said she utilized their less desirable traits and turned them upside down to express why they have been misunderstood in a matter-of-fact way: “It is said that I’m mean and malicious. Neurotic, unstable and capricious. These lies are uncouth. For the pure simple truth is the human rear-end is delicious.”
“By adding a slightly naughty hook to the last line, I achieved my goal of making people laugh, which they never fail to do when reading that limerick,” she said. “Illustratively, I punctuated the verse with a showing of teeth and a toothpick.”
Kinch says she often layers verses with multiple meanings and expressions. Some of the layers are invisible but intuitively imparted and received. “In this case, I’m also letting people know in an underlying, unwritten statement that the Doberman is truly a wonderful breed that deserves to be recognized as such.”
Developing a verse for the Yorkie was less complicated: “The way I figure it, ounce for ounce, big dogs got nothin’ on me.”
“If ever there was a dog who didn’t know its true size and weight, it is the mighty, leviathan Yorkie,” she said.
Kinch and her partner, Celesd Willoughby, began the business at specialty dog shows, targeting a single breed. Today, they are moving in the direction of rescue dogs, whether mixed- or purebreds. They recently adopted an 11-year-old miniature poodle, Charlie, from the Rancho Coastal Humane Society. They also have a cat, Luna.
“I’m putting the microscope on opinions and limericks on rescue-specific personalities,” she said. “For example, you might see a purebred poodle saying, ‘I rescued my person.’ We want to get people refocused on shelters that are full of mixed- and purebreeds who need loving, responsible homes.”
Opinionated Pet art can be found on sportswear, totes and aprons at www.opinionatedpets.com. Kinch and Willoughby are currently looking to license the production of greeting cards, dog dishes and other specialty items. For more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.