German photographer GABO has had dogs for 30 years and cannot imagine a life without them. Right now she is sharing her cottage by the lake near Berlin with Poquito, the Podengo from Portugal. Picked out of a garbage bin by animal rights activists as a baby, and so traumatized that “he can’t stand white haired men anywhere close”. With Chester, the Labrador crossbreed from Mallorca, missing
(he passed away a few months ago) they’ll have to figure out how to get along, just the two of them. Even if that meant to adopt another dog
Dogs have always played an important role in your life, right?
Absolutely. A few months ago my beloved Chester passed away and we are still mourning. He was a Labrador mix that came from Mallorca. I loved him so much and it still hurts. He is around, I can tell, but we cannot communicate the way we used to. In any case, I miss him a lot, that’s why I’m looking for a new Labrador mix or a Retriever. It is important for me to have a dog that is well behaved and big enough to scare off strangers. A dog that is easy-going and respects me no matter what. I’m not the one to go jogging with him for hours and I’m not very consistent in my education either. Poquito, the little Portuguese, looks like a miniature wolf. His body is tall, but the legs are short. Unfortunately, I can’t let him run free: He has already killed a few chicken at my neighbor’s. So we usually wait for the chicken to go to sleep and then go for our evening round (laughs). On the leash, most of the time, because as soon as he sees a rabbit he’s gone.
How did you meet Poquito?
I picked up Poquito at the Bahnhof Zoo train station in Berlin, eight years ago from now. He came from Portugal in an animal protection van, a tiny puppy, no more than four months old. Someone had found him in a rubbish bin. This probably explains his fear of men, especially men with white hair. It’s pretty obvious he was traumatized. Chester came from Mallorca. He had always been on a chain, as a guard dog of a big construction site. All he ever got to eat were chunks of hard bread. That’s actually why I left Mallorca after 10 years: I couldn’t stand how they treated the animals. There were abandoned dogs everywhere, in front of every house, even where no one lived. I went horseriding often and happened to see so many of them on a short chain in lonesome courtyards, exposed to the blazing sun, often without fresh water and with very little to eat for how skinny they were.
I had to go away, I couldn’t stand it anymore. The situation has improved in recent years, from what I understood. There are people who try to take care of the dogs now. But when I moved there 20 years ago, the conditions were different. In Mallorca there’s a saying that having a dog in front of the house signifies you have money, enough to feed a dog as well. When I think of how many I wanted to save, I could have adopted ten and more!
You’re saying you’re not very good at educating your dogs. How do you manage?
I look at Poquito. Guess what. And he understands. As if it was telepathy! I don’t have to raise my voice or educate him. I do it through vibrations. And with the intensity of my features. He can laugh, he must have learned it from me. And if I look angry, he knows it’s getting serious. He definitely reads my features and I read his. Then of course what I adore about him is his character, a cheeky, sometimes naughty little boy. He can walk on his hind feet, even turn in circles on two legs!
What is your relationship like?
Very mature, I guess, because Poquito is a loner. Not a pack dog like the Beagle that lives above us. And he doesn’t stick to me that much. He goes into the garden alone and lies in front of the gate for hours, watching who is passing by and, sometimes, barking at the neighbors. He’s like a little Indian, he kept his wilderness. And I’m kinda Indian too. I need a dog like him, free, with his own personality, not a dressed up one, sitting on a sofa. I also need personality in my photos. And truth. Those are the things that I’ve been looking for my entire life. Poquito is perfect in that sense. Oh my God, I’m in love with him. What was the question again?
If he was a person who would he be?
Something between Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. A part of him is like “I’m going to get really dirty now”, then the other part goes “but actually I’m quite a smart guy, well educated and super nice”.
Who looks after him when you’re not around?
I have someone who comes to my house and takes care of the dog here. I want to avoid any other trauma for him and knowing that in a kennel there would certainly be men (impossible!) and other dogs (only partly possible), that would stress him out too much. My mother used to take care of the dogs when I was gone working. Now I have my roommate to watch out. But if she’s not around, it’s difficult. What I usually do is offer a “nice day in the country” to friends who already know him. And ask if they can open and close the door for Poquito. So far I’ve always been lucky to find someone.
Is there anything annoying about Poquito?
Well, it annoys me a lot that he kills. Because it scares me off and I don’t quite understand that my sweet little dog can turn into such a monster! But maybe that’s part of his character, being very similar to a Wolf. There are photos of white Wolves that look extremely similar to him. Also Huskies. And that’s where you have to be careful.
Many years ago I was shooting for Elle in Los Angeles. I photographed a little Wolf with the model. And I wanted to take this beautiful animal home with me, adopt it right away, it was so cute. The trainer told me that Wolves are not allowed to eat meat. They can only have dry food because once they smell fresh meat, they will kill. I ended up leaving the dog where it was at the time. But Poquito reminds me a bit of him.
Tell us about your favourite things to do together!
I actually really like watching him lying in the grass, playing with the ants and flies, feeling perfectly at ease with himself and the world around him. It’s such a lucky life he is living, without any sorrows. The only thing that counts is to live the moment. For dogs there is no past or future, they live and perceive nothing but the present. That’s what they are and that’s something I do appreciate. I learn a lot from him! He’s pure stimulation. The way he thinks, looks, smells and experiences the world with all his senses. That’s what we do when we’re together: go out in the woods. Take a look, enjoy and, each one of us in his own way, wag our tail!
Any challenges your’e facing now that he’s the only dog in the house?
Travelling with him is not easy. He will have to learn that now, because my son no longer lives in Germany and of course we want to go visit him every now and then. He has to learn to accept new places! I can’t always stay home because of my dog. But it’s difficult, he’s so scared: afraid of loud sounds, too many people… I took him to Kreuzberg, in Berlin, once. He wanted to pee on a tree. A woman came up and yelled at him that it wasn’t possible. That must have been traumatic. So travelling is and probably always will be our challenge. Because it would be nice if we could walk my paths together, too, and not just his walkies.
Any advice from someone like you who’s been working as a photographer for PETA for many years?
It’s true that I’m very connected to animal protection. PeTA (www.peta.com) for example have a beautiful page, where dogs that are free for adoption are introduced. Don’t take a dog because it looks so cute and it is still a baby! Go by its character, that’s way more important than his looks. Ask questions at the animal shelter, check if it is healthy! Those things are essential. A friend of mine adopted a dog in Spain, which ended up being totally vicious and doesn’t fit into the family at all. It was a mess to undo everything at the end. Try to take “your” dog for a walk first. Or get it from a foster family. At the animal shelter, they often don’t have time to study the dogs. Then of course you have to have the space to keep a dog, preferably a garden, and a lot of time. Leaving a dog alone too often is crucial. I personally cannot imagine a life without a dog. Especially for people who are alone the dog also replaces a partner, a very faithful partner. A dog is pure happiness! You can share things: go for a walk, eat together, meet people together. Thinking about it: I really want to get a second dog back so Poquito has a base. Because this dog needs it. And me too, I also need a second dog, absolutely.
PS: Gabriele Oestreich-Trivellini, born and raised in Hamburg, is a German portrait photographer, known as GABO. Kevin Costner, Eric Clapton, Boris Becker and many others posed in front of her camera. Gabo’s son is half Italian. For more info www.gabo-photos.com.