November 2, 2014: My Champion Heartache
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Last week, the EDP ran an article on a family that included a husband, a wife, two kids...and 145 pets. They've got a gecko, a scorpion, a pair of skinny pigs, an Arganteian horned frog...and many more pets than that. They want to open up a zoo soon, however that works. They might take it to the extreme, but the truth is, people just really, really love animals. It's that kind of weird, inevitably heartbreaking love – equipped with an experation date – that fascinate artists Holly Bodmer and Dot Howard. They're members of the Odd Comic an artistic collaboration, and they're recent project seeks to explore the dark side of pet love.

Sit. Stay. Come. Come! Roll over. These are the kind of words you probably wouldn't use on grandma, but you would say, lovingly and tenderly, to your dog. Mousehold Heath, a dog haven and huge woodland held captive in the Norwich City Centre, is filled with dog walkers barking commands in pet language. On a Saturday morning, these dog walkers came across some sign posts with some peculiar messages seemingly written for them.

“So we're just walking along the pathway now. The first one that we come across, a poster that says, 'Oh, I'll just tell you this.' This one says 'The nature of a dog is a dog.' This one says, 'Missing,'” Bodmer said.

That's Holly Bodmer. To blow the mystery, she and Dot Howard were the ones who hung up the signs. The signs are based on quotes that come from conversations they've had with former pet owners in the Norwich and Norfolk Hospital.

“A lot of people had stories about when their pet went missing, or looking for their dog after dark in the park. Or seeing Missing Animal Posters up and about. Actually, these posters, we thought, evoked the kinds of posters you get when you see missing animal posters.” Bodmer said.

The two were inspired by their endless walks through the Health's jungly ways. In another project, they even did an experiment where they called out for an imaginary missing dog named Champ.

“Actually thinking about My Champion Heartache, which is the title of the project, we were thinking of calling Champ, Champion Heartache! We ended up not being just noticed by people, but noticed by dogs as well,” Bodmer said.

But they don't even have pets. In fact, Dot Howard is a bit grossed out by how much people can love animals.

“One of the things about this project is that there is an inevitability, that most things are likely to end badly. If you buy a pet, it will die in your lifetime and you'll have to deal with that. I don't want to deal with that. I don't know why you'd choose to deal with that, actually,” Dot Howard said.

But the stories of pet ownership they heard at the hospital also fascianted them, like the story of a woman who wouldn't stop dreaming of cracking the shell of her tortoise. In fact, there were a lot of stories of tortoises. Who were these animals, who weren't even fluffy, who slept for half a year, who carried their homes on their backs, and who will live longer than we will? Even every goldfish came with a story.

“There was a woman who had a story about her fish that was constantly trying to escape from its bowl. Several times she had found it on the carpet or down the back of the cupboard. And she would have to massage it and bring it back to life. She was waiting to be released from the hospital. She said the fish was making a break for freedom, and that was like her making a break for freedom from the hospital,” Howard said.

And those in the hospital they visited were just relieved these two strange artists weren't just asking them about their health for once. Bodner and Howard plan on bringing their stories to the stage, but also to the radio, so they can listen. But out on the Heath, the dog owners wandered, and stumbled upon the mysterious signs. A greyhound, and former race horse, approaches.

“She's just crazy,” the owner said. “She used to be a racing dog. She sleeps 17 hours a day.”

One curious owner brings her Whippets. “What are you up to?” she asks.

Howard and Brodmer explain their intentions, and ask if the Whippets have ever disappeared.

“No, no, I've never lost them. They're never too far away from me. They might disappear into the brambles after rabbits, but they always come back. Never lost one yet,” the owner said.

More dogs and their owners pass on through. Many take the same route every day. Some play fetch. Some take a sip from the dog bowls scattered next to the sign posts. Some owners look up. Others keep on walking. Border and Howard aren't going to interrupt the daily rituals. After all, these are dogs. Not tortoises. They need to take advantage of the regularness of their routine walks before their beloved mutts are chasing bones beneath the earth. But the stories, the language of dog owners, and the dog haven of Mousehold Heath won't be going anywhere soon.

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