Although she didn't know it at the time - how could she? - when Gina Zycher typed the words 'Shih Tzu' into her search engine in 2001, or 2002 - whenever that fateful day was - her life, and indeed the universe, would never be the same again. For amongst the photographs tossed up by her image search was a darling little Shih Tzu dressed as a bee. Instantly, Gina was bewitched. Her life transformed. It was like that moment in the novel 'Perfume' when Grenouille first smells the scent of a special lady, decides he must kill her, does so and promptly declares himself a genius. Not enormously like that. But a bit.
Beedogs.com is a website with almost 40 pages packed to the muzzle with pictures of dogs dressed as bees. It is astonishing testament to one woman's extraordinary lack of something better to do. Beedogs been knocking about for almost a year now, and every couple of months, on another ripple of short-lived email viralysis, it bewilders and captivates a whole new audience. But is that really enough exposure for a woman with a site devoted to dogs dressed as bees? Of course it isn't. So we thought we'd get to know her a little, and find out if there was more to this woman than dogs, and bees, and cunning combinations of the two. As it happens, there was. Kind of.
'I'm working at a cage-free boarding facility for dogs right now,' she told us, 'but soon I'll be returning to work for a TV show called Creative Juice. It's a craft show, and my job is to help make the crafts.' We found a trailer. It's fantastic. Like 'Why Don't You?' for wonderfully perky and slightly simple adults.
So it's not all dogs. Gina clarifies: 'Besides dogs, I love knitting and making things (not babies, though - I don't have any kids), and I really love cute tchotchkes from Japan.' Knowing Gina, that's not 'tchotchke' in the sense of 'a mistress', but rather in the sense of 'an inexpensive showy trinket'.
But more Oriental. Speaking of which, let's get back to the Shih Tzu. Gina takes up the story: 'My family has Shih Tzus, and they're just fantastic little critters. They have such sweet faces. I must have laughed for five minutes straight when I first saw Aster's photo.' Aster was that first one; the one that got the ball rolling - Zycher's moment of purest Grenouille. 'The combination of the blissfully ignorant look on her face, the fact that she was a dog dressed up as a bee, and the K-Mart-caliber backdrop was magical. After that, I started noticing more photos of dogs dressed as bees on the Internet, and for whatever reason I felt compelled to save them on my hard drive.' No reason required. It's only a shame that Gary Glitter had not stumbled upon a picture of Aster, back in the day, before he went wrong.
So, upon such humble and baffling impulses, Gina's online beedog empire was founded. 'This was when I was a junior or a senior in college,' she says, 'so maybe 2001 or 2002, and it wasn't until this past summer that I had the idea to start a website. I always knew my collection of beedogs was something special, and I realized that it was selfish of me to be keeping all of these photos for myself and not to be sharing them with the world.'
Fair enough. But the whole dog-bee thing. It is odd. We couldn't help wondering why so many people seem to feel compelled to dress their dogs in this way? Why bees? Why not, for example, crabs, chickens, dolphins or leopards? 'A lot of folks who have sent me pictures say that the bee costume suited their dog's personality,' Gina explains. 'A few others have said that they got their dog a bee costume specifically to participate in the site, which is wonderful.' Fair point. 'Other than that, I don't know why the bee costume has such broad appeal. Perhaps the bold combination of yellow and black is hypnotic.' Could well bee.
But does your average dog actually like being dressed as a bee? Gina's pretty sure they do. 'I definitely think that dogs enjoy the extra attention that comes along with being dressed up, but let me tell you something: most dogs do not like the antennae, or any other kind of headwear. A few submitters have mentioned that part or all of their costumes ended up getting torn apart or chewed up.' Bee warned.
'My original goal for the site,' Gina concludes, 'was not for it to be a soapbox or a pedagogical endeavor or anything like that, but I do try to subtly advocate for things like adoption of orphaned animals and such. I would love to figure out a way to incorporate more issues that relate to animal welfare into the site, but I don't want the site to become preachy or heavy-handed. Hopefully, just seeing so many sweet dogs dressed up will make people empathise a bit more with dogs, if they don't love dogs already.'
We're absolutely certain it will. It certainly made us empathise a bit more. With dogs. And, by extension, with bees.
More Gina Zycher right here...
TFT: In a combat situation, how many bees do you think it would take to overpower a Shih Tzu?
GZ: If we're talking about a show-quality Shih Tzu, I don't think any number of bees could permeate its long, luscious coat.
TFT: In a way, if there really was such a thing as a beedog, this creature would combine some of the greatest, most admirable qualities of the animal kingdom. On the one hand, you've got loyalty, companionship, playfulness, protection from danger. On the other, you've got industriousness, honeybags and the power of flight. Include in this the heart-rending poignancy of a self-defence mechanism that leads to certain death and you have one of the most powerful mythical creatures ever envisaged. Have you thought about maybe expanding the website into a children's book? Or a cartoon?
GZ: Perhaps you should develop something - those are good ideas! I have been kicking around the idea of creating some beedog merchandise to sell and then donating the proceeds to animal-friendly organizations, but that may or may not ever happen.
TFT: Why do you suppose the bee has not evolved a better defence mechanism? Like the wasp.
GZ: The bee is a tortured soul. Her emotional sensitivity is far greater than what we would consider normal for another type if insect. So when we swat her off of our t-shirt or flick her off of our food, she takes it personally. She must become a martyr to prove that she is worthy of attending the picnic.
TFT: If you inadvertently invented a machine that was able to splice two creatures together, like in 'The Fly', and you had to test it out, obviously you'd choose a bee and a dog. But which breed of dog would you choose, and perhaps more importantly, what kind of bee?
GZ: Well, there are two directions we can go here: we could make a cute little beedog or an enormous beedog. So I think I would use a Pekingese or a Mastiff, or maybe a Great Pyrenees. As for the bee, I would want to use a very docile variety. I wouldn't want the beedog to wreak havoc, you know? What I am really curious about, though, is how I would invent this machine inadvertently. I can barely change a light bulb.
TFT: Have their been any wonderful unforeseen consequences to the website? And special relationships developed or abandoned beedogs been saved? Anything like that.
GZ: Well, as far as I know, Sage the beedog is still in foster care, and the lost beedog has not been reunited with his family, so that's a bit disappointing. However, through the site I have regained contact with some old friends from school and made a couple of pen pals, so hooray for that.
TFT: How do you respond to the hatemail?
GZ: I've really only gotten four or five negative emails about the site since it went up in August. I've found that people who don't "get" the site don't really get my sarcastic responses either, so lately I just haven't been answering those emails.
TFT: Finally, could you choose one of the following words, phrases or names from the following couplets? If you want to give a short explanation for your choice, feel free.
* 'Mountain or beach?'
Beach, but only under a thick layer of sunblock.
* 'Big Mac or pomegranate?'
My initial reaction was to say pomegranate - I don't eat meat and eating McDonald's usually makes me feel sick anyway, but eating a pomegranate is a lot of hassle for very little actual food. And I will reluctantly admit that I do really like that sauce that comes on the Big Mac.
* 'Noam Chomsky or Rush Limbaugh?'
Chomsky is better and better looking.
* 'Casablanca or American Pie?'
Casablanca, but in all honesty, I don't love love love this movie.
* 'ACLU or NRA?'
* 'Car crash or cancer?'
* Immortality or reincarnation?
Neither - I want to die and spend eternity in the place in heaven where everything is made of chocolate.
* Bee or dog?
Gina, we salute you. You're just what the Internet ordered.
Go On. You Know You Want To.
More Shih Tzu.