New book ‘Love Immortal’ sheds light on historic human-canine connections
Dogs transcend history and reflect it in colorful and meaningful ways. And this historical and tender bond between man and animal comes to life in Anthony Cavo’s new book Love Immortal: Ancient Photographs and Stories of Dogs and Their People.
Cavo, a lifelong antique dealer, appraiser and collector, has been collecting photographs since he was in elementary school. In the colorful tome, he features some of the best dog photos from 24 countries, dating from the 1840s to the 1930s. He chose to end the book there because “it seemed like a good historical point to do so,” says- he. “And that still gives it an authentic ancient definition.”
Cavo had to select 240 photos from his collection, which numbers more than 500. In many cases, he says, the dates accompanying the images were recorded on the back of the photos; in others, a date was determined using photographic media, card stock, shapes and designs, clothing, hairstyles, and dates the photographers were known to have worked. The photos also show the evolution of the conformation of various breeds, namely Poodles, Pekingese, and Pugs.
Prior to immortal love, Cavo self-published four volumes, but with this book he felt he had something special. Consequently, he worked with California literary agent Wendy Keller, receiving many positive responses to the book proposal before signing a deal with HarperCollins in March 2021.
From trash to treasure
Where do these photographic gems come from? Cavo scoured boxes on sidewalks, attics, basements, antique stores and other unexpected places. “When someone died or moved, families often just gathered things and put them on the sidewalk to pick them up,” he says. “For me, it was a gold mine.
Cavo’s trash trawling habit took him all over New York City. “On trash days, I would leave for school earlier than necessary to ‘shop for groceries’ along the way,” Cavo says. “I had a network of shelters, made up of homes where my friends lived or those of my parents. When I found something good, I took it to the nearest shelter and hid it in their bushes, driveways, yards, garages, and on porches.
Then he would rush home to collect his cart and retrieve his treasure trove of pictures and trinkets to inspect later. His main hunting grounds were Queens Village in Queens; Hudson Square, Greenwich Village and Chinatown in Manhattan; and Red Hook, Park Slope, Carroll Gardens and Gowanus in Brooklyn. Each spot offered new nuggets, frozen in time.
Photos from yesterday and today
First of all, immortal love promulgates the inextricable bond between man and animal in a myriad of settings. Yes, the photographs are front and center, but the whimsical captions and text add color and culture to the presentation.
And it was not easy to capture these images initially. For the first photographers of the 19e century, equipment settings required a family and pet to be seated for three to 15 minutes! “Imagine the average dog not moving for a minute and a half? Cavo said. “Any movement during the exposure time resulted in a blurry image – in fact, you might notice some of that in this book.”
And some priceless expressions captured along the way! These photoshoots were “an event, even a significant undertaking,” Cavo says. “People often had to travel to a big city to find a photographer, which could mean hours of travel…. The availability of ambient light was often the limiting factor in whether a photoshoot went ahead or even succeeded.
immortal love also has its playful elements. It seems that early photographers had realistic dog props in their studios, which replaced live subjects who might not have had the patience to take long shots. Sometimes, however, you have to look carefully to spot them.
Cavo also incorporates intriguing stories into the book, linking them smoothly to the photos and sometimes captions and text. A notable dog featured was Romey, a Newfoundland. Romey helped rescue its owners, their daughter, and their maid from swirling, debris-filled waters in 1889. This flood, which took place in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, claimed the lives of more than 2,000 people.
And then there were the Mercy Dogs of World War I. These puppies were trained to retrieve an item of clothing from the wounded and hand it over to a doctor, which they would lead to the soldier in need. They also lay alongside the wounded and dying, Cavo said, until help could be rendered. Breeds deployed include Boxers, German Shepherds, Doberman Pinschers, Collies, Pointers and Setters.
One dog in particular has a personal connection with the author. Toby was the childhood dog of Susan Devine McGough, the mother of a close friend of Cavo, and his vivid memories epitomize the deep bond between dogs and humans.
McGough’s family owned Toby in the 1930s in Carrickmacross, Ireland. She turned 90 in 2020 and says, “I still think about our Toby.” He disappeared for two weeks but returned home with a rope tied tightly around his neck. “The end of the rope was all frayed,” she says. “You could see where the poor little guy had chewed him off to escape…. We never found out where he was being held, but he found his way back.
This owner-pet love is apparent throughout the book. Cavo hopes Lon Immortal will bring readers “an affirmation of our deep love for dogs without borders”.