Jake Stavis is the Hagop Kevorkian Curatorial Fellow at The Metropolitan Museum of Art and a PhD candidate in art history and archaeology at Columbia University, specializing in the ancient Near East. The Westchester County native began his career in editorial at Esquire and Paper, sold cookies at Levain Bakery, and continues to pursue his interest in food by cooking through various cookbooks, from Yotam Ottolenghi’s to Gwyneth Paltrow’s. He lives in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, with his ballerina-footed rescue, Sandy, who eats all the food scraps and was A&A’s first model (see if you can spot her on the homepage).

Did you grow up with dogs?

I had a standard poodle growing up. She was a real lady—her name was Stormy. She was just very elegant. She was small for a standard poodle. She was 35 pounds. She was just very much lounge-y. We always had this joke that she thought she was better than everyone in the house.

How old were you when you got her?

I was in third grade or so, and then she died my first year of grad school.

I’m very quick to remind people that I’ve got to go home and walk the dog. I’m very happy to not be going out and just hanging with her.

You really grew up with her.

Absolutely, yeah, totally. It was definitely—I mean, let’s just go there. Dog death sucks. It’s truly, truly tragic in a way that I was not expecting it to be, as someone who’s not outwardly emotional. It was a weird grieving process that I was definitely not expecting, and it was very nice to have Sandy at the same time, as that’s going down, because they’re super different dogs. They could not be more different in terms of temperament, in terms of look—but just having a dog around to just chill with was very helpful. It was one of the only times I cried in public.

I saw her the day before because it was Passover. We knew she was on the way out. She was getting finicky in her eating and she had hip issues. My mom felt truly like garbage. She was like, “You never really know: Am I doing this in the pet’s best interest—am I doing this in my interest? Could I have prolonged it a little bit more?” The next morning, they tried to call me and I was on the train. It was a nightmare.

Jake Stavis and his dog, Sandy, for Argos & Artemis.

I’m sorry. Where do we go from here?

We can talk about literally anything else.

Meghan Daum wrote an essay about her dog in The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion, about how having a dog is just delayed heartbreak. Every dog owner knows there’s going to be a time when they will not have that dog anymore and it’s going to completely ruin their life. It’s going to be one of the worst feelings in the world, and yet you choose to get a dog and you know it’s going to suck when that happens.

It’s a countdown clock. I was listening to [the podcast] Call Your Girlfriend and they were doing their spring book roundup, and they were talking to a poet named Ali Liebegott about her book, The Summer of Dead Birds. It had a similar plot line.

I’ve been getting into dog stories and poems and most of them are about death—just not the thing I expected, but now I’m like, of course, they’re about death.

I read Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward. It’s about this family right before and then during [Hurricane] Katrina. It’s a poor Black family, and one of the boys has a pit bull. The narrator becomes pregnant and the dog is pregnant and having babies, too. It wasn’t the dog story that you’d expect, because it was tied up a lot with motherhood and there was a lot of dog fighting in it.

I would never choose to get into dog fighting, but it’s also something I don’t know about. Honestly, it’s not unlike horse racing in a lot of ways. It’s sort of toxic masculinity, but it’s also time-honored traditions, and then at the same time, these deeply fucked up ways that we treat these animals as power symbols. It’s not your typical Old Yeller sort of situation.

So how did Sandy come into your life?

When I knew I was going to grad school, I was like, okay, my life is going to be the same, so I knew I wanted to change some things. I knew I wanted to live somewhere besides Columbia, and I definitely knew I wanted a dog. I didn’t know how soon I wanted that dog. I was looking into adoption with my roommates and I was going to be the primary adopter. It was the classic case of, let’s go and see what the process is at the shelter and we’re not going to do anything—but let’s go see what’s going on.

Late summer, after I graduated from undergrad, we walk into Animal Haven, because I had heard good things about them from when I was working at Levain Bakery. There was a few regulars who always came in and I would ask them, “Where’d your dog come from?” We walked in and Sandy was getting walked at the same time. I was like, “L-O-L, what is that?”

Animal Haven has these little Facebook-like online profiles of the dogs, The dog that I saw getting walked did not match up at all with the dog that I saw in that little profile. It was very serendipitous.

Was it love at first sight?

It was L-O-L. I just thought she was so funny. I don’t really know what she looks like. She looks different from every angle. I keep looking at her and I’m like, she’s such a weird dog. I don’t know what breed she is.

So, we went back a week later and we got Sandy. We collectively named her. We weren’t thinking about the hurricane, which is so dumb of us because that’s everyone’s follow up thought immediately. Her name was actually Crimp, because her ear hair gets crimp-y when it gets really humid.

Jake Stavis and his dog, Sandy, for Argos & Artemis.

Part of me thinks that you have an ideal lifestyle to have a dog, because it’s flexible. Part of me also knows that academics travel for research a lot. What’s a day in the life of you and Sandy?

We wake up usually around 7:00 AM and then we try and do our park visit for 40 minutes. I listen to The Daily, usually begrudgingly. She maybe hangs out with other dogs. If it’s a school day, I’ll leave home a little before 9:00 AM and stay up on campus until 2:00 or 3:00 PM. Then I come back. She gets her afternoon walk, which is just a few blocks around, and then we’ll do some shit around here, and then she eats at around 6:00 PM and have one or two quick walks before bed.

I think of Sandy as such an acquired taste, and yet some people are just very down to hang out with her.

Do you bring Sandy to class?

No, I can’t imagine doing that.

Professor Marcus Folch at Columbia says he lets his grad students bring their dogs to class.

I guess I’ve taken the wrong classes.

Do you eat dinner with her when you’re at home?

No. I would, but 6:00 PM is too early for me. If I’m prepping things, like vegetable, I’ll happily give her discards. She loves little bits of vegetables and things like that for sure. She’s very much a goat. She’ll eat whatever. She loves a carrot or a radish or a cucumber. And she eats Halo. I weaned her off wet food, mainly because I was grossed out by it. And the vet says it doesn’t make a difference. It’s just easier for me, especially with being between here and my boyfriend’s place, to have one type of food around.

If I had the money to prep her meals, I would. But I know she’s just as happily going to eat garbage. I love her and she’s such a goofball.

Can you tell us about dogs in the ancient Near East?

It’s hard to talk about this idea of dogs in Mesopotamia or really anything Mesopotamian, because I think we, as modern viewers, tend to talk about art and artistic periods. When we talk about Mesopotamia, we’re talking about at least 3,000 years of history.

When we think of an ancient dog, we probably think of something almost more jackal-like or wolf-like, and we definitely seen representations like that, especially in Egyptian art, but we also see, for example, mastiffs. That’s very much what you’d expect a pet dog to look like, right?

A lot of the dog votives that we know of came from what’s now Iraq. Some of them were made for royal patrons, but others were commissioned by average lay people. There’s a healing goddess whose main attribute is a dog, the goddess Gula, and we see her and her dog on a number of monumental stelae, as well as smaller objects like cylinder seals and stamp seals.

So they occur in the visual record as both as pets and as these wild creatures. There’s that dual aspect to them. On the one hand, they are icons of the power of beastly nature, so they’re these fierce hunters. But at the same time they’re also definitely these extensions of us or things that work in tandem with humans.

Jake Stavis and his dog, Sandy, for Argos & Artemis.

What are some of your favorite dog brands?

Her bed is from Orvis, which is fun and lofty for us.

I really appreciate that they advertise that they’re dog friendly in front of their stores.

Sandy’s not very discriminating, so we just don’t engage with a lot of the aspirational dog brands.

Sure, I understand. A lot of the things I buy for my dog—other than food—is very much an extension of myself.

Yes. But I can also recommend the Kiehl’s Spray-N-Play Cleansing Spritz. It smells good.

Let’s talk about your relationship with Sandy. What nicknames do you have for her and how do you talk to her?

I talk to her the way I talk to people. Miss and Bean are her two nicknames. I’m just narrating every day. It’s mostly talking to myself.

Do you think of yourself as a dog dad?

Yeah, definitely the parent. She’s a good excuse to get out of things sometimes. I’m very quick to remind people that I’ve got to go home and walk the dog. I’m very happy to not be going out and just hanging with her.

Jake Stavis and his dog, Sandy, for Argos & Artemis.

What was it like introducing your boyfriend to Sandy? Was he a dog person?

He definitely was not—he didn’t have pets growing up. It was probably one of the most difficult parts, having her and him learning to live with each other. He’s definitely found a place where he does love her and love spending time with her, but it’s definitely a later-in-life, coming-to-understand-a-dog thing. In some ways, it was really nice—he’s good at disciplining her. He wasn’t a softie like other dog people are. He didn’t put up with the bullshit. But the other really funny thing is that recently his parents have met Sandy and they fucking love her.

They feed her a lot of scraps, so she loves them, too. They’ve been very vocal about being willing to dog sit if and whenever I should need it.

I love that.

I think of Sandy as such an acquired taste, and yet some people are just very down to hang out with her.

Photo editing by Maggie McKenna

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