Friday, February 3, 2012

Dominique Tobbell & Taka

Who is in the photo at right?

My name is Dominique Tobbell. I’m a historian of 20th century medicine, science, technology, and health care politics and policy. I teach in the Program in the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine at the University of Minnesota. Sitting next to me is Taka, my wonderfully goofy two-and-a-half year old German shepherd.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

A small thermos of home-brewed coffee to take with us on our early morning play date with Taka’s sister Stella (owned by my friend Brittany) at the Minneapolis/St. Paul Airport Dog Park.

What's brewing?

Peets’ Major Dickenson’s coffee.

Any treats for you or your dog on this occasion?

No food treats—a play date with Stella is treat enough for Taka! (In fact, when Taka knows we’re off to meet Stella he’ll turn his nose up at any offered treat. No time to eat—he must get to his sister as fast as he can!)

How were you and your dog united?

I met Taka (and his sister Stella) [photo left] when he was just seven weeks old. During his first weeks of life, Taka was raised by his mother Lonnie, and Sheila and Mike Metz of Lindenhill German Shepherds in the Roseville suburb of St. Paul. Taka finally came home with me when he was 11 weeks old.

How did your dog get his name? Any aliases?

My partner Danny and I named Taka after one of our favorite Japanese judo players (we’ve both trained in judo since we were young children): Yasutaka Ohkawa, whose nickname is Taka. Our Taka, however, goes by a number of nicknames depending on his mood. His most common nicknames are the T-Man and T-Butts, but he also goes by (and responds to) Taka-Butts, Taka “The Terror” Tobbell (for when he’s in one of his loony-tune moods), and T-Bones-Jones.

Did Taka play any role in researching or writing your new book?

Although I wrote most of the book before Taka joined my family, he played a very important role as I finished the manuscript. Every writing day would begin and end with a lengthy cuddle with Taka on the futon in my office. Taka would also let me know throughout the day when it was time to take a break. He had several strategies for this: a) barking or pawing at me to “come play,” b) gently nibbling at my sleeve or leg to get my attention, c) bringing his favorite toy and depositing it either on my lap or my desk, or, more often than not, d) all of the above! These playful “disruptions” and the frequent neighborhood walks and trips to the dog park with Taka provided the best relief from writing and brought joy to even the most frustrating of writing days.

Does Taka have a favorite place to go for an outing?

He loves to go everywhere he can with us (except, that is, to the vet’s office and the pet store) but he especially loves going to one of the many amazing dog parks in the Twin Cities. His absolute favorite is the Minnehaha Dog Park followed closely by the Airport Dog Park and Battle Creak Dog Park. He also loves to go to anywhere his sister Stella is.

Squirrel, postman, cat...?

Taka has a “special relationship” with his brother-cat Ben. Ever since he was a pup, he’s been fascinated with Ben and Ben’s sister Turtle. Taka expresses his fascination with them by either chasing them or smothering them with doggy slobber (or more often than note, chasing them so that he can then slobber them).

While Turtle abhors this type of behavior and thus does her best to avoid Taka by hanging out in places that Taka can’t reach (the top of the freezer is her favorite spot), Ben apparently relishes it. In fact, Ben seems to take great pleasure in tormenting Taka He’s especially fond of stealing Taka’s bed [photo left], swatting Taka from the tabletop as he passes by, and flaunting his freedom by strutting his stuff in front of Taka’s crate when Taka is on a “time-out.” Taka will often return the favor by swatting back at Ben (with his ridiculously over-sized paws), chasing him around the house, or giving him an unwelcome slobber bath. Many other times though they can be found almost-snuggling together, sharing nose-kisses, and generally behaving like buddies.

What is Taka's best quality?

He has too many to name just one, but if I had to choose, I’d say it’s his warm and friendly goofy personality. Incidentally, his goofiness is best reflected in his goofy-looking “airplane” ears, which just refused to stand up like regular German shepherd ears!

If Taka could change one thing about Minnesota, what would it be?

That he could come to work with me every day at the University.

What is Taka's proudest moment?

Squeezing through Ben’s kitty door as a 65 lb puppy (followed closely by breaking into the refrigerator and stealing leftover turkey burgers and breaking into the cooler and taking out a bottle of beer).

If Taka could speak in the movie about your life, who should do his voice?

Brad Pitt—a fitting combination of handsomeness, toughness, intelligence, and goofiness!

Visit Dominique A. Tobbell's website, and read more about her book, Pills, Power, and Policy: The Struggle for Drug Reform in Cold War America and Its Consequences.

Writers Read: Dominique A. Tobbell.

--Marshal Zeringue


  1. Great interview! I certainly understand Taka wanting to go to work with his mom. I want the same thing!

    Your pal, Pip

  2. Love your interview! Great photos of Taka, too. And such interesting work that his mom does.

    I definitely see Taka as Brad Pitt; Brad Pitt would be honored, I think.

    Keep on wagging!

  3. Thank you Mr. Pip and Biocontinental Dachshund! Taka is always happy to entertain :-)