Wednesday, December 11, 2013

M. K. Zeppa & Tater Water and Hawk

Who is in the photo at right?

That’s me, M. K. (Melissa Kaye) Zeppa, artist, and the Lab Assistants, Tater Water, Yellow Labrador & Hawk, Black Labrador of Zeppa Studios, LLC…an animal themed giftware company.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

Tea with the boys is a morning ritual. They wake me up before dawn (hence the odd light in the photo). I put the kettle on and prepare their food. We go for a walk. They have breakfast and I sit down with a giant “bubba mug” of tea and survey the news and work on our website or whatever else needs working on.

What's brewing? Any treats for you or your dogs on this occasion?

I usually drink Twinings Irish Breakfast tea …simply bags steeped in boiling water with a dollop of half and half. The boys have just breakfasted, so they are usually enjoying a postprandial nap…treats later. I enjoy my tea…which lasts well after we relocate from the house to the studio across the yard. Once there, the boys get a treat and settle in their studio kips. We often have to move their beds so they can be in whichever section I am working…office, painting or production.

How were you and your dogs united?

Tater and Hawk are not our first assistants. Gator Bait was the first, and we were united because my husband decided to give me a dog as a surprise gift…the last thing you should ever do according to every expert I’ve ever read …the house wasn’t dog proofed, there was no crate, food or anything doggy at home. We picked up the pup and stopped at some friends to visit…whoa! Another “don’t”. It worked out for us…I took my new dog parent responsibilities seriously. About five years after our not so textbook version of bringing Gator into the family, a nice guy with two really cool kids came into our studio and asked about breeding his wonderful Lab, Olive, to Gator. We weren’t sure…all those bad feelings about “backyard breeders”… but when he said that he felt like he was pimping his daughter, we knew it would work out. The breeding happens and the puppies are born and my pesky husband surprises me with agreeing to take a puppy! At least we had a couple months to prepare for the arrival of our second assistant, Snake Plisken. It doesn’t stop there. Another four or five years go by and Snake’s sister has a litter and we get Hawk…Gator’s grandson, Snake’s nephew… Hey, our story is not typical (you know--do not try this at home)…why did it work out? Because the people involved were seriously committed to the dogs…our dogs.

How did Tater Water and Hawk get their names? Any aliases?

The best “how did you name him that” story belongs to Tater Water. We knew we were going to get a new pup after the great Gator passed away. We were (only slightly) tired of getting alligator and snake and even at that point hawk gift items however cool…so we thought the next dog’s name should be “Cash”. Then we went down to the Farm Coop to buy some fish to stock the pond and the gentleman from Farley’s Arkansas Pond Stockers noticed we were wearing Black Lab Vodka caps…”so,” he says “how much of that tater water did ya’ll hafta drink to get one of them hats?” Well, it took a minute, but we finally figured out “tater water” was Arkansan for vodka…so we gave the guy an extra black lab vodka cap that we had and “tater water” replaced “cash” on our “next dog’s names” list.

Please tell us about Zeepa Studios and your dogs' role there.

Zeppa Studios is an animal themed gift ware manufacturer...for lack of a better description. We make custom painted ceramic pieces and a collection we call “Fur Children” which includes note cards, coasters, cutting boards, etc. All the items are designed and/or hand painted by me. We sell to stores across the country and to retail customers who can’t find a reseller near them. Our current studio is not open to the public on any regular basis, but in the past it has been and the Lab Assistants have always been totally awesome greeters. At the moment, they mostly act as inspiration, security and foot warmers.

Cat, postman, squirrel...?

Cats, when indoors, are ignored or are playmates. Cats and anything else that runs outdoors are fair game. The boys have all been serious “varmint hunters”. We went on a walk with a friend and her Jack Russells…the Russells were fixated on tennis balls and our Labs were digging for mice (or moles) in the hay field…we all wondered what’s wrong with this picture?

Any delivery person or other visitor to the studio is greeted warmly…if over enthusiastically…by the boys.

Ball, squeaky-toy, stick...?

Balls, plush toys, sticks…it’s all good. Tater is more toy oriented at this point…

Do Tater Water and Hawk have a favorite place to go for outings?

The boys love anywhere they go…as long as it’s with us…I couldn’t fathom their favorite…some spots have more smells, some more opportunities to play. Tough call.

Who are your dogs' best pet-pals?

Our friends’ dogs become our dogs’ friends and vice versa. There are Labs, Gordon Setters, Pit Bulls and mutts currently on the list. Walking dogs in the woods and fields with friends has always been a favorite activity.

What is each dog's best quality?

Hawk’s best quality is steadfastness… Tater’s is his smile.

If your Tater Water and Hawk could change one thing about Virginians, what would it be?

To our fellow Southwestern Virginians “Hey you live in a beautiful country, show some respect and stop littering!” It’s truly frightening the amount of trash we pick up daily off the road frontage.

If your dogs could answer only one question in English, what would you ask them?

“Boys, what is it really like to smell the world?”

If Hollywood made a movie about your life in which Tater Water and Hawk could speak, who should voice them?

Oh this is a toughie… our black dogs have been really serious souls and our yellow guys totally goofy…at least on the surface. Hawk would sound like Diego in Ice Age…that was Denis Leary…Tater I think would sound like Donkey in Shrek…”pick me pick me”…that was Eddie Murphy. If the movie includes our passed away boys, Gator … Clint Eastwood, Snake…Launchpad McQuack (not sure who voiced him).

Visit the Zeppa Studios website.

--Marshal Zeringue


  1. Nice to meet you.
    Happy Holidays.
    Cinnamon and Linda

  2. Love those Lab Assistants! How could any business fail with help like that.

  3. Do Lab Assistants wear Lab Coats when it is cold outside? My mommy always dresses me in my coat when there is white stuff on the ground.
    Hope you too get some of that white stuff for Christmas. It is fun to play in.