Dogs both transcend history and reflect it in a colorful, meaningful way. And that epochal and tender human-animal bond springs vividly to life in Anthony Cavo’s new book Love Immortal: Antique Photographs and Stories of Dogs and Their People.
Cavo, a longtime antiques dealer, appraiser, and collector, has been collecting photographs since he was in grade school. In the colorful tome, he showcases some of the best dog photos from 24 countries, dating from the 1840s through the 1930s. He chose to end the book there because “it seemed like a good historical point to do so,” he says. “And it still gives it an authentic antique 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 backs of the photos; in others, a date was determined using photographic mediums, card stock, shape, and design, clothing, hairstyles, and dates during which the photographers were known to have worked. The photos also showcase the evolution of the conformation of various breeds, namely Poodles, Pekingese, and Pugs.
Prior to Love Immortal, Cavo self-published four volumes, but with this book, he felt he had something special. Hence, he worked with California-based literary agent Wendy Keller, receiving numerous positive responses to the book proposal before signing a deal with HarperCollins in March 2021.
From Trash to Treasure
Where did these photographic gems come from? Cavo scoured boxes on curbsides, attics, basements, antique stores, and other unexpected locations. “When someone died or moved, families would often just gather items and put them on the curb for pickup,” he says. “For me, it was a gold mine.”
Cavo’s trash-trawling habit took him throughout New York City. “On trash days, I would leave for school earlier than necessary to ‘shop’ along the way,” Cavo says. “I had a network of safe houses, which consisted of homes where my or my parents’ friends lived. When I found something good, I carried it to the nearest safe house and concealed it in their bushes, driveways, yards, garages, and on porches.”
Afterward, he would rush home to get his wagon and retrieve his treasure trove of images and knickknacks to inspect later. His chief 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 up new gems, frozen in time.
Photos Past and Present
First and foremost, Love Immortal promulgates the inextricable human-animal bond in myriad backdrops. 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 early photographers in the 19th century, equipment parameters required a family and pet to sit still for between three to 15 minutes! “Imagine expecting the average dog not to move for a minute and a half?” Cavo says. “Any movement during the exposure time resulted in a blurred image—in fact, you may note a few in this book.”
And some priceless expressions captured in the process! Those photo sessions were “an event, even a significant undertaking,” Cavo says. “People often had to visit a large city to locate a photographer, which could mean hours of travel…. The availability of ambient light was often the limiting factor as to whether a photoshoot proceeded or was even successful.”
Love Immortal has its playful elements, too. It seems early photographers had lifelike dog props in their studios, which filled in for live subjects who might not have had the patience for prolonged shoots. Sometimes, though, you must look closely to spot them.
Cavo also incorporates intriguing backstories into the book, smoothly connecting them to the photos and sometimes captions and texts. One remarkable canine featured was Romey, a Newfoundland. Romey helped rescue his owners, their daughter, and housemaid from swirling, debris-filled waters in 1889. That flood, which took place in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, took the lives of more than 2,000 people.
And then there were the Mercy Dogs of World War I. These pups were trained to retrieve an article of clothing from the wounded and return it to a medic, whom they would lead to the soldier in need. They would also lie along the wounded and dying, Cavo says, until help could be rendered. Breeds deployed include Boxers, German Shepherds, Doberman Pinschers, Collies, Pointers, and Setters.
One particular dog has a personal connection for the author.. Toby was the childhood dog of Susan Devine McGough, Cavo’s close friend’s mother, and her vivid memories epitomize the deep bond between dogs and humans.
McGough’s family owned Toby in 1930s Carrickmacross, Ireland. She turned 90 in 2020 and says, “I still think of our Toby.” He went missing for two weeks but showed up back 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 fellow had chewed through it to escape…. We never found out where had been held, but he found his way home.”
This owner-pet love is apparent throughout the book. Cavo hopes Love Immortal will bring readers “an affirmation of our deep love of dogs with no boundaries.”