If you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, then take them on a historic (dog) walking tour with Nancy Anderson, the Somerville-based owner of Canis Major Herbals, dog Reiki practitioner and featured artist at the Somerville Open Studios. Anderson, who started doing individual walks with her Greater Swiss Mountain Dog Rupert, was inspired by Somerville’s historical landmarks.
“As we walked around … we passed markers commemorating historical sites,” Anderson recalls. “The Revolutionary War, writer’s homes, black history, oddball sites of miscellaneous interest,” she says. “Hmmm, what if we combined these concepts?” The result: Anderson’s ingenious Historical (Dog) Walking Tours, which costs $25 an hour per pooch. “It has been so much fun … for me, anyway,” she says. “The dogs just feign a little interest because I promise them liver if they sit quietly for a minute.”
How were you and Rupert first united?
“After my last Swissy died, I wanted to adopt another senior dog. There was something about nursing an older dog through his final years that appeals to me. When I asked a friend if she had any seniors that needed rehoming, she sent me a picture of a seven-week-old puppy, and it was all over. We get the dog that we are supposed to have, and Rupert turned out to be the perfect dog for the work that we do. I have never met a dog more adept at making other dogs feel comfortable.”
What’s the backstory with his name?
“He came with the name William, and I just couldn’t see myself walking around the streets of Somerville saying “William…” I tried a couple of different ones, but nothing suited him until I searched “least popular names boys” and, scrolling down, I got to the Rs, saw Rupert, and immediately knew that was the name for him.”
Your dog-inspired artwork is doing well, including a painting at True Grounds. What inspired you to paint pups?
“While hiking, I would take lots of pictures of the dogs so that I could send a really good one to each of their humans. One night, I was downloading the images, and started zooming and cropping and playing with composition with one of the images, and saw that it captured a certain expression in her big eyes, and the sunlight was bouncing off of her muzzle… it just begged to be painted. I realized that, in the process of painting dogs, something about the dog is conveyed through the painting and the emergence of that is fascinating to me.”
Your historical dog walks are interesting. History lessons for dogs?
“No one else was telling them. Did you know that there is a cute little glazed ceramic castle attached to a rock in the front yard of a house on College Avenue? Neither did I, until I started walking dogs. They stop and they sniff and they inspect and they teach us to pay attention. I started noticing historical markers and thought how fun it would be to start looking for them, and researching, posing the dogs at the sites and sending those goofy pictures to their people at work… and the stories that would unfold about the neighborhoods where we live. Clients started telling me that they forward them to family, and I started getting requests from friends and family to include them in my distribution list, so I started the blog.”
Rupert’s favorite spot in Somerville?
“The bike path. Or, more specifically, every single lamp post between Cedar Street and Davis Square.”