For a dozen years of her life, Carrie Brownstein was a member of the critically adored indie-grrrl band Sleater-Kinney. After its members amicably pulled the plug on that project, Brownstein didn’t know what to do with herself. So the singer-guitarist, then the owner of a German wirehaired pointer mix named Toby, volunteered at the Humane Society and became an assistant dog trainer. (She wouldn’t find her second professional life as a sketch artist-writer-star of Portlandia until five years later.) “I transferred all that energy into something I just needed, something I could dedicate myself to that was very different than music,” she recalls. “It was a distraction from this huge life change that I was going through.” That’s because comfort, to paraphrase Snoopy creator Charles Schulz, is a warm puppy.
We spoke with Brownstein about how her two dogs (she would later adopt Cricket, a border collie-dachshund mix) are a key part of her creative writing process. She also elaborated on the importance of a canine’s name, curious owner behavior, and why the craft service table can be bad thing when bringing your dog to work.
How do the names "Cricket" and "Toby" capture your dogs' personalities?
Some dogs have a certain air of dignity about them; they require a human name. But Cricket, I knew she would never have that air of dignity about her. [Laughs] Her legs seemed long, and she was bouncy. I wanted to give her an active, kinetic name that immediately implied spunkiness and a kind of effervescence that she has. I named him Toby because he had a kind of youthful, casual, boyish way of being. He looks like a classic hunting dog—he has a regality to him and an aloofness. I realized later that Toby was one of the top dog names. I should’ve named him Henry or George, but I didn’t want to give him an old-man name.
Much like there are cat people and dog people, there are little-dog people and big-dog people. Would you say you’re the latter?
Yes! I like that sturdiness. I know there are some small dogs that are sturdy, like a French bulldog. But there’s just a solidity to a larger dog and a presence that they have that I really like. I have friends with small dogs that I appreciate from afar. But, you know, I don’t like how people infantilize small dogs.
What inspired Portlandia’s “Dog Park” sketch, about owners who coddle their dogs?
That’s just a fraction of what I’ve seen. I think anyone with a dog has witnessed outlandish behavior at dog parks. People get very sensitive in a lot of these situations. Rightly so, but it can definitely get crazy.
Words by Nisha Gopalan
Photographs by Neil DaCosta
Hair by Brandie Taylor
Makeup by Jessica Needham
This interview has been edited and condensed, for more check out Four&Sons Issue 2.