An avid fan of John Steinbeck and his famed Travels with Charley, photojournalist Theron Humphrey's decision to embark on a yearlong roadtrip, across 50 states of America, triggered a Romantic yearning for canine companionship. "Right before I hit the road, I thought, 'I really need a dog,'" he explains. So, employing the help of Pet Finder, he began his search for a coonhound – "I was born and raised in the south and they're typical southern state dogs" – and struck gold straight away, when a one-year-old pup called Maddie popped up. "I thought she looked like a deer and was pretty awesome, so I went to the shelter that day and as I was walking her back to her cage, she pressed against my leg the whole way and I knew I had to adopt her." And so Humphrey had found his dog.
But Maddie wasn't just any dog. She came with an extraordinary talent: the ability to stand on almost anything. And soon Humphrey's roadtrip had a new and unexpected focus as a Tumblr he started, of iPhone images showing Maddie on Things (from bikes to road signs and even a horse), began to build a huge following. Next week, Humphrey will release a joy inducing publication showcasing the best of these images, alongside the story of his trip, and to celebrate, we catch up with the author to learn more about his remarkable coonhound and the lessons they have taught each other...
When did you first discover Maddie’s penchant for standing on things? Is it a skill she had to hone?
She always used to climb on things, like stand on the back of the couch on her own, but it was about three months into my project that I really started photographing her. I picked her up and put her on the roof of my car one day – just to take a picture of the vehicle I was travelling in – and I thought I was going to have to hustle to keep her there but she just stood there completely still and I was amazed. And from there I started training her with food, so whenever she’d stand on something I’d reward her with a treat and she just grew that association.
How would you describe Maddie in three words?
She’s full of energy, loves hunting, and then is super calm. She has split personalities where she’s really on and really active and then she’s really somber and low-key.
"As I was walking Maddie back to her cage, she pressed against my leg the whole way and I knew I had to adopt her"
What, of all the things she has stood on, has made you laugh the most?
One that was really amazing to me was when we were in North Dakota and there was a John Deere tractor in a field that had an axle and she stood on it inside the wheel well! I love that shot.
What would be the ultimate Maddie on Things feat, in terms of a thing yet to be stood on?
I feel fulfilled. We travelled together for a whole year, she stood on tons of things in nearly every state and we’ve made a book about it so I feel like that chapter is finished in the best of ways. And now we’re taking different kind of photos like Maddie interacting with different spaces and objects and other people, so the project has grown and morphed into something else.
Does she still do a lot of climbing though?
Yes, in the States, like down in Savannah, there are trees with huge branches that hang fairly low so she’ll run up a tree and hop on it and walk across the branch. It's just in her nature.
What’s her favourite food?
Anything that’s authentic and similar to what they would eat closer to the wild. Anything with meat and she’s game on!
What does she dislike?
I don’t know if it’s a dislike but she has a great passion for squirrels and if she sees a squirrel that’s about all she can think about, trying to get it.
What did you and Maddie learn about yourselves on your journey?
One: I learnt that dogs are amazing icebreakers for meeting new people because if folks can see that your dog is healthy and happy, it really quickly communicates that something is right about the situation. So it’s a really great entry into people’s homes and hearts. And then also just being responsible for something other myself. I have to provide food for Maddie, I have to provide water for her; it’s really simple but it’s also the basis for life. She’s helped me to be humble and has just made me really grateful for her companionship.
Text by Daisy Woodward