Los Angeles pet lovers.
By Lori Golden
Meet Mr. WinkleIt’s understandable Lara didn’t know what he was. Most people don’t. He weighs a whopping 5 pounds and stands about 7 inches tall with a body that’s about a foot long. “My boyfriend at the time was scared of him because he was so odd,” Lara relates. “Mr. Winkle was like a little alien that fell to earth, and he was in such bad shape. I took him to numerous vets to make sure he was ok and put him through a lot of tests. It took about a year for him to get real healthy and to develop trust. Soon I began to realize that he created mania wherever he went, with crowds gathering around him, wanting to get a closer look. That’s when I decided to photograph him.”
In addition to his tea-cup stature, Mr. Winkle has large, dime size eyes and an extra long tongue that hangs out from his angelic face. “One vet said for really little dogs it’s not that unusual for their tongues to hang out a little bit. It could be neurological, but he eats fine with it… it’s a fully functioning tongue.”
Like most other things about Mr. Winkle, no one really knows how old he is. He’s not a young dog… he’s not an ancient dog. He’s probably 7 to 10 years old, or as Lara says, “a middle aged guy. It’s hard to tell because of the early abuse and neglect… how much wear and tear is from that and how much is from age. But he’s very peppy. I wish I knew exactly how old he is,” Lara admits, “but part of the ‘what is Mr. Winkle mystique’ is keeping certain things vague.”
That includes trying to figure out what kind of dog Mr. Winkle is. “He’s just some kind of a wild, one of a kind mix. But if people hear that he might be a Pomeranian, or a Chihuahua, they might think they can go out and make a “winkle.” Next thing you know, they’ll start breeding animals, and none of them, of course, will turn out like Mr. Winkle… which will result in a lot of unwanted dogs. So since we don’t know for sure what he is, and what the mixes are, for the benefit of all animals it’s best to keep it unspecific.”
Mr. Winkle’s CompetitionBefore Mr. Winkle entered Lara Jo Regan’s life, she was a cat person. Sally is a wild cat that lives at her house on a part time basis. Clark Cat, however, was there first, and how he came to Lara is another mystical story.
Clark first appeared in a dream, in which a gold tabby was jumping onto Lara’s shoulders and the word “hauser” was being said over and over. The next day she was drawn to an adoption center where she saw several different cats. “Clark, a butterscotch tabby, didn’t strike me at first as my favorite,” recalls Lara, “but he was growing on me. And I was told he was a very funny cat. Then I saw a picture of him pulling a camera bag, and I thought, oh, a photo assistant. I took him home, and after he got comfortable, he jumped on my shoulders, just like in the dream the night before. And then I found out that “hauser” in German means home.”
“Clark Cat is amazing, and pretty magical. He’s a real lover who gets up on my shoulders and drapes over me like a stole while I work. He melts over me like hot fudge, and I wake up with him sleeping next to me cheek to cheek. But he hasn’t ever really recovered from Mr. Winkle’s arrival. In fact, Clark has been on an all out campaign to sabotage Mr. Winkle’s career,” Lara says. “He sprays on stuff coming out of the computer. And he sprayed all over some of Mr. Winkle’s posters.”
Sharing Mr. Winkle“It hit me immediately that Mr. Winkle was something special,” Lara says. “I never wanted a dog… I never planned on having a dog. But he just captivated my heart. What came first was an aching need of wanting to share him with the world through my art work. Some things are put on this planet that are just “other worldly” and sacred and beautiful, to remind us of what nature can make. I think those things should be shared with the world.”
“Some people think I’m exploiting Mr. Winkle for the money, but I find that really offensive because I’ve never been someone who cared about money. I’m very dedicated to my documentary and photography work and my art. I want to share him because he brings such joy and happiness to people that I observed even before I started photographing him. He’s so precious to me, and my “what is Mr. Winkle” vision was so specific, I didn’t want any interference from publishers or from the corporate world. That’s why I decided to do an online business, because I could control every aspect of it and protect Mr. Winkle in the process.”
So… What IS Mr. Winkle?Lara explains the “what is” concept was “organically inspired because everywhere I took him people would ask, what is it?” As a result, Lara created the What Is Mr. Winkle?calendar based on what people think he is and their reaction to him, “plus a few of my own personal theories.”
In mid September the Mr. Winkle website was launched (atwww.mrwinkle.com) which introduces this magical mini-mutt through his calendar, posters, and a short, film to prove that indeed, Mr. Winkle is a real dog. Lara is just beginning to feel the worldwide impact, receiving orders for his merchandise from as far away as Japan. And news sites such as CNN, which is international, have helped fuel “Winkle mania.” “It’s very interesting how a trend catches on,” Lara says, “but I never had any doubt that it would because he’s so amazing. It really feels good to share my passion with the world... and my passion IS Mr. Winkle. I’m relieved, because I felt guilty having him all to myself.”
“I have to say it’s pretty exciting to be actually creating instead of just covering or commenting on Mr. Winkle,” Lara continues. “I’m essentially creating a pop culture figure. It’s stressful and hard work, but it’s also been so much fun. And people just like saying Mr. Winkle.”
Lara plans to donate proceeds from the merchandising to animal causes, and may soon establish a Winkle Foundation for that purpose. “I do think because he was a stray, everything he does in the commercial world will have to reflect back to help the real world too, because he has the power to do that. He can do a lot of good for the world and I certainly plan to be as generous as I can for that purpose.”
The Magic of Mr. WinkleMr. Winkle creates a sensation wherever he goes, producing a myriad of comments. “He looks like a kitten.” “It’s a teddy bear puppy dog.” “No, he looks like a mouse.” “I’ve never seen a tongue like that.” “He looks like me when I’m drunk.”
But to Lara, “Mr. Winkle is amazing and very chameleonic. Everyone projects what they want him to be. Ever since I got him, I haven’t really been down one day in my life, because when you have him with you there’s all this joy and love coming at you all the time. He’s a mood elevator. He’s even been described (by CNN) as Pooch Prozac. I see Mr. Winkle representing all creatures of the world… not just dogs… because he looks like so many different creatures.”
“Like all great comedians,” Lara continues, “Mr. Winkle has an essential sadness to him because of his background of abuse and neglect. He’s the underdog because he’s so different. But he’s also a product of nature. As an artist I constantly go to nature for inspiration- the patterns of leaves and flowers and how they interact- you can’t make up anything that amazing. Just like Mr. Winkle. I call it perfect imperfections.”
Lara’s concerns extend past the plight of animals. “We need to not only take care of the animals,” she says, “but the environment that produces them. Like the rain forests, which are a holocaust center of the natural world. We’re destroying all these things that can inspire us.” As a result, she hopes that Mr. Winkle will be more than just a popular cultural character.
For Lara Jo Regan and everyone who benefits from meeting or just looking at her diminutive dog, Mr. Winkle serves as a reminder that when you’re dumping a dog, you could be dumping magic. And you’re only depriving yourself of all the happiness that magic can give you. THAT’S the ultimate lesson we can all learn from Mr. Winkle!
First published in August of 1999, The Pet Press has become THE only local resource for
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