Dog Kennels Demolished

Treat Shepardson

Hampshire’s legendary dog kennels, a derelict building complex long fenced-off and falling in, were demolished last week with little in the way of announcement or fanfare. Students walking towards the CSA barn from Enfield will no longer see the walls and ruined white roof of the building, formally known as the Animal Research Facility or ARF, but a neat pile of rubble.

“Yes, the ARF is down. This has been in the work for a number of years…as you probably know the facility has not been used in 15 or 20 years and had gotten to such a state of disrepair that it had become a safety issue,” wrote Carl Weber, Interim Director of Facilities and Grounds, in an email. There are no current plans for the space to be used, either by the school or the Farm Center.

“Even though closed and locked we were finding that people were still inside from time to time,” Weber wrote. Certainly, the dog kennels had, by our time, become a part of Hampshire lore, and exploring the ruins a standard part of the first year experience. The lock that was supposed to be placed over the front entrance could commonly be found removed with bolt cutters or simply absent; anyway, there were many other methods of egress to what had become a porous structure. Inside, the kennels showed extensive signs of human activity, with objects and furniture damaged or strewn across the floors, and the walls covered with graffiti, most of which was conceptual and/or embarrassing. Student films and photography projects were conducted here, often with explicit faculty approval. It was a definitive part of Hampshire. “I never got to traipse around in there like the delinquent Hampy I wanted to be,” said student Saffron Turner after the kennels were razed.

dogkennel1“The thing that made it really important was this build-up of mysterious experience,” said Flora Natalini, a Div III student who created a large installation in the kennels for her Object and Environment class last year. “You can’t explain where these pieces come from, but you know that they come from someone’s time.” The piece was a large, icicle-like object suspended from a hole in the ceiling, made from found objects collected around the kennel. Months later, it was still there, largely undisturbed.

Every so often there would be gatherings or parties at the kennels. “It was secluded and was a cool abandoned building,” said Alex Dorr, who organized a birthday party there in 2014, with several dozen students attending. “We were able to make a fire in the snow and have music playing while people climbed on the roof and howled at the moon and stargazed.”

No doubt the liberal use Hampshire students have made of the space is the reason it was eventually considered a safety hazard. There was to be a word of mouth show at the kennels this weekend booked by Vibe members Gray Schiller and Liam Kramer White, who would like you to know that the show will still likely take place and you should contact Gray at grayschiller@gmail.com to find out. Grounds and Facilities did not respond to questions about the proximity of this event and the destruction of the kennels.

Most Hampshire students are unsure about the history of the kennels. That there were dogs there and that “experiments” of some kind were conducted there is self-evident, but beyond this little is generally known.

The Animal Research Facility was a product of Hampshire’s original farm center, then a different beast from our current CSA-based agricultural program. Called the New England Farm Center, it was created as a school within the School of Natural Sciences with the ambitious aim of “assisting in the revitalization of the New England agricultural economy.” In short, the Center aimed to resurrect small farms as a viable industry in New England. Its 1978 proposal gives a brief history of the decline of agriculture in the region, positing that while northeastern agriculture had lost out to the American west and midwest over time, higher costs associated with large-scale agriculture and transportation due to the energy crisis of the 1970s positioned New England to come back in exactly one area: the sheep industry. This project was largely the brainchild of adjunct professor Paul Slater, who had recently finished a master’s thesis entitled “How Shall We Preserve Our Family Farms?”. It was really threefold. The first two components were finding a suitable breed of sheep to raise and a suitable nitrogen-fixing forage crop for the flock to subsist on. The third was to raise dogs to protect the sheep from their main predators: the eastern coyote and encroaching domestic dogs.

This third project was to be managed by Raymond Coppinger, a founding NS faculty member and canid expert. Coppinger had been interviewing farmers throughout Europe and collecting dogs to breed for the project since the summer of 1977. Now, the plan was to demonstrate that the dogs could be effective at protecting sheep on Hampshire’s farm, while beginning to breed pups and distribute them to area farmers.

When president Adele Simmons detailed plans for the new farm center in September of 1978, student newspaper the Climax claimed that most walked away with the impression that she had spent most of her first convocation speech talking about “sheep and dogs.” But things were soon underway, with the Climax reporting the very next week that the sheep project was being directed by Coppinger, Slater, Susan Goldhor, and Harvard’s John Torrey. An NS class had been set up to help with the planning process, and Hampshire had applied for a kennel permit and received several grants, looking to fund the whole project by January 1, 1978. Ultimately, the funding came from Winrock and large matching grants by the Mellon Foundation and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.

The Animal Research Facility, once constructed, was more than just a kennel; it encompassed offices, classrooms, and research space as well as housing dogs, which might explain a lot to a contemporary Hampshire student who might have found the kennels littered with books, folders, and early drafts of scientific papers. At least initially, it operated all year round, with the New England Farm Center providing salaries for summer researchers. The breeding program became global in scope, involving trips to East Africa, Turkey, Argentina, and Venezuela, and “a New Zealand singing dog” that Coppinger remarked on as highly intelligent. Scores of Hampshire students contributed to what was to become widely cited and influential research, and many Hampshire professors besides Coppinger, Slater, and Goldhor contributed research and published papers, including current faculty members Lynn Miller and Lee Spector. Farm projects became a popular option for passing what then constituted the science requirement for Div I. In his history of Hampshire’s farm center, “Fields of Learning,” Coppinger recalls first year students competing for the privilege of “overnight lamb watch” and spending hours “on a shed roof clocking dog behavior.”

The early Farm Center was not without drama. In 1981, Goldhor, who had been director of the Farm Center since it was first proposed in 1978, was fired after several arguments with Coppinger over whether employees could conduct their own fundraising. Goldhor ended up suing the college in 1983, leading to a fairly long legal contest.

In 1987, a New York Times article about Hampshire College and Adele Simmons suggested that the farm program had become somewhat derelict, with the sheep flock “left…at the entrance to the campus” and a large population of “stray dogs that nuzzle students wherever they are.”

Coppinger would continue to publish books about dogs with his wife and collaborator Lorna, but eventually ceased teaching at Hampshire. In 2001, the Coppingers published Dogs: A New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior and Evolution, in which they rejected the widely held notion that dogs had been created by selective breeding on the part of early humans in favor of the idea that dogs had evolved alongside human communities, which has become very influential.

Meanwhile, Hampshire’s farm was changing. In 1992, two Div III students, Lisa Walz and Jillian Ward, created the first community supported agriculture program alongside the new farm manager, David Holm. This program fed 19 people and has continued ever since, with about 200 shareholders today. Since 2002, Hampshire’s dining commons has purchased and served CSA shares. The new direction was further clarified in 2014 when Hampshire committed to the “100% local food challenge,” acquiring all food served in the dining commons from within a 150-mile radius of the school. This approach to revitalizing New England’s agricultural economy is quite a contrast to the old one; what we once sought to reinvent, we now patronize and participate in.

Our sheep are now protected by a single llama. There are no longer any nuzzling stray dogs that we are aware of. Sometimes, though, if you venture outside late at night, you can hear the calls of the coyotes that we originally introduced the dogs to protect against. High-pitched and insistent, they bring to mind Coppinger’s oddly rhapsodic description of the singing dogs once housed in Hampshire’s kennel, their “musical repertoire; modulated yodels, and best of all, a high-pitched trill….their songs are reminders of birdsong.”

 

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