Wednesday, May 16, 2012

about Dog Land, the place, and Dogland, the novel

Dogland is now available as an ebook and a trade paperback, so I've updated a few old posts about the place that inspired it:

1. Dog Land

Call it a tourist attraction. Call it a tourist trap. We called it home.

My novel, Dogland, is about a family that moves to Florida in 1959 to start a tourist attraction. It's based on a place that I knew well; my family moved to Florida in 1959 to start a tourist attraction called Dog Land. (I wish I could say I changed the spelling to make the fictional Dogland different from the real Dog Land. But the truth is I forgot how my family spelled it.) At Dog Land's height, we had over 100 breeds on display, plus a three-legged mutt named Pirate.

The following bit of map is from Traveling North in Florida On U.S. Highway 27 From Miami to Georgia Line. It's not very helpful if you want to find Dog Land, but I love the art.

Dog Land was built at Fannin Springs on "21 wooded acres near the Suwannee River" near the intersection of U.S. Highways 19, 98, 27, and 127. You can never know why a business fails, but when I-75 opened, many tourist attractions on the old roads went out of business.

This photo may be from 1959:

This one was probably taken a couple of years later:

And this is what Dog Land looked like around the time that my family sold it:

Ranger the Kuvasz and my sister, Liz, were on the cover of the 1962 Edition of the Florida Guide:

This is from Joginder Singh Rekhi's "A Sikh Discovers America" in the October, 1964 issue of National Geographic. I think the St. Bernard was named Pete. I was always impressed by how much he could slobber. And a little later, when my day began with cleaning dog pens, I was impressed by— Well. He was a great dog. They all were.

Ranger pulls a cart in a family snapshot. My brother Mike sits between Liz and me.

The next two are from the May 15, 1960 Gainesville Daily Sun. That's Don Gallite the Ibizan Hound washing my ear and Niki the Afghan Hound trotting after me.

We sold a lot of cr— um, merchandise to tourists. This aluminum trivet is the only example that I still have:

Every member of the family worked hard to keep Dog Land going. In the last couple of years, I had chores every day before school and after. Life became a little easier after we moved to Gainesville in 1966. But I'll always be grateful that I had the chance to live in a special place at a special time.


The picture's from 1964, somewhere in Florida, possibly Gainesville. My brother Mike holds the sign; I'm beside him. What happened to my sign, I can't remember. Maybe the wind blew the placard off. Maybe this was after the march, and I wanted to be like Robin Hood and Little John, so I turned my sign into a staff.

I suspect Mom took the picture, but I don't know why Liz isn't there. Maybe Mom and Liz stayed home to run Dog Land while the boys went to protest.

3. Bob Shetterly, the only liberal in Levy County

from the St. Petersburg Times, Monday, March 7, 1966: Section B, Page 1
Florida Report: Levy Liberal Unusual
by Bob Stiff, Times State Editor

Florida is noted for many unusual things, but Bob Shetterly is one of the most unusual of all. He’s a liberal who lives in Levy County.
There is nothing quite so rare as a liberal in Levy County, a north Suncoast county of perhaps 14,000 persons.
Shetterly didn’t start out as a liberal. He places himself at somewhere between a moderate and a conservative when he moved to Levy County about nine years ago, but even that proved quite liberal for the political spectrum of this area of Florida.
Owner and operator of Dogland, a U.S. 19 tourist attraction in Suwannee River, Shetterly recalls, “I noticed things after I had been here for awhile, but I just kept my mouth shut. Then I saw how Negroes were being treated around here and the many injustices there were in many areas so I opened my big mouth.”
“And he hasn’t closed it since,” his wife adds.
Shetterly, frying chicken at the Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise restaurant he operates in conjunction with Dogland and a self-service gasoline station, agrees with a hearty laugh.
People in Chiefland approach Mrs. Shetterly and say, “You don’t believe in all those things your husband says, do you Mrs. Shetterly? I just can’t believe you do because you’re too nice a lady.”
“I tell them, ‘up to a point,’ and I tell him (motioning to her husky husband) that he talks too much.”
Shetterly has joined civil rights pickets in Gainesville, spoken up for equal rights at every conceivable meeting place in Levy County and is a tireless writer of letters to the editor columns of area daily and weekly newspapers espousing his many causes.
This wins him the same popularity among his neighbors that might be accorded Martin Luther King.
One former friend says it this way:
“Now, Bob is always talking the way he does at every meeting around here and every time, there’s somebody around to listen—even if it’s only one or two people—and we don’t mind that. He goes over to Gainesville to picket with the colored people and writes all those letters to the newspapers and we don’t mind that either. He don’t convince us any and we don’t convince him, but he believes that way and it’s okay.
“But now he done something that has really cut it. This is a religious community here and the folks didn’t like it none when the Supreme Court came out with the thing against prayin’ in the schools. The kids had always said a little prayer at school and just kept on doing it because what harm was there in it really?
“Well, Bob, he goes over to the School Board and tell them they’ve got to quit prayin’. Now folks didn’t take to that at all and I don’t think Bob’s got three friends left this whole county. He brung it on himself.”
Shetterly regrets the prayer issue. “I didn’t want to get into this, but we’re Unitarians and I just didn’t want my kids having to say those prayers every morning. The Supreme Court said it’s wrong and it’s the law of the land. If we break this law by ignoring it, which law will we do this with next?
“I went to the principal and he said I ought to go to the superintendent. I went to him and he seemed to be agreeable, but said it ought to be brought up to the School Board. So I did.
“One member wanted to just stop the prayers in the classrooms where my children were and that really would have satisfied me. But he couldn’t even get a second to his motion and then somebody said the law isn’t meant for atheists and Unitarians and I got my back up.”
Shetterly says he gets blamed for everything now. “If a Negro traveling to Miami from New Jersey stops at a restaurant in Chiefland, everyone figures I must have sent him. I don’t want any trouble. I just want everybody to operate under the same laws.”
When the powerfully built Shetterly walks down the street, few acknowledge his cheery “Good Morning.” His children have lost most of their playmates. He receives many unsigned threatening letters and middle-of-the-night obscene telephone calls. But he persists.
One of Shetterly’s latest letters says:
“Some people in the community still believe I am responsible for CORE and the NAACP being in our area. As I understand it they are here for four reasons. (1.) More than a dozen restaurants in Levy County have been reported as failing to comply with the law. (2.) There are no Negroes in the Chiefland school and there are Negroes riding a bus more than 50 miles daily to a school in Williston. (3.) There is a low percentage of Negroes registered to vote and few, if any, on the jury roll. (4.) There is no Negro or biracial organization in the county to reflect the views of the approximately 33 per cent of our population that is Negro.
“I can accept no responsibility for any of these conditions. These organizations are not kept out by force or threats. They are kept out by working to eliminate the conditions that would bring them.
“I have done everything I could to take steps that would have effectively prevented their becoming active in this area. My restaurant obeys the law. I actively tried to get at least token Negro enrollment in the Chiefland School. I tried nearly three years ago to get a bi-racial committee set up through the chamber of commerce. I have met quietly with county officials to encourage that Negroes be placed on the jury roll.
“I sincerely believe that had I been even partially successful in my efforts, CORE and the NAACP would not be active in Levy County today—yet I am the one blamed for their appearance.
“I cannot change my moral commitments to win your approval or to avoid your abuse and curses,” he concludes.
But sticking his chin out this way doesn’t make the Negro community look on him as a leader. The self-educated high school dropout laughs and says, “They think I’m a nut. They never saw a white man carry on this way before. They just don’t know what to think.”
Becoming reflective, Shetterly says, “I never intended it this way. I thought I could change things by reasoning with people and, you know how it is, the more you argue, the more you strengthen your own convictions.
“My arguments aren’t effective anymore. Nobody will really listen because their minds are poisoned against me, but I can agitate. And I’m doing quite a bit of that.”
Asked if he is the only liberal in Levy County, the bespectacled businessman puts down a spatula and says, “Gosh, I guess I am. I’ve never heard of another one anyway.”
Then brightening, he grins. “If you ever find another one, let me know, would you? I can use the help.”

from the Gainesville Sun, Wednesday, March 9, 1966
Levy School Prayer Issue: Prefers to Let Courts Decide
At a meeting of the board last September, B. E. Shetterly of Chiefland had requested that the board “comply with the law” and eliminate devotionals from the public schools.
It was reported yesterday that Shetterly had taken his children out of the Chiefland school and that they are now living with a relative in Wisconsin and attending school there.
John Peace, School Board attorney, said that since Shetterly has taken his school out of the Chiefland school, the ACLU probably would drop its threat of a suit.
Dad would have loved to see the ACLU bring that suit, but our family couldn't get fire insurance—word was out that the Ku Klux Klan would burn us down. He had to choose between his kids and a greater justice. He chose his kids. We were sent to finish the school year in Minnesota (not Wisconsin—all newspaper accounts have errors). If Dad ever had a second thought about that, he never mentioned it.

We left Dog Land soon after that. The Klan never showed up, maybe because Dad let it be known that he had a shotgun and was prepared to use it. The school was integrated and the mandatory prayers ended. Whether that would've happened as quickly if Dad had stayed silent, I can't say. All I know is he was on the side of justice, and I'll always be proud of him.

I'm just as proud of Mom. She got death threats too, and stayed brave before her children.

4. What people said about the novel.

"A masterwork. A particularly American magic realism that touches the heart of race and childhood in our country; it's 100 Years of Solitude for an entire generation of American Baby Boomers, and deserves the widest possible audience." —Ellen Kushner, host of public radio's Sound & Spirit

"Shetterly makes the transition from young adult (Elsewhere, 1991, etc.) to adult fantasy with assurance and aplomb. In 1959, Luke and Susan Nix travel with their family—four-year-old Chris, whose narrative is informed by hindsight; Little Bit, three; and Digger, two—to Dickison, Florida, to set up a tourist attraction: Dogland, a sort of canine zoo displaying dozens of different breeds of dog… Compelling, absorbing, hard-edged work, lit by glimpses of another, more fantastic reality." —Kirkus Reviews

"Shetterly captures the rhythm, feel, and language of cracker Florida, its legends, and the clash of cultures. Recommended." —Library Journal

"Dogland is one of my all-time favorite books, a piece of gentle American magic realism about Chris Nix, whose obsessive, authoritarian (but lovable) father moves his family to Florida in the fifties to open a dog amusement park, showcasing 200 breeds of dog. The Nixes end up ensnared in local southern race politics, and in Florida's mystical Spanish past, and the resulting story is such a surprising, seamless blend of the historical and the fantastic that it is like a series of small, satisfying surprises, leading up to a wonderful, giant surprise." —Cory Doctorow, co-editor of Boing Boing

5. Where to buy

The book is available through any bookseller, but I get the most money if you buy it at Createspace.

An epub edition is at Barnes & Noble and elsewhere, and there's a Kindle edition at Amazon.


  1. Will, enjoyed your history of DogLand. We are buying the land we believe to have been the site of Dogland in Fanning Springs, FL and found a great Brochure of Dog Land, its' gift shop and Kentucky Fried Chicken! We have an antique store, with art studio of Doran Pierce and woodcrafting. Come visit when you get by, and thanks for the history!

    1. I hope you're as happy there as we were during the best times! What's the name of your business?

    2. Estate-House is the name of the business, antiques, art studio and woodcrafting. Yes we are very happy here!

  2. Will: Rode race horses for your father, was in his water ski show, plowed potato fields with his tractors, Drove his pickups, Buick Wagon & Morgan car. Tried to reach him by e-mail some years ago without success. Am now 80 yrs old would love update. Bobby O

    1. Bobby, I'm sorry to say Dad died up in Canada a few years ago. He was on the farm until the last week or so and seemed to be doing fine on his own. Then he went into the local clinic for his final days. I'm sorry he didn't have a chance to get back to you.

    2. Sad news comes to me more often at my age and this is sad news. I thought of Bob often while I raised my family (6 children) but knew little of his life until he and Joan visited my Mom in St. Paul quite a number of years ago. Mom updated me some but I learned the most of his later life more recently from your internet presence. Thank you for responding and at the risk of imposing on you further, I would be grateful for any news of Benny & Joy & "Bunger", Dale (the best ski-boat driver ever) and Wilma. I do wish he had written a book about his extraordinary life. Bobby O (Your Dad always called me "Robere")

    3. I'm afraid none of them are with us anymore. I also wish Did had written a book. So much has been lost with their passing.

    4. Thank you... So Sad....
      Bobby O