Those giant statues of a dog and a cat on Alcatraz Avenue? We have the story
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Have you ever wondered about the origins of the whimsical statues of dogs and cats that stand proudly in front of a Victorian-era house in Alcatraz on Root Street? Well, it all started in 2015 when Oakland resident Ray Shiflett had a problem. In fact, he had two problems.
The front yard of his house contained two problematic trees: a Deodar cedar that was dangerously dying and losing branches and a redwood whose roots were clogging his neighbor’s sewer lines.
The trees had to go, but that didn’t mean the stumps couldn’t be turned into something fabulous.
“I told the people who pulled them down that I wanted eight-foot stumps,” Shiflett said recently. His project: to create two larger-than-life sculptures to welcome motorists and pedestrians. “I had the woodcarver lined up and as soon as the trees were cut he got to work.”
The woodcarver was Marin-based artist Devyon Harrison. Shiflett had discovered Harrison after seeing his work on display at Artisan Burlwood, formerly located on Ashby near San Pablo.
Shiflett’s commission to Harrison was to sculpt the two stumps into representations of his orange tabby cat, Go-Go, and his son’s dog, Cappuccino (Cappy for short). Seven years later, Cappy is still living his best life as a dog, but sadly beloved cat Go-Go has passed away, making Devyon’s sculpture of him a lasting feline memorial.
Shiflett had raised Go-Go from a pint-sized kitten with barely open eyes to a fearless cat who liked to roam free. Go-Go was “one of those types of cats that likes to walk around,” he said. “And I took him for a walk every night. This cat was attached to me and wherever I was, he wanted to go with me.
Meanwhile, Capp, who still lives in North Berkeley with Shiflett’s son, is a lab-terrier rescue. “He loves recovering,” Shiflett said. “When he was younger, he would collect a ball for three hours.”
Artist Harrison discovered the art of woodcarving about 40 years ago. “I saw someone put on a show in front of a chainsaw dealership in Marin County and I got attention right away,” he said recently. “I spent probably half the day watching the guy, had a chat with him, and decided now was a good time to own a chainsaw.”
When Harrison showed up to work on Shiflett’s stumps, he wanted a model to work from. “I showed him a picture, but he said he wanted the animals,” Shiflett said. “The cat was still there, but I took my son’s dog and brought her.”
The whole process, from when the trees were cut into stumps to when the carvings were completed, Shiflett said, took about four months.
Harrison’s work can be found elsewhere in the East Bay, including a pair of rabbits on the corner of Ashby and Claremont Crescent in Berkeley, a trio of bears near Lake Merritt, and a castle carved from a huge tree trunk. pine off Claremont Avenue. His sculptures have also found a market at UC Berkeley, where the university’s locks and keys division asks him to create a California bear whenever a staff member retires.
So the next time you go to Alcatraz, be sure to say hello to Cappy and Go-Go. “The resemblance of the two animals is remarkable,” Shiflett said.