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‘A super serious project about dogs and physics’

Right before photographer Theron Humphrey jumped into his Toyota pickup to start a 50-state photo-project road trip, he made a stop in a Marietta, Georgia, animal shelter. There he met a coonhound that he had seen on a pet adoption website.

He adopted the puppy, Maddie, and a few months later left for a 365-day cross-country journey. The project, called “This Wild Idea,” led Humphrey across the nation to tell the stories of individuals he met along the way.

Maddie accompanied him across 65,000 miles, quickly becoming what Humphrey describes as his best friend.

He wanted to document his journey, as well as his companion, so at the beginning of his trip he decided to take her picture on top of the mode of transportation. He was surprised at her balancing ability, he said.

“She stood there and looked at me,” he said, wondering what else she would balance on.

He published the photograph on Instagram, a photography social networking site.

It became the first of a slew of photographs of the canine on top of things, which grew into a viral phenomenon and now a book, “Maddie on Things: A Super Serious Project About Dogs and Physics.”

A book - or even a series of dog photos - was not Humphrey’s original intention, he told CNN. He continued shooting her as a response to his friends’ encouragement. One asked if she could balance on four soup cans. Humphrey set it up. Maddie posed. The image went on Instagram.

From there, it grew into a project naturally from constantly being with her and photographing her every day.

“But I do remember thinking that I would want to look back and remember what my truck and companion looked like in 30 years,” Humphrey says in his book, which publishes April 1. “Sort of how old photographs of your parents’ first car feels.”

There were risks of traveling with an animal, he said, like the time he stopped in southern Oklahoma and let her out to stretch her legs. She returned a few minutes later, reeking of manure after rolling around in a cow field. Humphrey had to ask a local man to allow him to wash her off in his yard.

But with Maddie as his constant company, Humphrey remained encouraged to complete the project, he said.

“I figured if Steinbeck had Charlie by his side on his American travels, I needed a good dog next to me in my truck.”

There were also risks of her doing her balancing act, Theron said, and he doesn’t recommend it for every one. But she was well trained for months before even standing on the cans and has never been injured. Plus she’s a coonhound, he said, and that breed of dog is known for climbing trees and jumping out of them.

Now, the pup and her owner are going on tour for the book and their new endeavor, “Why We Rescue.” The poses have evolved from Maddie on things to Maddie doing things.

“She’s not a one-trick pony,” Humphrey said.

- Elizabeth I. Johnson, CNN

Images from "Maddie on Things," by Theron Humphrey, published by Chronicle Books.