For nearly two decades, lifelong Walpole resident Joey Dugdale has been the self-appointed caretaker of the town’s “Dog Rock,” a large boulder painted to look like a black-and-white puppy’s face.
But when the 35-year-old recently painted a mask onto the landmark’s snout to honor health care workers, he touched off a dogfight in the Norfolk County community that’s been playing out both online and in stone.
On Saturday, more than a month after the mask first appeared on the rock, another Walpole resident, Christian Boran, decided to hastily spray-paint a crude new dog’s face over the mask — a move he says was not political, but rather an attempt to restore some sense of pre-pandemic normalcy at the bend along Plimpton Street.
“Everything is just so negative” right now, said Boran, who has lived near the rock for years. “I’m thinking about all of this stuff, and I just so happened to be driving by the Dog Rock and I thought, ‘You know what, how about we start there with a little bit of normalcy?' and I painted it not really thinking I’m stepping on anyone’s toes.”
That same night, after Dugdale learned that the mask had been replaced with a slapdash version of the dog’s original face — sans red tongue — he trekked to Dog Rock and re-painted the mask.
“I was going to leave it if it looked OK. I had no intention of getting in a feud with anyone, I was just going to leave it. But it looked terrible,” said Dugdale, who got an “armful of poison ivy while re-painting the mask.”
Dugdale’s efforts didn’t last long, however. And by Sunday, the mask was gone again.
“That irked me” that the mask was back, said Boran, 26, “and I painted it back the way it was.”
Dugdale didn’t apply the mask a third time, leaving Boran’s “knock-off job” alone, he said. Instead, on Monday, he posted a Facebook poll in a private group for Walpole residents, asking what they wanted to do with the rock’s appearance, rather than make the call himself.
The poll gave residents several options, including adding the mask back, repainting the original version of the dog’s face without the mask, and leaving the rock as it is, with Boran’s touch. More than 1,000 people weighed in as of Wednesday afternoon. But the majority of those who voted said the best course of action should be to “Let Joey Dugdale continue to maintain the rock as he sees fit.”
The next most popular option was to put the mask back on.
“Joey should continue to do what he thinks is best for it,” one person wrote. “Do other people have nothing else to do then to go out and destroy what has been [an] ICON for so long?”
Meanwhile, Boran started a Change.org petition that detailed the situation, labeled detractors “keyboard warriors of facebook,” and called for support to keep the rock as-is, “No mask. no BS. Just Snoopy” — a nickname some people use for the boulder.
“One individual should not be in charge of a community icon,” reads the petition, which was signed by 84 people. “Keep Snoopy, Snoopy!”
Dugdale said he isn’t the original painter of Dog Rock, which over the years has appeared on the covers of two CDs produced by the Walpole Recreation Department, on brochures and T-shirts, and as a paper mache float in the Walpole Day Parade, according to Wicked Local Walpole.
But at the age of 17, shortly after getting his driver’s license, Dugdale said he noticed that the paint job on the rock was slightly worn, and so began his caretaker duties, though others have helped to maintain it, he said.
“I decided to stop by the hardware store and get some spray-paint and fix it up,” he said. “I have been doing it ever since.”
The design on Dog Rock, which sits by the entrance to the town’s Endean Trail, has always been the same: A bright red tongue. Droopy ears. Two-tone fur. A smiling face. Adding the mask, Dugdale said, was meant to be temporary, a visual marker of what the world is living through.
“In the future, children who are driving by it now can say, ‘Hey, remember when we had to wear masks during the pandemic as a kid? Wasn’t it so cool that the Dog Rock wore one with us?‘ ” he said. “No one wants to wear masks, no one likes to wear masks, but right now we have to. So why not have a friendly reminder that makes the kids comfortable?”
But even as residents have come out mostly in support of Dugdale’s rendition, Boran has been adamant that he would continue to paint over it, as Boston 25 News first reported.
As chatter on Facebook around the rock’s future heated up this week, Dugdale said Boran sent him private messages to “Just keep the snoopy, snoopy it’s that simple. You paint a mask on it then I’ll change it back.”
For now, Dugdale is leaving it alone, even though he’d ideally like to add the mask back to support health care workers.
“I’m not going to play games,” he said. “I don’t have the time for that.”
Boran said the controversy has been “totally ridiculous,” adding that Dog Rock had recently been vandalized and “didn’t garner even a fraction of attention as my re-painting of the original design has gotten.”
He said he’s been attacked by some in the private Facebook group, and believes his intent has been misconstrued because of the current political climate and divisiveness around face coverings.
“Masks have become a politicized thing, which is ridiculous. But I guess that’s what people assumed I was making, a political statement,” Boran said. “But in reality it was just, ‘Enough is enough on the mask on Snoopy. Let’s put it back the way it was.‘ ”