Notable Dog: Rollo, Jack London’s inspiration.

February 13, 2011 § Leave a comment

Rollo and Jack London, age 9, 1885.

Rollo, a medium-sized piebald mix-breed, was Jack London’s playful childhood companion, and taught him that dogs feel “instinct, sensation, and emotion, and are capable of  simple reasoning.” In his essay “The Other Animals”, London credits Rollo with inspiring him to look deeper for the possibilities in dogs, and helped form the basis for his classics Call of the Wild and White Fang. Those two books, featuring canine protagonists that demonstrated reasoning, felt emotions, and acted on loyalties, have inspired generations of dog lovers (including this writer) to include dogs in their lives. Jack London lived 1876-1916.


Notable Dog: St. Guinefort the Heretic

January 9, 2011 § 2 Comments


Guinefort was a French greyhound who lived in the 12th century. By the 13th century, The Inquisitor Etienne de Bourbon discovered a sort of cult that had grown up around the dog’s legend. Inquisitor Etienne died in 1268. This is from a modern translation of Anecdotes historiques…d’Étienne de Bourbon:

“…I made inquiries and at last heard that he was a certain greyhound killed in the following way. In the diocese of Lyons, close to the vill of the nuns called Villeneuve, on the land belonging to the lord of Villars-en-Dombe, there was a certain castle whose lord had a baby son from his wife. But when the lord and lady and the nurse too had left the house, leaving the child alone in his cradle, a very large snake entered the house and made for the child’s cradle. The greyhound, who had remained there, saw this, dashed swiftly under the cradle in pursuit, knocking it over, and attacked the snake with its fangs and answering bite with bite. In the end the dog killed it and threw it far away from the child’s cradle which he left all bloodied as was his mouth and head, with the snake’s blood, and stood there by the cradle all beaten about by the snake. When the nurse came back and saw this, she thought the child had been killed and eaten by the dog and so gave out an almighty scream. The child’s mother heard this, rushed in, saw and thought the same and she too screamed. Then the knight similarly once he got there believed the same, and drawing his sword killed the dog. Only then did they approach the child and find him unharmed, sleeping sweetly in fact. On further investigation, they discovered the snake torn up by the dog’s bites and dead. Now that they had learned the truth of the matter, they were embarrassed (dolentes) that they had so unjustly killed a dog so useful to them and threw his body into a well in front of the castle gate, and placing over it a very large heap of stones they planted trees nearby as a memorial of the deed…  

“But the peasants, hearing of the dog’s conduct and of how it had been killed, although innocent, and for a deed for which it might have expected praise, visited the place, honoured the dog as a martyr, prayed to it when they were sick or in need of something, and many there fell victim to the enticements and illusions of the devil, who in this way used to lead men into error…

“We had the dead dog disinterred, and the sacred wood cut down and burnt, along with the remains of the dog. And I had an edict passed by the lords of the estate, warning that anyone going thenceforth to that place for any such reason would be liable to have his possessions seized and then sold.”

Note from Michael: This story has appeared in dozens of versions over thousands of years. Sometimes, the snake is a wolf, and sometimes the basic facts remain the same but it takes place in Ireland or Scotland, and the inquisitor is a bishop. Aesop told a similar tale about a Greek farmer. The earliest version is probably “The Brahmin and the Mongoose”, an Indian folktale. The basic theme of this story is also present in Mark Twain’s classic A Dog’s Tale, in which the dog makes it very clear he is a Presbyterian. Whatever the facts were behind the dog Guinefort and the inquisitor Entienne, worshippers of St. Guinefort remained active until the early 20th century, and they celebrated St. Guinefort Day on August 22nd.

Notable Dog: Stumpy, Hero of World War 1

December 31, 2010 § Leave a comment

Stubby Being Decorated by General Pershing.

Stubby Being Decorated by General Pershing.

Stumpy, described as either an Old Boston bulldog or a pitbull/Boston Terrier cross, was smuggled aboard a troop transport by his owner, John Robert Conroy. While in Europe, Stumpy lived and fought with the 102nd Infantry as one of the soldiers. Stumpy distinguished himself as a brave and stalwart companion: tenacious in battle, and loving in rest. While convalescing at a military hospital from grenade wounds, Stumpy was said to have brought “comfort to the wounded and peace to the dying.” Stumpy learned to recognize the high-pitched sound of incoming artillery and, on several occasions, warned his unit of danger in time to save them from injury or death. During his time of service, Stubby fought in 17 battles, was wounded twice, and individually captured a German infiltrator.  For his valor in combat, Stumpy was presented the Humane Education Society’s Hero Dog Medal by General John Joseph “Blackjack” Pershing, Supreme Commander of American Forces in Europe. Stumpy became quite famous when he returned to the US, where he received lifetime memberships to the Red Cross, YMCA, American Legion, and VFW, and was mascot of the Georgetown Hoyas.

Notable Dog: Waghya

December 27, 2010 § Leave a comment

Waghya, a mixed-breed sight hound, loyal companion of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, is the most famous dog in India. Showing remarkable, but suicidal, loyalty, Waghya threw himself upon the Maharaj’s burning funeral pyre.  1680.

Notable Dogs: Etah, First to the South Pole

December 15, 2010 § Leave a comment

Raold Amundsen led the first successful excursion to the South Pole, and leading him was a Samoyed or Greenland bitch named Etah. Among the factors contributing to Amundsen’s success was the decision to use dogs for transportation, which were eschewed by his main competitor, Robert Falcon Scott, as being undignified.  Etah has been claimed by both Samoyed and Greenland Dog fanciers, and for good reason. As the lead dog in the expedition leader’s team, Etah was the first mammal to reach the South Pole.  Etah was one of just eleven dogs which survived the expedition, out of the 100+ with which it began. The New York Times printed several letters of protest over the dogs’ treatment. 1911.


December 9, 2010 § Leave a comment

Laika, a 13-pound stray from Moscow, first dog in space. No plan was made for her return from from orbit.

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