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This Changing Dog
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Then again, anachronisms aside, dogs of the past are very different from dogs of the present. For example, I read a comment by one of the screenwriters that the dog in Gladiator was actually supposed to be a wolf, a symbol of Roman swiftness and power and also a reference to the wolf that suckled Remus and Romulus (the latter of whom killed his brother and then went on to found Rome).

 

Well, it looked an awful lot like a German Shepherd to me. That’s a lot of symbolic weight to put on a breed that didn’t even exist in ancient Rome.

 

At any rate, we don’t have dogs named Hell, or Satan, or Star Thunder any more. It’s all Mr. Snappy, and Foo Foo, and Princess Booger. Can you imagine Hell in a tutu? Nor can I.

 

Mark Derr, a canine expert, railed against the new canines back in the ’90s, calling their creation the “appalling human practice of breeding mutant animals for ego satisfaction.”

 

Well, maybe that’s a little harsh.

 

After all, the world of dogs was dominated for centuries by bearded dukes grinning fiercely as they tore into chunks of venison by roaring fires, massive mastiffs scowling at their sides. Czars in troikas followed their Borzois as they tracked down elk.

 

Aristocrats invented breeding mutant animals for ego satisfaction. And only the aristocracy could own these beasts. King Canute of England established the Forest Laws in 1014, which decreed, in part, that any “meane person” caught owning a Greyhound would be punished and the dog’s feet mutilated to prevent it from hunting. A Greyhound was valued more than a serf, money-wise, and if you killed one, you would be charged with murder.

 

On the other hand, we still have the descendants of those heroic dogs: police dogs, firehouse dogs, drug-sniffing dogs, bomb-sniffing dogs, cancer-sniffing dogs. Now anyone can own one, not just a king.

 

So the heroic dogs are still among us. And who knows, maybe even a fierce Shih Tzu could turn the tide of battle. But maybe not. “At my signal, unleash Fluffy!” It doesn’t have the same punch, does it?

 

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This article first appeared in The Bark,
Issue 46: Jan/Feb 2008
Ian Shoales is the alter ego of writer and performer Merle Kessler. Ian and Merle both currently reside in San Francisco. ianshoales.com

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