originally published August 20, 2014
Yes, I’m writing about dogs again. Last year saw the earthly departure of Rufus and Yoko, my two loyal – albeit halitosis-heavy – bulldog assistants, and I would be remiss (which is Latin for “an asshole”) if I did not honor their memory with a few feel-good tales of puckish pooches to warm the cockles (which is Latin for “the taint”) of the heart. Luckily, as chock-full as the internet may be with cat pictures, it is similarly packed with tales of loyal canines.
I make no apologies for the fact that I am a dog person. Dogs may not be smarter than cats – though they could be; I distinctly recall some Youtube video in which a dog retrieves a beer from the fridge – but they are more emotionally devoted to their human friends. I love that when I come home every day, my remaining bulldog assistants (Bessie & The Bean, so named for her legume-esque stature) are jubilant to the point of ridiculousness. In my limited experience, cats simply don’t offer that kind of overflow of positive energy.
And devotion. That’s a big one. The loyalty of my slobbery little friends has never truly been tested, but I’m sure it exists. The canine companions who grace today’s page have all demonstrated a form of loyalty that every super-villain dreams of extracting from but one of their grunting minions.
Any pile of devoted-dog stories must contain a customary bow to Hachiko, the Akita owned by University of Tokyo professor Hidesaburo Ueno. Every afternoon, Hachiko would show up at Shibuya Station to await Ueno’s train. In May 1925, only about a year into their relationship, Ueno suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and never made it home. Hachiko showed up anyway, and proceeded to pop in to the station at the exact same time every day to await his master’s return. For almost ten more years.
Okay, it’s a depressing story; Hachiko’s devotion was never rewarded with success. But one of Ueno’s students observed the dog in action and checked in regularly, publishing the tale in a series of articles. His story became a teaching tool in Japanese culture, of the loyalty and fidelity everyone should express toward their families. Every April 8, a solemn moment of silence is still held for the dog (and maybe his owner… but probably not) at Shibuya Station.
Waghya has been called the ultimate symbol of devotion in India lore, though to my ears the story sounds a little bit suspicious. Waghya belonged to Chhatrapati Shivaji, an Indian warrior-king who ruled over some fragment of India in the 17th century (that’s as specific as I’m going to get – this is a dog article, not a geography article). His beloved Waghya was so distraught over his owner’s death, he leapt upon the funeral pyre in an act of suicidal allegiance.
Whether or not that actually happened, it makes for a good story. I don’t expect I’d receive such a grotesque honor from my bulldogs, but since my wife continues to refuse my demand for a front-lawn pyre when my time is up, I suppose I’ll never know.
One thing my dogs do not possess is a job. They lay about, gorging on my food and silently mocking me when I have to drag my carcass out the door to work every morning, and what do they contribute?
Perhaps I should teach them about Barry, the Alpine Mastiff who was employed as a mountain rescue dog for several years in the early 1800s. It’s said that Barry rescued more than 40 people in his time, poking around the caverns and chasms of the Swiss Alps, and dragging those too week to walk back to safety. After twelve years of service, Barry was even granted a period of retirement in Bern.
The term ‘Alpine Mastiff’ was not an official appellation, and when it came time to slap a definitive moniker on the breed, they went with ‘Barry Hound’ for more than thirty years. In 1865, the breed was named for the hospice out of which Barry operated for his entire professional life: St. Bernard. It should be noted that Barry’s body was preserved and displayed at the Natural History Museum in Bern, however his skull has been re-molded to resemble the way St. Bernards look today. How’s that for a touching, yet creepy tribute?
Speaking of vocationally-engaged dog stories with a slightly creepy tinge, I’d like to offer up a warbly, uncommitted salute to Lucky and Flo, two dogs who rose to prominence working for the MPAA. You know, the same organization that didn’t let you see Goodfellas when you were seventeen because you were three months away from when the violence and mature subject matter wouldn’t corrupt your soul.
The MPAA enlisted these two Labrador retrievers to sniff out counterfeit DVDs as a part of a much-publicized effort to curb movie piracy, back when piracy happened in the physical, non-data-file form. Lucky and Flo can’t actually sniff out counterfeit DVDs, but they can detect a whiff of an optical disc. So when they were deployed for their inaugural mission to root out illegal Shrek bootlegs at the FedEx hub of London Stansted Airport in May 2006, everything they uncovered was in fact a legal piece of someone’s property.
The happy pair were dispatched to Malaysia the following year, and were integral to busting a counterfeit DVD ring in Johor Bahru. The nefarious pirates allegedly put a bounty on the dogs’ heads, though as of this writing both are still alive and barking.
For a demonstration of unwavering devotion, we need look no further than Bobbie, known to Oregonians as Bobbie the Wonder Dog. A resident of Silverton, Oregon, Bobbie was travelling with his family in Indiana when he became separated from his human flock. The family searched desperately for their beloved Collie mix, but in what has to be the crappiest ending to a vacation ever, they couldn’t find him.
Six months later, Bobbie turned up at home, his feet worn down to the bone. He had voyaged over 2550 miles, through desert, mountains and harsh winter terrain to get back to his family.
I’d like to see a cat lay claim to such a demonstration of unflinching loyalty and resilient commitment. For that matter, I’d like to see a bulldog pull that off. I don’t know – I think my dogs would give up and stretch out in the nearest slab of sun-soaked lawn. That’s okay, I don’t need to test their love. I would, however, like to train them to get me beer from the fridge. It could happen. And football season is coming.