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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: April 15, 2009 @ 10:26 am

    How much is that doggy?

    Fiona McCann

    The presidential pooch has arrived – Bo is in the house. The White House specifically, and let’s face it, he is a pretty cute and cuddly specimen. But wouldn’t you know it, the grand unveiling of a bouncy Portuguese water dog got me thinking about dogs in the arts, this being an arts and culture blog. There’s the obvious TV stock of doggy characters – Lassie, Benji and the Littlest Hobo bound to mind – not to mention that Dalmation business and that recent staggering phenomenon Marley and Me (the staggering part being that it was a phenomenon at all). In the literary world, Lord Byron was fierce fond of dogs, and penned a famous epitaph to his own dog, Boatswain, while Rudyard Kipling went mad for them, writing poems in their honour to beat the band. One of my favourite literary dogs is Charley, the poodle whose travels with John Steinbeck made for a book of musings on America. He particularly endeared himself to me by not pee-ing on the Great Redwood Trees, much to Steinbeck’s annoyance. I like a dog who refuses to a lift a leg to his master’s transcendental notions. Any other great literary / cinematic / poetic / musical canines to add to the list?

    • Aisling says:

      No list of cinematic/musically inclined dogs could be complete without the orphan Annie’s faithful Sandy?

      Also, I spent the last number of weeks (after meeting someone called Milo) trying to remember a time-travelling dog called Milo who featured in the Children’s Encyclopedia stories when I was a wee girl. Ringing any bells?

    • Sinéad says:

      The first one that popped into my head were the dogs in Edith Wharton’s short story ‘Kerfol’. Not only are they dogs. They’re GHOST dogs.

      We previoiusly discussed it over at Fustar’s Dreadful Thoughts short story club (which anyone can take part in).


    • Martha says:

      A few dogs that spring to mind for me are:
      1) Toto in ‘The Wizard of Oz’. Being one of the first stories I read as a child and thereafter getting an annual dose of the film at Christmas, it would be remiss of me to fail to mention this cinematic treasure!
      2) Having fairly recently seen the excellent film ‘The Reader’, another dog that I recall was one that was cited on various occasions in that film. It was that of Chekhov’s story ‘The Lady and the Dog’. The opening line:
      ‘It was said that a new person had appeared on the sea-front: a lady with a little dog.’
      3) Being an avid Frasier fan, Eddie, Martin’s loyal companion, (but Frasier’s loathsome annoyance) deserves a mention.
      And finally:
      4) Greyfriars Bobby , a Skye Terrier who became known in 19th-century Edinburgh, Scotland, after reportedly spending fourteen years guarding his owner’s grave, until his own death on 14 January 1872. I remember seeing this statue on many occasions while at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, on Candlemakers Row. The story always both saddened me but also strangely inspired me.

    • Martha says:

      A few dogs springs to mind for me:
      1) Toto from ‘The Wizard of Oz’
      2) Having seen the excellent film ‘The Reader’, reference was made a few times to Chekhov’s story ‘The Lady and the Dog’, the first line of which was quoted a number of times: ‘It was said that a new person had appeared on the sea-front: a lady with a little dog.’
      3) Being an avid Frasier fan, it would be remiss of me to mention Eddie, Martin’s loyal companion.
      And finally:
      4) Greyfriars Bobby, a Skye Terrier who became known in 19th-century Edinburgh, Scotland, after reportedly spending fourteen years guarding his owner’s grave, until his own death on 14 January 1872. I saw his statue several times at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and was also struck by a strange mixture of pathos and inspiration.

    • brian says:

      Movie: “Umberto D” – great old Italian movie using non-professional actors and I’ll swear Flike the dog acts rings around them and all other dogs in future dog movies. He plays a blinder in the final scene. Honest. Great call on Eddie in Frasier though.

      Song: Jim Jackson “Old Dog Blue” – one of those strange old american songs – part elegy for unfaithful lover, mostly elegy for faithful dog. A kind of displacement blues.

      Poem: “Another Reason Why I Don’t Keep a Gun in the House” by Billy Collins which manages to get in digs about dogs and Beethoven (the composer).

    • Medbh says:

      Mr. M was keen on the Jack London dog heroes growing up, so much so that we named our first pup Jack.
      I have a picture of Maud Gonne and her dog Dagda on my corkboard. He plays a central figure in her autobiography.

    • Medbh says:

      Hmm, last try didn’t take.

      We named our first dog Jack after Jack London who created so many great dog characters in fiction.

      Next to my desk I have a picture of Maud Gonne with her dog Dagda. The pooch is a central character in her autobiography.

    • Sinéad says:

      For some reason, Medbh’s post just reminded me of another one – Flush, Virginia Woolf’s sweet biog of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s dog.

    • Kynos says:

      One reason I prefer dogs to women is that when they get pregnant you can sell their children.

    • Stephen says:

      Gunter Grass wrote one of his books ( Dog years) about a dog or to be exact a series of dogs from Danzig. One became the ‘first dog ‘ of Hitlers Germany .

      There is a statue ot a dog at a train station in Tokyo. It commemorates a dog who waited for many years for its master to return from work. The master had died. The japanese value loyalty.

    • Kynos says:

      In fairness I can’t claim credit for that last it was on a birthday card I got this year from some of my kids aptly chosen by their mum :)

    • Kynos says:

      The Japanese do indeed value loyalty. They developed modern war’s first suicide fighters from it. They developed a whole cult of seppuku from it. Fianna Fail value loyalty. But it’s the rest of us getting our throats cut lately hain’t ye noticed?

    • Kynos says:

      Sorry don’t mean to dogress.

    • Kynos says:

      I like D(i)ogenes but then he was a bit of a lone wolf.

    • Fiona says:

      Aisling: Sandy! How could I leave him out!! Our own family dog Toby was shortlisted for the part in one of the musical productions here. He didn’t get it in the end, probably because he would have lept into the audience at the opening of a bag of crisps. The Milo thing has confounded me – no bells ringing here I’m afraid.

      Sinead: Ghost dogs! Of course – meant to get involved in that Fustar discussion, but things were hectic. Definitely keep me (and Pursued by a bear) posted on the next one. Speaking of ghost dogs, there was the Hound of the Baskervilles, though whether you can count ghost dogs that didn’t even exist, is another matter. Does the concept of a dog count?

      Martha: What a wonderful canine comment! Wans’t aware of the Chekhov story myself. Should I search it out?

      Brian: Speaking of songs, there’s a myriad I could mention, like Dolly Parton’s Cracker Jack . . .

      Medbh: The name of our dog, Lola, has literary connotations, though that’s not why she got the name. Interesting about Maud Gonne’s dog, though – called after the Celtic deity, I assume?

      Sinead: Good call, Flush, had forgotten that!

      Stephen: I’ve seen that statue in Shibuya station. It’s a great story.

      Kynos: You’re after going mental on the doggy puns! It’s enough to give me paws (apologies, I’ll get me coat).

    • Dotsy says:

      One of Paul Auster’s less well known books ‘Timbuktu’ is narrated by a pooch who, like Auster’s human characters, is subject to the whims of chance and coincidence as he makes his way across America.

    • John Self says:

      Yes, Timbuktu was widely reviled in the press but I rather liked it: and that was even before I came round to the notion that more or less everything Auster writes is at least worth a look. Private Eye reported at the time that the Observer spiked a negative review of it; no doubt entirely coincidental with the fact that Timbuktu was dedicated to Robert McCrum, the Observer’s literary editor.

      My own suggestion is Evie, the Alsatian with the “brilliant and extraordinary face” which is central to J.R. Ackerley’s novel We Think the World of You. It is a wonderful book, sadly overlooked but one I strongly recommend: the sort of book for which the phrase “little gem” or even “small masterpiece” might have been invented.


    • John Self says:

      PS – It’s a while since I read it, but contrary to your suggestion in comment 13, Fiona, I’m pretty sure the hound of the Baskervilles did exist – just not in the form that was initially reported…

    • karen says:

      Dalmatian not Dalmation – an A not an O

      lets hope that BO does not start a over breeding of this breed. Dalmatians, Rough Collies and Old English Sheepdogs to namea few were a “must have” for silly people and many beautiful dogs ended up in Rescue…………..

      Might i remind all you have the love of dogs from poems, books to movies…………… think before you get 1 and if you must have 1 get a rescue, not just from the welfare societies but the breed rescues.

      Due to economic’s more and more dogs are being abandoned.

    • Fiona says:

      John: Woops, you’re right. There was a hound in the Hound of the Baskervilles. I must have been confused by the fog.

    • Kynos says:

      When I worked years ago in the fishery protection line going onto farms and looking for polluters was part of the job (as well as going out on fairly jumpy little Ribs and dories looking for species destroying trawlers it had its fairly pastoral side) and you could always tell by the dog that came out of the farmyard to meet you what sort his owner was like. Nice happy hound with a laughing eye and a happy step meant there was no source of pollution on this farmer’s land or if there was it was completely inadvertent. A snarling slinking sullen cur meant you generally had to look no further for the outflow, which would frequently have had pains taken to conceal the point at which the slurry was being discharged into the lake or watercourse. Funny thing but people are very like their dogs. Read Travels with Charley back in the mid-eighties when working in the US in the building trade. Loved it so much was inspired to take a month off and ride my motorbike from New Jersey up to Canada and down again into Pennsylvania. Fantastic trip. Except it was in November there were days I thought I’d die frozen and just ride off the road and shatter like an ice cube. Apropos of nothing at all that last.

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