Drop the dead dog – An Irishwoman’s Diary about urban legends

“This friend was living in London and had agreed to house-sit for a friend who had a very old German Shepherd.” Illustration: iStock

“This friend was living in London and had agreed to house-sit for a friend who had a very old German Shepherd.” Illustration: iStock

 

Have you ever unwittingly spread an urban legend? No? Are you sure? Perhaps you’ve heard the story about the dead dog in the suitcase.

It could have happened to the sister of a friend’s boyfriend. It definitely happened to a friend of a friend of mine. Or did it?

This friend was living in London and had agreed to house-sit for a friend who had a very old German Shepherd.

Anyway, the hot London summer overwhelmed the poor dog and she discovered his lifeless body stretched across the hall one morning. The dog’s owner wasn’t too surprised when she phoned him but he asked that she deliver the carcass to his vet, who would take care of it. This was London, and the friend of a friend didn’t drive. The veterinary surgery was too far on foot, especially when dragging a recently departed German Shepherd, but it was just a hop and a skip on the Tube.

She went home, returned with her big suitcase on wheels, and after a great deal of difficulty, stuffed the dog into the case. As she sat on the Tube, she noticed a man staring at her. When she struggled to drag the suitcase off the train, he offered to help. She protested weakly but was relieved because she was tiring from the effort.

As they neared the top of the escalator, the kindly helper asked what she was carrying as it seemed very heavy. Flustered, she replied that it was her boyfriend’s DJ equipment. And in one bound he took off across the concourse with the suitcase. She opened her mouth to shout but then considered the situation, smiled and returned home. I loved the story so much when I first heard it that I told it to everyone I knew.

But just this week, momentarily bored during the thrilling activity of comparing bin charges online, I came across an old Snap Judgement podcast about urban legends, specifically the story about a dead dog in a suitcase.

Falling under the Google trance, I found dozens of versions of the story, some dating back to the mid-1980s.

People were stuffing Great Danes and greyhounds into suitcases all over the world. Various thieves believed they were stealing suitcases full of laptops, electronics or DJ equipment.

In some versions, the unfortunate house-sitter was punched in the face or pushed down the escalator. I prefer our violence-free version. I sadly accepted it was an urban legend, so incredible that it had to be retold, but unfortunately too good to be true.

Folklorist and writer Dr Jan Brunvand has a fascination with these tall tales and he collected hundreds of them in his book Too Good to be True – The Colossal Book of Urban Legends.

They include one of the most persistent US urban legends – the existence of alligators in the sewers of New York. This dates back to the 1930s and suggests that people brought back baby alligators from Florida as pets but when they grew too big they ended up in the sewers and are still thriving today. And because they have not seen the light in generations, they have turned white.

The kidney heist is another well-recounted urban legend, whereby business travellers, generally in New Orleans and Las Vegas, are bought drinks by strangers and then wake up in a bath covered in ice with a phone next to them and a note advising that they call 911.

They learn that their kidneys have been removed by skilled criminals who then sell them on the black market. Sure, we all know someone who got a kidney from the back of a van.

Some of the legends involve famous people, such as the Eddie Murphy story with the racist undertones.

An old lady got into a hotel lift with the actor and several bodyguards. She didn’t recognise him and became convinced she was about to be mugged by these burly black men. “Hit the floor,” said one of the bodyguards to another, as in, “press the lift button”. The old lady immediately flung herself on the floor, and waited for the end to come. Afterwards, Eddie Murphy sent her flowers and paid her hotel bill. Of course it never happened.

“Here’s the clincher,” the actor said. “Whenever I go: ‘No, it never happened’, they always say ‘Yes it did. My cousin was there’.”

Dr Brunvand’s book also tells the story of the Irish woman who travelled to Lourdes to see the famous shrine. She became tired after standing for a long time for the blessing of the sick so when she spotted an empty wheelchair, she gladly flopped into it. When the priest approached to give the blessing, she stood up. The pilgrims threw their arms to heaven and declared they’d seen a miracle.

This possibly, maybe, happened to the neighbour of a friend’s aunt. Honestly.