On the Loyalty of Dogs

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The Daily Grist:

I love my dog as much as I love you, but you may fade. My dog will always come through (Cat Stevens)

Pets have become very popular these days with so many people stuck at home and lonely. It could be argued that humans should not restrict other species for their personal pleasure but we have a long history of doing that and the animals we have bred for the job of companionship may benefit from the relationship too. At the least these are animals we care for and we see evidence that our love is returned. More importantly, these are animals we care for for their own sake rather than to eat them.

Although there are a few exceptions, mostly pet owners fall into one of two categories: dog lovers and cat lovers. I’ve always been a dog person and the quote I chose above proves my point on the superiority of dogs because the song it comes from was written by a cat (who now goes by the name Yusuf Islam).

What I like about dogs is that they are loyal. Forty years ago while visiting Tipperary researching my Irish ancestry I met a woman named Mrs. O’Leary. She owned the boarding house where I rented a room for the week She also owned several of the pubs in the town. Pubs are quite popular in Ireland and although Tipperary is not a very big place, Mrs. O’Leary owned three pubs in addition to the boarding house.

After hiking to the Rock of Cashel one day I was thirsty and I visited one of Mr’s O’Leary’s pubs. She was there and I said hello as she fed her dog at the bar, first letting the dog have a sip of beer from another bowl. Later I went to another bar, also owned by Mrs’ O’Leary and noticed the same ritual. I asked about the dog and why he was so fond of beer. Mrs. O’Leary sat beside me and told me the story while other bar patrons filled in the details.

This dog, I wish I could remember the name after all these years, was a special dog. He had originally belonged to an old man who was a bit of an alcoholic it seems because he frequented all of the bars around town. He took his dog with him everywhere and would feed him bar snacks and beer as much as the dog wanted.

One day the old man passed away and there was nobody left to take care of the dog. Week after week the dog roamed all around Tipperary looking for his master. And like his master, this little dog knew every bar in town. He survived on the kindness of bar patrons and eventually developed an attachment for Mrs. O’Leary because she was a common denominator. Since she managed so many of the bars the dog was used to, she became the only substitute for the master the dog was so devoted to.

In Edinburgh, Scotland there is a monument to Greyfriar’s Bobby. He was a Skye terrier who spent 14 years guarding the grave of his master John Gray. The story is possibly part legend and part truth but it doesn’t take much effort to convince anyone who has ever owned a dog that dogs are loyal.

I remember the time at the old swimming’ hole
When I would have drowned beyond doubt
But old Shep was right there, to the rescue he came.
He jumped in and then pulled me out

Red Foley is not the only musician to sing about a good dog. Jimmy Martin bragged that he had the “best ‘coon dog in the state of Tennessee today”. And the Stanley Brothers sang of how

Old Rattler was a friendly dog even though he was blind.
He wouldn’t hurt a living thing he was so very kind

(And I’ll bet the Stanleys wished they’d had that dog when they had that rabbit in the log)

The loyalty of dogs is especially relevant to children. We raised our two kids with a dog. Sadly our Tipper passed away a few months ago. For me the deathbed song Little Joe epitomizes the bond between child and dog:

Keep Tige, Mother my little dog. I known that he’ll mourn for me too
Keep him though old and useless he grows, sleeping the whole summer through
Show him my coat, Mother so he’ will know that his master then will be dead
Speak to him kindly and often of Joe and pat him on his brown shaggy head

The Dillards joked about not being able to sing Old Blue like Joan Baez because they had been chased out of the outhouse too many times in the winter by a blue tick hound (see their album Live Almost for the amusing comedy routine).

When Old Blue died, he died so hard he shook the ground in my back yard
We lowered him down with a golden chain and every link we called his name
Bye Blue you good dog you. Bye Blue you good dog you.

If you need a loyal friend and companion in these troubled times you might want to go down to your local animal shelter and give another lonely animal a nice home. Or you could go to a local pet store and ask like Patti Page:

How much is that doggie in the window?

But whatever you do, don’t go bragging to your friends:

I got a bulldog, cost five hundred. My back yard baby my back yard.

Just show the dog lots of love and I guarantee you will get the same back in return.

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