By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by Jim Frise, November 22, 1947.
“Never,” counselled Jimmie Frise, “go to a dog show at night.”
“Well, it’s the only convenient time,” I submitted.
“We’ll be trampled to death,” declared Jim. “Let’s go in the morning, or even in the afternoon. The judging goes on from 10 am to 10 pm. We can find out what time the retrievers are being judged.”
“Or the hounds,” I checked. “Especially the beagles, the dear little beagles.”
“The last time we went to the Winter Fair dog show,” recollected Jim, “we had sore feet for weeks. We got trampled, stamped on, butted, biffed, shoved, dug in the ribs…”
“Jim,” I announced, “I regard that tremendous crowd at the dog show as only fitting. I think it is the proper and just tribute of human beings to the oldest and noblest companion of humanity across thousands and thousands of years.”
“But my feet …” complained Jimmie.
“Personally,” I pursued, “I prefer to get caught in the jam at a dog show. I prefer to go at night, when all the crowds are there, so as to be a part of this annual celebration in the honor of the dog. Do you realize that it is just possible that there would be NO human race if it hadn’t been for the dog?”
“How do you make that out?” demanded Jim in surprise.
“Before the introduction of agriculture,” I informed him, “what little wandering bands of human beings there were, scattered sparsely over the earth, had to live on what they could find in the perilous and monster-filled wilderness. They had to be warned of the approach of tigers and other savage creatures. They had to hunt game, their only meat. In both those profoundly important factors in the survival of these poor, trembling human beings, the dog played an immense – in fact, an absolutely essential – part.”
“Big dogs?” inquired Jim.
“Big dogs and little dogs,” I assured him. “The astonishing thing about dogs is that, either big or small, they are to be found, in the most ancient times, all over the world – Europe, Asia, Africa, North and South America – everywhere but in a few Pacific islands. And wherever they were, big or small, they were the companions, the helpers, the guardians and warners of men!”
“Well, by golly….!” exclaimed Jim.
“Yes, SIR!” I warmed up. “The first actual historical record of dogs goes back to carvings and paintings of ancient Egypt, on the tomb of King Amten, in the year 4000 BC. Hunting dogs, hounds.”
“You mean,” calculated Jim, “6,000 years ago?”
“And that,” I assured him, “is only yesterday in the history of the dog. Because in the most ancient diggings in the cave men era, in all parts of the world, we find the bones of dogs mixed with the bones of men.”
“You mean,” said Jim, “that back in the days before there was any possible communication between the human tribes, say, in Europe and China, or Africa and North America, men and dogs had already got together?”
“Exactly,” I insisted, “There has been a mutual affinity between men and dogs all over the earth and from the very beginning of time. In South America, they were little dogs. In Asia they were mastiffs, giants. But they all helped man hunt, they all warned man of his monstrous wild enemies, they all shared man’s bed and board.”
“Well, this explains,” suggested Jim, “all the various and wholly different breeds of dog; yet all dogs?”
“A little Mexican chihuahua,” I recollected, “can weigh one pound. A mastiff can weigh 175 pounds. But they are both dogs, and definitely related.”
“We don’t see many mastiffs nowadays,” reflected Jimmie,
“That’s a funny thing,” I admitted. “Because we owe the very word ‘dog’ to the mastiff. When the Norman conquerors invaded Britain, they found the country full of giant mastiffs. These were the popular dogs in Britain. Every little baron, every knight, had a house full of them. Every farmer owned a couple. They were called tie-dogs. That is, tied up by day; loose by night.”
“Brrrr,” shivered Jim.
“The Norman French word for ‘mastiff’,” I explained, “was ‘dogue,’ It still is the French word for mastiff. And we poor dopey British, as so often happened to us whenever we were conquered by the Romans or the Vikings or the Saxons and so forth, had a foreign word shoved down our throats. The word ‘dogue,’ which meant ‘mastiff’ to our new bosses, came at last to mean ‘dog,’ meaning any little peewee.”
“Man, I hate to think of those early days,” murmured Jim, “when they had all those mastiffs turned loose every night.”
“Oh, the mastiff was a good many thousand years here before the Normans landed in England,” I advised. “The Romans found him in Britain, also the giant Irish wolfhound. They took ’em home and fed Christians to them in the Colosseum. The ancient kings of Persia had mastiffs. It’s only in quite recent times that men have gone in for the smaller dogs.”
“Thank heavens,” said Jim.
So, with our heaviest boots on, we went to the dog show, in the evening after all. In honor of the dog.
And just as Jimmie had predicted, it was a jam. You see, at the dog show, they have long aisles of small benches on which the show dogs recline. And the public wanders up and down these aisles, viewing the various and beautiful creatures. It could not be any other way. And I wouldn’t want it any other way. But a dog show is capable of traffic jams beyond the wildest dreams of Piccadilly or St. James street and McGill. Certain of the aisles are occupied, say, by one particularly popular breed, like the cocker spaniels. And naturally, everybody pushing along is looking for the cockers. And everybody who is already in the cocker aisle is holding firm. It takes quite a little time to look at a cocker spaniel.
Then, of course, there are the social gatherings. Mrs. Gotrox, who raises Pekingese, is sitting right on the bench, in sporty outdoorswoman costume, among her darlings. And what more natural than that all Mrs. Gotrox’s social friends, with numbers of others who merely like to bask in the obviously social atmosphere surrounding Mrs. Gotrox, should form a traffic jam in front of the Pekingese which is impossible from either direction?
But it is all very fine-tempered and smiling. People who come to look at dogs are a special breed of people. They are probably the old-fashioned kind, the ones not entirely dehumanized by civilization. They have inherited from the long past some memory of the dog that was not a friend merely, but an ally against the encircling darkness. At a dog show, you find yourself looking into the eyes of crowds of people who might easily be your brothers or sisters.
Jimmie wanted to turn left and start with the terriers. I wanted to turn right and start with the Great Danes. Either way, we would be going against the traffic. At dog shows, traffic moves in all possible directions.
“Gosh, what stallions!” gasped Jimmie, as we came in front of the Great Dane exhibit. There were 20 or 30 of them, fawn, black, brindled and harlequin – incredibly striped and blotched in black and white. Their giant jaws agape, their tiny ears pricked up, their stern gaze staring into the multitude looking for one, ONE friend.
So we edged along, passing the chows, the toys, funny balls of knitting called Pekes and Italian greyhounds so tiny and so slender that you might think the Italians got the idea of spaghetti from looking at their diminutive little greyhounds.
We came at length to the dogs Jim was looking for: the retrievers, especially the golden retrievers; although Jimmie isn’t finicky. He will look at any dog so long as it is a retriever – a Labrador, a curly-coated, flat-coated, a Chesapeake Bay. So long as it is half the size of a moose, with a coat like a duck, and with dark wise eyes that suggest it would know exactly what to do both before and after a gun barks.
Now, my fancy is hounds; and the smaller the better. Thirteen-inch beagles, for instance.
But before we got to the hounds and after Jimmie had created a half-hour traffic jam around the retrievers, with his duck-talk to them and his measuring of
But before we got to the hounds and after Jimmie had created a half-hour traffic jam around the retrievers, with his duck-talk to them and his measuring of them at the shoulder and the loin, and his picking the bored creatures up to guess their weight, and stroking their otter-like ears that lie so snug and waterproof against their heads, we had to fight our way into and through a traffic jam in front of the English bulldogs.
And the cause of this particular jam was one particular bulldog. He had the most sinister face I have ever seen, including the great Lon Chaney AND Boris Karloff. He was white, with brindle markings. He weighed well over 40 pounds. His massive brow was not only wrinkled, it twitched into new wrinkles every time he blinked his eyes, which were terrible. And under his mushed snout there protruded two white fangs, upward, bared and ready.
The traffic jam stood respectfully well back from his bench. Because, on the back of the partition of the bench was tacked this sign:
DO NOT HANDLE!
“WHAT a brute!” breathed Jimmie.
“He’s beautiful,” I stated.
And the brute looked up at me, from his squat stance, with a sudden, alert expression.
“Bee-yeautiful!’ I repeated rather cautiously,
And the brute chopped his terrible toad jaws at me in a fiendish grin, waggled his broken twisted tail ecstatically and wriggled his massive, bowlegged body into a regular fandango of friendliness.
“By golly,” gasped Jim, “he likes you!”
And a little murmur of applause rose from the silent traffic jam all around.
“Hi, Beautiful!” I said carefully.
The brute leaned out of his bench and strained on the heavy chain that held him.
“Don’t get fresh with that baby,” warned a voice behind me. “He’s a bad actor!”
I glanced to see a tall, raw-boned character in the crowd who had a know-it-all air about him.
“I know something about bulldogs,” he said wisely. “That one is a killer, A BAD dog!”
But the brute was now shimmying in a monstrous and grotesque fashion, straining on his chain in my direction, his eyes wide with friendliness and his terrific pie plate of a mouth in a wide gape of chumminess.
“Careful!” muttered Jim.
But I took a chance. I put my hand out on his head. I slid it firmly down his neck and scratched.
The bulldog snuggled right up to my thigh. And he sat down with a sort of a dump and emitted a great sigh of joy.
“He’s a fool!” said the character in the crowd.
But the traffic jam was entirely charmed by the spectacle and their murmurs rose to little cheers of delight. I sat down beside the brute on the bench and put my arm heartily around him. He fairly pushed me over, he was so happy. He licked my face and panted with brotherly love.
The crowd closed in nearer.
I noted that the chain which held the brute was I caught under his hind leg. I tried to hoist him free of it, but he just snuggled tighter to me. I took the snap off the chain and undid it from his collar to pass the chain under him —
With bound, the massive bulldog leaped free and down into the crowd among their fast-moving legs …
The character, who had been so loud in warning me, let go in a stentorian voice:
“Look out! Bad dog loose!”
There was an instant’s hush and then a riot.
“Mad dog! Mad dog loose!” came the yells and squeals from every direction.
And you never saw a traffic jam melt so fast in your life. Not only in our particular vicinity, but in all the adjoining aisles. Out on the main exit, &a veritable stampede.
But above the tumult, I could hear one voice scolding.
And down our aisle came a man in a white sweater, lugging the brute by the collar. He hoisted him summarily into his place on the bench.
“How’d he get loose?” he demanded, seeing I was sitting on the bench.
“I’m sorry,” I confessed. “His chain was caught under him. I unsnapped it for an instant …”
“Didn’t you see that sign?” demanded the handler grimly. “Dangerous! Do not handle!”
By now the crowds were coming sheepishly back.
“That dog isn’t dangerous,” I scoffed, “The friendliest…”
“The friendliest dog in this here whole show, bar none!” said the handler to me in a low voice. “I just put that sign up to make people keep their dirty hands off him. They carry infection from one dog to another.”
“He’s a beauty,” I agreed.
“That’s his name: Beautiful,” revealed the handler. “That’s what we call him – Beautiful.”
“Ah, that explains it,” I said.
And I went ahead through the much-thinned crowd, and joined Jimmie at the beagles.
Editor’s Notes: McGill and St. James would be a busy intersection at the time in Montreal (and would be used as a reference since this was published in the Montreal Standard). Though English speakers would call it St. James, it is officially Rue Saint Jacques.
Brindle markings is a coat pattern that is described as tiger-striped, though the variations of color are more subtle and blended than distinct stripes.
A stentorian voice is very loud and strong.