By Greg Clark, May 29, 1937
“I see by the papers,” said Jimmie Frise, “that there are 15,000,000 dogs in North America.”
“It seems a pretty conservative estimate,” I commented.
“I was going to say,” said Jim, “that there were 15,000,000 dogs in Toronto. Maybe that’s a little high. But did you ever in all your life see so many dogs around as there are nowadays?”
“The country,” I admitted, “is really going to the dogs.”
“The less able the world is to keep dogs,” said Jim, “the more the fashion grows. In more spacious days, when there were no motor cars and every home had some ground around it, I could understand everybody keeping a dog. But under modern conditions It seems to me keeping a dog should be a privilege accorded only those who are qualified. And the qualifications should be enough ground around the home for the dog to play in without risking his life and limb on the trafficky streets. And the other and more Important qualification should be that the dog owner would have enough intelligence to control and master his dog.”
“Well, we’d qualify,” I agreed. “I must say your old Rusty has almost a human intelligence. And as for my Dolly, she is practically a member of the family.”
“We’ve taken the trouble,” explained Jim. “to train and educate our dogs. Rusty and Dolly are, you might say, modernized dogs. But some of these wild animals that gang up and rove this neighborhood are not only a nuisance but a menace. Here I am putting in my garden for the next couple of nights. Now, Rusty is trained. He knows what a garden is. He never runs on the borders or tramples the young plants. You never catch Rusty digging up the garden or messing about the bushes.”
“Dolly’s the same,” I said. “In fact, I have seen her chasing other dogs out of our garden. Many’s the time last summer I have watched Dolly walking about the garden looking at the flowers just as if she were human being and enjoying them exactly as a human being.”
“Yesterday,” said Jim. “I happened to look out the back window and what did I see? Three of those mutts of the neighborhood, two half-breed collies and a wire-haired terrier, actually burying bones in my perennial borders.”
“Couldn’t you train Rusty to be a policeman?” I asked.
“He wasn’t around,” said Jim, “or he’d have soon had those tramps out of there.”
“I’d say,” I said, “that most of the people in our neighborhood keep dogs by force of habit. They apparently take no pleasure out of them, as we do in Rusty and Dolly. They let them out in the morning, probably giving them kick as they go, and they let them in at night. And for the rest of the day, those dogs just run at large, upsetting garbage pails, scaring the wits out of motorists by dashing recklessly all over the streets, digging in gardens, wrecking ornamental shrubs and generally being public nuisances.”
“It looks like it,” agreed Jim. “Something will have to be done.”
“Now there’s that apartment house along the street,” I reminded him. “I was counting the dogs in it. There are eight families in that house, and I’ll be jiggered if there aren’t nine dogs. One family has two of those bugeyes Pekes.”
On Other People’s Property
“That apartment house,” stated Jim, “has no yard at all. It has a concrete area at the back entirely filled with garages. It has no front lawn to speak of. Where do those nine dogs run?”
“On other people’s property,” I declared.
“Exactly,” said Jim.
“We certainly ought to do something about it,” I asserted. “And we, as dog owners and dog lovers, can’t be accused of being prejudiced against dogs either. I am one of the first to get my dander up when any of these anti-dog people begin their annual uproar about dogs running at large in the city. It is usually about now, when people are putting in their gardens, that the rumpus begins. But there is reason and moderation in all things, including dogs.”
“All I expect of other people,” agreed Jim, “is that they control their dogs the same way I do.”
“That’s it,” I supported. “Let that be our slogan. And if we dog owners start the agitation, it will go a long way further than if these anti-dog people try to do anything.”
“I can’t understand a man or a woman not having a dog,” said Jim. “If I were going to start a political party or a new religion or something, I would take a census of the homes of the city, and where there was a dog, that home I’d invite in.”
“I doubt if there ever was a villain who owned a dog,” I agreed.
“No food and no love is wasted in a house where there is a dog,” declared Jim. “It gets what is left over of both. You can tell all about a home by the dog.”
And with this kindly thought we went to our appointed tasks for the afternoon.
After supper, seeing Jim in his garden south of mine, and I not being quite ready to plant my annuals, as I like the garden to be best in September rather than July when all my family are away, I strolled down to watch him, Dolly joining me.
Jim had the little boxes of petunias and zinnias all laid out ready to be planted, the crimson nicotine and verbenas, the sweet william and orange flare cosmos. I helped him carry the little boxes of plantlings and distribute them around the borders where they would variously go. Old Rusty and Dolly solemnly accompanied us as we moved here and there.
“Look at them,” said Jim, fondly. “See how intelligently they watch us. They know what we are doing. They are interested. I bet they even realize that presently, as the result of this work of ours, the garden will glow and smother with flowers and sweet scents.”
With tongues out, the two sat, a little stoutly, maybe, a little over-fed, most amiably following us.
“No silly romping,” I pointed out. “No nonsense. There’s dogs, Jim.”
And we proceeded to set the plants, Jim scooping the holes with his trowel and I breaking out the seedlings with blocks of earth from the basket complete. We petted them down. Nasturtiums, marigolds, mourning bride, lantana. Clarkia in clumps because it is stringy, verbenas well separated because with their multi-colored stars they will reach and spread. The best part of May is the end where we plant the annuals.
To sort out some weeds that Jim bought to eke out the foot of his garden, such as sunflowers and some coarse climbing nasturtiums for along the fence, we went indoors and down to Jim’s cellar billiard room, and we had hardly been there a minute before Jim, glancing out the cellar window, let forth a wild bellow.
Rusty and Dolly had wandered off when we had come indoors, and as we reached the back door, there were no fewer than seven dogs holding a kind of canine gymkhana in the garden.
“Hyaaah,” roared Jimmie, hurling a flower pot at them.
There was a red setter, a police dog, a scrub collie, a wire-haired terrier, a goggle-eyed Boston bull, a Scotty, and big over-grown Springer spaniel, weighing about sixty pounds, a kind of a mattress of a dog, brown and white.
They were racing in circles, trampling all over the newly planted seedings, ducking around perennials just decently leafing out of the earth, plunging through spiraea…
“Hyaaaaaah,” we roared, charging into the yard.
All but the Springer spaniel, without so much as letting on they saw us, raced out of the back gate and down the street, like a gang of panting, laughing hoodlums.
The Springer, with a look of interest, was braced in behind Jim’s loveliest Japonica bush, watching us with rigid tail and cocked head.
“You!” said Jim, advancing cautiously.
“Easy, Jim,” I warned. “Get behind him and chase him out.”
“I’ll catch him,” said Jim. “and deliver him to his owner.”
“He may be cross,” I warned.
But the Springer spaniel, all feathers and wool and burly good nature, was far from cross. He was for play.
With a slithering, dirt-flinging spring, he wheeled and raced along the wire fence, every bound crashing him heavily on to some little cluster of freshly set and fragile plantlings.
“Hyaaahh,” we roared at him.
With a skid and a slither, he would halt and watch us, tail wagging frantically and mouth agape in a wide grin of joy.
“Don’t try to catch him,” I said, “he thinks we’re playing.”
“I’ll show him if we’re playing,” gritted Jim.
He advanced, half crouched.
The Springer, with an ecstatic slither, was off again, crashing through a bed of Darwin tulips with his whole sixty pounds and plunging into a young spiraea bush as if to play hide and seek.
“Aw,” moaned Jim terribly.
“Shoo him out, shoo him out,” I yelled. “He’ll romp in here all night, if you let him.”
“Rusty, Rusty,” roared Jimmie into the evening.
“Hyuh, Dolly, hyuh, hyuh,” I cried, “sick ‘im.”
But Rusty and Dolly were absent at the one time we needed them.
“Here, help corner him,” commanded Jim. “You come along that way and I’ll come this way and we’ll corner him by the house.”
So we slowly converged.
The Springer waited, with sly, joyous eyes, until we were almost on him before, with a plunge that flattened the spiraea and carried him horribly on top of the whole cluster of long slender orange fare cosmos plantlings, he burst the blockade and tore across to the opposite border of the garden and took refuge, playfully, behind a perennial phlox that, in another month, is the wonder of the whole district, so gorgeous a magenta is it, with its hundred blooms.
“Oooooh,” moaned Jim, “if he crushes that!”
“Throw something at him,” I insisted. “Make him get out.”
“Now I’m determined,” declared Jim gratingly, “to catch him and deliver him.”
“Very well, then,” I decreed, “Shut the gate.”
So while Jim shut the gate, I picked up a few odds and ends, the trowel, a couple of flower pots and a garden stake. And with these as ammunition, I drove the astonished Springer into the corner by the house while Jim charged in and grabbed him.
He struggled furiously and then angrily, growling and snarling.
“Get the rug out of the car,” panted Jimmie, wrapping himself around the astonished and frightened dog.
I nipped over and snatched the car rug and brought it. Jim managed to roll the big spaniel in it, leaving only his head out.
We straightened ourselves up and dusted off.
“There,” gasped Jim. “Now, Mister Springer, I know where you live.”
“What will you say?” I asked, “Better get it planned so you won’t just arrive in a temper and say worse than nothing.”
“I’ll simply say, ‘Sir’,” said Jim, “here is your dog. It came into my garden and trampled all over my newly planted seedlings. It plunged through my tulips and bushes and crushed my perennial phlox. I do not blame the dog. I blame the owner of the dog who has not taught it to behave and to respect gardens.”
“Then what?” I asked.
“I’ll hand him his dog,” said Jim “and warn him that if the dog damages my garden again, I will take steps that will astonish him.”
“Let’s go,” I said, because the big Springer was patiently struggling within the folds of the car rug and I was afraid he might work free.
Jim carried the extraordinary bundle down the street. The owner lived about eight doors south.
“Ring the front door,” said Jim. “We’ll make no back door peddling of this.”
I rang. I rang twice. I rapped.
“They’re out, I guess,” I guessed.
“Maybe they’re in the yard,” said Jim, starting around.
In the yard, on the clothes line, some sort of chintz curtain was hanging. My Dolly, sweetest and gentlest of dogs, was clinging to one corner of the curtain, taking little runs and a swing, and chewing and growling secretly and furiously with the fun.
Fair in the middle of the yard, in a bed of resplendent parrot tulips, elderly and amiable Rusty, most intelligent of all the dogs I ever knew, had all but vanished down an enormous hole he had dug, just his hind quarters and tail showing until Jim’s shout brought him backing out to look, with easy innocence, over his shoulder.
“Jim,” I said low, “drop that dog and let’s sneak.”
The kitchen window of the house next door squealed suddenly open and a red-faced lady put her head out.
“What are you doing with that dog in the blanket?” she demanded chokingly. “I’ll tell Mr. Hooper on you. The very idea. And look what those brutes are doing to his garden and to Mrs. Hooper’s chintz.”
Jim unrolled the Springer and he landed heavily and ran straight for Rusty, his hackles up.
“Those two creatures,” shouted the lady above the racket that Rusty and Dolly were making in a fight with the Springer, “are the worst nuisances in the entire neighborhood. And yet I catch you in the act of trying smother the loveliest, kindest dog in the whole city.”
Jim and I withdrew up the side drive and then turned and called Rusty and Dolly. They came, being glad to leave the Springer who was beginning to get rough.
We hastened up the street, the Springer pursuing us with hoarse and angry barks.
“It’s always the other fellow’s dog,” reflected Jim.
“And to somebody, I suppose,” I said, “we are always the other fellow. Should I let those people know who chewed the chintz?”
“No,” said Jim, as we turned into Jim’s yard. “The Springer will get the blame and it will all even up in the long run. He deserves the blame to make up for what damage he has done elsewhere.”
“These two,” I said, “never get any blame around here.”
“Oh, well,” said Jim, starting to walk along the borders to re-pet up all the little seedlings, “they behave around home. What more can you ask?”
So Rusty and Dolly, their tongues hanging out, followed us along, sitting down behind us to watch the job and getting up to follow whenever we moved five feet, and we rubbed their towsled heads and scratched their eternally itchy chins, and they looked up at us with half-closed eyes of adoration and perfect understanding.
Editor’s Notes: Pet ownership was not really that common until the rise of the middle class in the 19th century. You can see how things have changed, even since the time of the article in 1937. It was not unusual for dogs to roam free, even in a city. Children were warned to be wary of packs of dogs. Picking up dog poop was not a concern until legislation started in the 1980s. Even the concept of packaged dog food did not exist. Dogs were expected to just eat the scraps of the family meals. Canned dog food was only invented in 1922, and dry kibble was not invented until 1956.
A gymkhana is an Indian term which originally referred to a place of assembly.